Florida has more sunken treasure along her coastline and in the inland bays than any other state in the Union. There are also hidden caches made by gangsters, Indians, smugglers, and politicians. The State offers these locations to the treasure hunter, plus the best “coin shooting” beaches in the world. Florida is truly a treasure hunter’s paradise.
Rumors of a cache of $500,000 in gold bullion reportedly buried in the Everglades of Florida by a group of Confederate soldiers have persisted for more than 100 years, and many searches have been done for it.
Here is the story:
In 1865, Captain John Riley and a detachment of Confederate troops were sent from Kentucky with a half-ton of gold bullion to be transported to Fort Mead, Florida, and then to Havana, Cuba. As Union troops advanced through Florida, the Confederate band fled into the Everglades, buried the gold at the last camping place, and continued their flight.
In September 1944, it was reported that State Game Officer L. P. Harvey led a small party into the Everglades and located what they believed to have been the last camping place of the Confederates, almost hidden by undergrowth but identified by Confederate relics found there.
The site was described as being located at the point of an angle formed by a line 40 miles due west of Ft. Lauderdale and another line due northwest of the Miami City Hall until it met the first line.
This would place the treasure on a Seminole Indian Reservation in west central Broward County.
During the early years of the 18th century, it was the custom of Spanish ships laden with fold and silver mined in Mexico and Peru to gather in the mid-summer off the Florida coast near Sebastian Inlet, about 40 miles south of the present-day space center at Cape Kennedy.
The purpose of this rendezvous was to form a convoy for protection against pirate attacks. Undoubtedly some late arrivals in July of 1715 delayed the fleet’s formation. It was not until the start of the hurricane season that the homeward journey of eleven galleons was begun.
Setting sail on July 13, 1715, the Spanish convoy was hit by a violent hurricane that sank all but one of the ships and scattered fabulous treasures on the ocean floor some 2000 feet from shore.
St. Joseph was once the largest town in Florida and is notable among Florida’s several ghost towns as having been abandoned almost overnight. The town owed its existence to a bitter dispute over homestead claims. Between 1804 and 1811, the Spanish granted a company of Indian traders a large tract of land on the Apalachicola River and St. George Sound, which included the settlement of Apalachicola.
When the United States acquired Florida in 1822, a legal battle over the validity of the title developed. The U. S. Supreme Court upheld the company’s claims, making squatters of those who held property there. Many refused to come to terms with the company and selected a new town site on St. Joseph Bay and named it St. Joseph.
The first constitutional convention of Florida was held there, and the town boomed.
In 1841, a ship from Africa tied up in St. Joseph and brought yellow fever. Within weeks, ¾ of the estimated population of 7,000 had died. Panic stricken survivors abandoned their homes and fled. Ships avoided the port, and hotels and business houses closed. For three years, the town was deserted, with only a few venturesome fishermen daring to approach the site.
In 1844, a hurricane and tidal wave leveled the spot. Devastating storms followed at intervals until, bit by bit, all remains of the town were obliterated. Today, the site is covered by a jungle growth of pines, matted creepers, and palmettos.
Here is a quote from the booklet, “A ROMANCE OF THE PAST, A VISION OF THE FUTURE,” concerning a sunken ship near Boca Raton, Florida:
“Many years ago, a fisherman was cruising over the outer reed off Boca Raton Inlet and saw what appeared to be an ancient ship, partly covered with sand. After telling the story to his friends, a company was formed and a diver engaged. There, lying in the bottom of the sea in a bout 60 feet of water, they located the wreck of an old ship, undoubtedly uncovered by the hurricane of the previous fall. The diver went down and chopped a hole in the hull of the ship and brought up what appeared to be a bar of iron, reporting that the wreck was filled with this type of bar. A more careful examination proved that the bar was pure silver. Additional equipment was secured and plans made to remove the entire treasure, but severe weather prevented immediate return, and they were forced to wait for a calm sea. When the old ship was finally located once more, it had sunk deeper into the sand. Dynamite was used in an attempt to break up the wreck, but this blast only caused it to sink deeper, and it was finally swallowed up and no more silver was obtained.”
All traces of the wreck have long since disappeared unless another storm may uncover it. Somewhere off Boca Raton, buried in the depths of the ocean, is a fortune that may never be recovered.”
Amelia Island, off the coast of Florida, just south of the Georgia line, was a convenient pirate rendezvous for years. Like all such areas, local stories of pirate treasure abound – and it may be true in the case of Amelia Island. A few gold doubloons have been picked up from time to time, and natives presume that about $170,000 worth of treasure has been removed after much digging.
