By KELLY SULLIVAN William Kidd was a sailor, born in Scotland around 1655. Accused of being a pirate, he was tried and imprisoned in the summer of 1699 before being hanged in London in 1701. While confined to a cell in Boston, he wrote many letters to
William Kidd was a sailor, born in Scotland around 1655. Accused of being a pirate, he was tried and imprisoned in the summer of 1699 before being hanged in London in 1701.
While confined to a cell in Boston, he wrote many letters to King William, requesting clemency. It isn’t beyond reason to assume he wrote letters to others as well. One such alleged letter, detailing where to find hidden loot, was made public in Rhode Island in 1901.
The letter, said to be a family heirloom, was brought forth by 43-year-old Edward Field, a court clerk in Providence, who explained that he was a descendant of John Warner, one of the 13 men who founded the town of Warwick. He stated the letter had been discovered among family papers which had been passed down through the centuries and was placed in the custody of Providence record commissioners.
Dated “1700-1” and bearing the word “Boston”, the letter is addressed to John Bailey of New York and reads:
“I fear we are in a bad situation. We are taken for pirates. And you must come to Boston as soon as you get this. There is no one I can depend upon. You must come as son as you get it or I may not see you before I am carried to England.
“If I don’t see you, I will tell you where my money is, for we have plenty of it if it will do any good. It is buried on (blank) Island in Boston Harbor; on the island in two chests containing from 15,000 to 20,000 pounds sterling in money, jewels and diamonds. They are buried about four feet deep with a flat stone on them and a pile of stone nearby.
“There is no one that knows where it is but me now living as Dick Jones and I hid it when part of my men were in Boston and the rest asleep one night. It is about (blank) up the hillside.
“I want to see you before we are carried to old England if possible. If not you must get all the witnesses in my favor and the best counsel to help you. I want you to see Colonel Slaughter and John Nichols and James Rogart and Captain Houson and Edward Leach and all that can do me any good.
“Say nothing to them about the money or that I have wrote to you. You know my old friends in New York and who will help me. That Moore case is the worst part of my scrape. I think my interest with Lord Belmont and my two commissions and some French papers I had with me and my men running away to the pirates to Calfero and other things are in my favor.
“They think I have money buried down at Plymouth or down that way somewhere. They don’t think it so near to Boston but they shan’t have my money and life too. Don’t fail to come to me as soon as you get this. If I am gone to England, be there as soon as possible. Secure the money and diamonds before you come as money will do a great deal for us. It will buy a great many people and all the poor ones I want in my favor.”
The places that tell where the treasure is are omitted and replaced by crosses. It was believed, back in 1901, that there may have once been a key to solving it along with the letter.
There are other tales about the letter, going back further in time. One holds that two rabbit hunters found it inside a glass vial beneath a ledge on the Massachusetts property of Samuel Shaw in 1849. In this tale, however, there are no blank spaces in the letter and it clearly announces that the treasure is buried on Conant’s Island in Boston Harbor.
In 2009, the letter was said to be housed at the Connecticut Valley Historical Society in Massachusetts. It is now listed as a document which can be found at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History.
Whether or not letters and maps reported to be Kidd’s are proven false, its unlikely we will ever give up the fantasy of buried treasure. During the 19th century, people made parties out of searching for Kidd’s chests. During June of 1881, a gathering of treasure-hunters were seen digging along the shore in Potowomut. In April of 1885, another group assembled to turn over dirt at Warwick Neck.
As Rhode Islanders, we want to believe there is indeed a treasure and that it’s right here on our shores. Any one of us wants to believe that we could be the one to discover it. Maps, letters, authentication and tall tales aside, over 300 years later, we simply want to keep believing.
Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.