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Seeking Blackbeard’s Pirate Treasure

Actor playing Blackbeard at the Isles of Shoals  (c) J. Dennis Robinson / SeacoastNH.com
THE ISLES OF SHOALS

No Virginia, there is no pirate treasure on the Isles of Shoals. But yes, people keep looking and hoping. In this archived episode, we ride with the HISTORY CHANNEL to search for pirate gold at Lunging Island. A behind-the-scenes look at the making of a less-than-swashbuckling TV documentary in Seacoast New Hampshire.

 

 

PIRATES ON THE PISCATAQUA

MORE ON the Isles of Shoals 

SEE ALSOL Pirate John Quelch's Gold on Star Island 

Each time Disney releases another pirate blockbuster film, I get a flicker of letters from people asking where, exactly, did Blackbeard buried his booty at the Isles of Shoals. I should just offer to send them a treasure map for $29.95, but I’m too polite to take advantage of idiots. Instead, like an idiot, I try to educate them with a little history. But people with new metal detectors care little for history. They want gold.

Popular view of Blackbearch aka Edmunc Teach / SeacoastNH.comThere isn’t any gold buried on the Shoals, unless Blackbeard was carrying the kind of machinery that bores into solid rock. There isn’t enough topsoil on most of the islands to bury a large dog, let alone a treasure chest. But facts rarely get in the way of pirate stories.

That reminds me of the time a few years back that I got a call out of the blue from Mindy Pomper from Digital Ranch in Los Angeles. She asked if I might join her TV film crew in search of Blackbeard's treasure on Lunging Island.

I've heard it all before. Legends of pirates abound in these parts, although precious little documentation exists. In fact, all the legends I've heard talk about pirate treasure buried at Star, Appledore and Smuttynose, never at Lunging. The best documented story says old "King Haley" found three or four bars of silver on Smuttynose in the early 1800s and used the income to build the breakwater between his island and nearby Malaga. Everybody knows the tale, but nobody I know has seen any proof that the bars existed.

There is a fair chance that an errant pirate was arrested on the Shoals in the 1700s, but that’s as good as it gets.

The source of the Lunging claim comes from Prudy Crandall Randall who owns the only summer home on the island. She's been inviting friends and me out for years to visit her famous "Honeymoon Cottage" on Lunging, but it's impossible to reach her isolated cove without a boat and a good tide. Now in her 80s, Prudy told her tale to local producer Richard Baron, who pitched it to Mindy, who got the green light to include an episode on the History Channel called "History's Mysteries."

"I want to find out the truth once and for all," she told me. Prudy grew up hearing the Blackbeard story from her father who bought the island in the late 1920s. "If there's no silver bars buried here, I can stop thinking about it," she said.

The History Channel apparently doesn't spare the horses; this was a full-fledged expedition. By 6 am a team of geologists with high-tech equipment in silver cases were already on board the rented fishing boat in Rye Harbor. A Boston-based camera crew arrived and, as if on cue, the orange sun appeared on the horizon. The geologists pretended to get back on the boat for the benefit of the cameras. Then Cap'n Pete Reynolds steered the MV Uncle Oscar expertly through the six miles of hefty rolling waves to the tiny private island.

Prudy Randall outside Honeymoon Cottage on Luncing Island at the Isles of Shoals (c) J. Dennis Robinson / SeacoastNH.com

Lunging, once called Londoner's Island, is dumbbell-shaped with a narrow rocky neck connecting two small clumps of land. The natural cove was a godsend for fisherman of the London Company (thus the name) who reportedly used the island as a base camp for their fishing operations as early as 1615. With nothing but a teeny floating dock, the cove was less than welcoming as fierce white breakers exploded on the rocks to our right and left. It took five trips in a gray flat-bottomed skiff to get all the bodies, paraphernalia and snacks ashore. As the day wore on, the great pile of canned soda, chips, fruit bars, mixed nuts, peanut butter sandwiches and bottled water became the center of activity.

During high tides the two halves of Lunging are separated by a foot or two of seawater that rises over the exact spot where Prudy Randall says Blackbeard left his treasure and his thirteenth wife - never to return. There was a cave there, she believes, that has since collapsed or been covered somehow by nearly 300 years of storm and tide. After the Great War, she explains, the US Government was looking for buried treasure and spotted the hidden cave by air using some sort of sonar device. Later in the 1950s perhaps, a man from a quarrying company did some tests and indicated that a cave or buried ingots were possibly hidden there. Exact details are hard to pin down.

CONTINUE to read BLACKBEARD SEARCH

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