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Seeking Blackbeard’s Pirate Treasure

Isles of Shoals Pirate Search  (continued)

Honeymoon cottage on Lunging Island (c)

Anticipating the encroaching flood, the team from Hager-Richter Geoscience quickly cordoned off the treasure search zone with little red flags. One member wearing a back-pack-like device wheeled a cart over the area in measured rows, while others watch for signs of hidden silver bars beneath the rock and sand. A barge with a drill rig was due in from Rockland, Maine the next day to make a small test hole through what appeared to my untrained eye like a whole lot of solid rock that hadn't moved since long before human beings were pond scum. But no one was complaining. The geophysicists were happy as clams to be on the most beautiful island on the Shoals. It's a far cry from the hazardous waste dumps, landfills, highways and airports where they usually work.

The film crew wasn’t missing any of the action. The camera panned right to take in the Randall's historic shingled summer home that has grown around a 150 year old fishing hut. "Uncle" Oscar Laighton, poet Celia Thaxter's brother, actually owned the island for a time. Oscar died just shy of his 100th birthday and Prudy remembers him well. The camera panned left over Square Rock to the little hut and the old outhouse on the far side of Lunging toward the lighthouse on White. The camera continue around catching the side of the Oceanic Hotel on Star, the two buildings on Smuttynose, then over to Appledore. The Laightons owned all of it at one time, and any legend that attracted more summer tourists to their summer island retreats was a good legend indeed.

"What do you think about the Blackbeard story?" one of the scientists asked me as the camera crew moved off toward the distant rocks for some heavy surf shots. Prudy was not due in until the 11 am boat, so as the ranking amateur historian on the island, I offered my expert opinion.

"It's a good story all right," I said, shrugging. "But it ain’t history."

After days of research, I had not found an authorized account of Blackbeard at the Isles of Shoals. In the window of the New England Pirate Museum in Salem, MA I once saw a diorama of Blackbeard burying treasure at the Shoals. The model looks a lot like Smuttynose. Students who visit the museum are told decisively that the treasure is at Lunging. I called museum owner Nancy Hurrell at the time and asked where that story came from. She referred me to a book by Robert Ellis Cahill called "Pirates and Lost Treasure."

Cahill, a former owner of the pirate museum and author of 27 small self-published books on New England lore gets very specific. According to his book: "Blackbeard's treasure is buried at the landing side of the beach facing the Star Island Hotel, halfway across the halfmoon stretch of beach." That's precisely where the crew was digging, all right, exactly the same spot pointed out by Prudy Randall. After leaving his 13th wife to guard the spot, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, sailed off to the Carolinas. There he blockaded Charleston with several ships and 700 men, was pardoned by the king, then settled down in Bath, North Carolina with Mary Ormond, the 14th Mrs. Blackbeard. Teach was betrayed by a southern governor who had been sharing in his booty and died with 20 knife and five gunshot wounds soon after. Asked where he buried his treasure Blackbeard reportedly said that only he and the devil knew. Cahill's book is full of great pirate details, but does not mention where he got his Lunging Island data. In all my preparation, I couldn't find any corroborating data. With the History Channel cameras pointed in my direction, I said exactly that. And guess what? They chose not to air my anti-Blackbeard sound bites.

By noon, with the water rising, half the scientists were stranded on the cottage side of the island. The rest of us were left sitting in the glaring fall sun on the food and outhouse side. The MV Uncle Oscar returned with Prudy Randall, field producer Richard Baron and four local actors with pirate costumes in drycleaning bags. Captain Peter, like the ferryman on the River Styx, continued rowing the population to and from each side of the island. The actress playing the ghost of Blackbeard's wife stood next to me in a diaphanous gown.

"She should say -- "He will come back! He will come back!'" I told director Tom Jennings. That's the legendary line, and the same line summer guests shout at each other each time the ferry leaves the Isles of Shoals.

"I like it," Tom said. "That's good."


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