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The Haunted and Cursed Treasures of the Pirate Captain Kidd

There has long been a certain allure to the idea of pirates and their various escapades, and such tales have colored history throughout the centuries.  Such stories have been around a long time, and hold mystery, intrigue, and the romantic idea of grand, swashbuckling adventures on the high seas. Among these, there is perhaps no name in the world of pirates as infamous as that of the 17th Scottish pirate captain William Kidd, also known as Captain William Kidd or just Captain Kidd. Once a hunter of pirates who then went over to the dark side to become one himself, throughout the course of his career as a privateer Kidd was known for his savagery and for the vast amounts of treasure he is said to have stolen from countless merchant vessels, which would eventually lead to his capture and execution in 1701, yet before that he was said to have hidden away large stashes of his loot all up and down the East Coast of the United States, the Bahamas, and the Florida Keys. Indeed, Captain Kidd’s buried treasures have become as famous as the man himself, and have spurred numerous searches for them over the centuries by both professionals and amateurs, all further fueled when some of this gold was found at Gardiner’s Island, New York. However, many of the locations where the lost Captain Kidd treasures are said to have been buried are supposedly haunted, cursed, or both.

Perhaps one of the most well-known and notorious of Captain Kidd’s cursed treasures supposedly lies at Charles Island, in the U.S. state of Connecticut, at Silver Sands State Park and just offshore from the town of Milford. The island itself had a rather dark and mysterious reputation even before Kidd ever landed here. It is in appearance rather unassuming and nondescript, just a slash of uninhabited sandy rocks connected to the mainland by a sliver of a sandbar that fades and reappears with the tides, measuring just 14 acres in area and where nesting flocks of birds lazily lounge about without any human interference, but although one might not think much of this place it has the rather dark distinction of having been cursed more than once throughout its history. The first time begins with the local chief of the Paugusset tribe of Native Americans, who according to legend was so upset by the invasion of white settlers that in 1639 he vehemently cursed the island to never accept the whites, to shun them and cause their structures to disintegrate and blow away in the wind. Interestingly, the land is indeed rather too unstable for building permanent structures upon, and it has in fact never been inhabited for long despite failed efforts in the past.

This curse was enough to keep most people away from the island for quite some time, but not everyone. In 1699, the legendary Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd stopped by these shores and supposedly offloaded a huge trove of stolen treasure here, supposedly cursing the treasure to bring misfortune and death upon anyone who would try to dig it up, before sailing off on his final voyage towards Boston, that would end up with him captured and finally executed for his numerous crimes. It is unknown how much truth any of these sensational stories have, and no treasure has officially ever been found on this speck of land despite numerous efforts by treasure hunters to locate it, but there are certainly some wild tales about the treasure and the curses. One popular local piece of lore is that two treasure hunters actually managed to unearth a hoard of treasure on the island in 1850, but that as soon as they opened it they were met with fierce blue fire shooting forth and were attacked by the intimidating presence of an immense flaming skeleton that bore down upon them from above. They managed to escape, but are said to have had their sanity subsequently degrade and corrode to the point that they spent the rest of their years locked away in an insane asylum. Another frightening account of the cursed treasure of Charles Island was written of by the historian Charles M. Skinner in 1896, who writes:

Charles Island, near Milford, Connecticut, was dug into one night by a company from that town that had learned of Kidd’s visit to it —  and what could Kidd be doing ashore unless he was burying money? The lid of an iron chest had been uncovered when the figure of a headless man came bounding out of the air, and the work was discontinued right then. The figure leaped into the pit that had been dug, and blue flames poured out of it. When the diggers returned, their spades and picks were gone and the ground was smooth.

It is all a creepy tale to be sure, and to this day the island is often mentioned as being haunted by the ghosts of Natives and Captain Kidd himself, and whether any of this lore holds any truth or not, it is all spooky at the very least. Quite a few locations said to hold Kidd’s hoard are actually rumored to have spirit guardians that will chase treasure seekers away or worse. Another spot on Appledore, in the Isles of Shoals in Maine, is supposedly home to a very mean glowing, pale faced apparition with a red ring around his neck called “Old Bab,” who according to the tale was murdered by Captain Kidd in this spot specifically so that his ghost may perpetually act as a sentry against thieves and who will aggressively chase them away. Many of these ghosts are former crewmates of Kidd, and in some cases, there are more than one ghost guarding the treasure, as is the case with the treasure said to be hidden in Money Hill, on Shark River, New Jersey. This particular treasure purportedly has no fewer than half a dozen spectral guardians, including ones in old fashioned sailors garb and others that appear as moldy skeletons, also thought to be the spirits of Kidd’s men.

Other spectral treasure guardians of Kidd’s treasures are more mysterious. One spot near the Piscataqua River, which defines the border between Maine and New Hampshire, is said to have a portion of the treasure, which is guarded by a “monster horse” that will charge treasure hunters and then evaporate into thin air. The only way to avoid this is said to read scripture from the Bible as one digs. Likewise, the alleged treasure at Lion’s Rock, near Lyme, Connecticut, is said to also be guarded, this time by a demon that can also only be turned away by reading from the Bible. The treasure at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a Native woman who will angrily throw stones at trespassers. On the North Shore of Liberty Island, in New York Harbor, is a supposedly the resting place of a good amount of treasure, but something terrible seems to guard it, as Skinner writes:

A flat rock on the north shore of Liberty Island, in New York harbor, was also thought to mark the place of this pervasive wealth of the pirates. As late as 1830, Sergeant Gibbs, one of the garrison at the island, tried to unearth it, with the aid of a fortune-teller and a recruit, but they had no sooner reached a box about four feet in length than a being with wings, horns, tail, and a breath, the latter palpable in blue flames, burst from the coffer. Gibbs fell unconscious into the water and narrowly escaped drowning, while his companions ran away, and the treasure may still be there for aught we know.

Other places of Kidd’s buried treasure have different sorts of legends surrounding them. Take the craggy, sweeping cliff called Cro’ Nest, on the Hudson River. Here high upon the sheer rock surface is a knob of rock, which is said to be a sort of plug to a cavern that leads to vast reserves of Kidd’s treasure. It is located 200 feet up a steep, inaccessible cliff, and no one can even figure out how any treasure could have been hauled up there in the first place, yet here it is said to lie. The cliff face is said to be protected by a curse, which keeps anyone from reaching that plug of stone, and send them falling to their deaths, but if one were to manage to disgorge that rock they supposedly will be greeted by a veritable fountain of gold, coins, and diamonds. As of yet, no one has managed to pry it loose, and it is unknown is it is even a real gateway to treasure or merely a weird looking rock.

These are perhaps all just spooky legends surrounding the larger than life persona of Captain Kidd. Maybe they are just scary sailor’s stories and there is nothing more to them than legend and myth. Yet people keep hunting for the fabled treasures of captain Kidd, most often without success but with that siren call of the promise of great wealth and lost history always drawing them in. There is no way to know if the stories of ghosts and curses orbiting these lost stashes of loot are real or not, but they do serve as historical oddities, add an eerie layer to the legacy of Captain Kidd, and do not seem to deter those who would find these treasure troves.