Amelia Islanders point out that more than one poor family has suddenly stopped digging and started to live like kings. And there are those who insist that more treasure is to be found on Amelia Island.
Off the Florida coast, near Fort Myers, there is an island know as Sanibel. On sunny, still days, the island’s long, sandy beaches are largely deserted. But let it turn stormy, and the wind kicks up the surf, then the beaches are suddenly thronged. Surfers?
No! Shell Hunters! And what they find is worth real money.
It isn’t too likely that these shell hunters of Sanibel will find one of the most valuable of all shells, the Glory-of-the-Seas, worth about $1,000 because the home waters of this cone shell are the East Indies in the Pacific rather than the West Indies.
But so precious are the shells to be found on Sanibel’s beaches that collectors, agents, and dealers flock from all over the world to the island’s Shell Fair and Auction each spring.
Treasure can come in many forms other than silver and gold, and the beaches of Sanibel Island furnish a treasure that is free to all.
This approximately $2,000,000 in pirate treasure is recorded in the British Admiralty records in London, England. One of the bloodthirsty pirates ever to sail was London-born John Rackman, known as “Calico Jack.” For some reason, unknown to the author, historians have written very little about this free-boater.
Jack went to sea as a boy and rose to the rank of “mate” on a slave ship. He was so cruel and dangerous that even the slaver’s crew (not exactly a group of choir boys themselves) put him ashore in Haiti.
Jack organized a crew in Haiti that captured the brigantine Fancey near Port au Prince.
Making the entire crew of the Fancy walk the plank, Jack and his men hoisted the Jolly Roger, the symbol of a pirate ship. Jack made his headquarters at first in Cuba, until he became so notorious that the Spanish sent warships in a special effort to catch him.
Realizing that he could not fight the Spanish navy, Jack moved to Oyster Bay on the west coast of Florida, and later set up his headquarters ten miles up either the Shark or Lostman’s Rivers (historians generally agree that it was the Shark River).
He continued raiding all shipping that he could take in the Caribbean, and stored the booty at his new hideout.
In 1720, the governor of Jamaica sent a warship with express orders to capture Jack and his crew. In November of that year, the warship chased Jack’s ship ashore a short distance up the Shark River and captured the pirates not killed in the pitched battle.
Taken in chains to Port Royal, Jamaica, Calico Jack, and the other pirates were given a chance to tell where the estimated $2,000,000 in loot was hidden – or be hanged. The pirates chose to die. As far as can be learned, the authorities sound nothing, which means that somewhere in the area, ten miles up Shark River, on the right side, an immense fortune waits for some lucky treasure hunter.
This cache of rare eight-shot Colt rifles would be worth a fortune today to a gun collector. Florida in the 1830s was a battleground with the U. S. Army engaged in a war against the Seminole Indians. It was not a place you would have expected to find a young inventor in Paterson, NJ, promoting his products. But there he was. The young man was Samuel Colt, and he was selling guns.
Colt felt that his 8-shot revolving-cylinder carbines would find instant favor among men armed with single-shot rifles. But his success was limited. He sold a few handguns to officers, but his only quantity order was from General Thomas S. Jessup for 50 carbines – and more than half of them may be in a Florida swamp today, awaiting some lucky treasure hunter with a metal detector.
In a letter dated November 8, 1850, Col. Harney of the 2nd U. S. Dragoons reported, in part: “General Jessup ordered the purchase of 50, and they were placed in my hands. They were the first ever used or manufactured. Thirty of them were lost at Caloosa Hatchee.”
Stories vary as to just how or when the carbines were lost. One persistent version has it that the arms, still in their oak, zinc-lined, grease-filled cases, were lost when the canoes they were being transported capsized during an Indian attack. If this is so, the guns would likely be as good as new today.
It could pay an interested treasure hunter to check the U. S. Army records of the 2nd Dragoons in 1850.
St. George Island is a small strip of land off the coast of Franklin County, Florida. This would be a very good place for a treasure hunter to check into because there are supposedly six different treasures buried on the island.
The infamous pirate William “Billy Bowlegs” Rogers was said to have buried several chests near the old St. George lighthouse. One of Roger’s ships was later wrecked in the narrow channel between the island of St. Vincent and St. George.
Another cache of five chests of unknown origin is rumored to have been secreted at the western extremity of St. George Island.
A gulf Coast tale relates how a Spanish ship was swept up in a tremendous tidal wave and rammed across the narrow island. The bottom was ripped from the ship, scattering cannons, coins, and gold bars across the sandy expanse. Some of this treasure has been recovered from time to time.
There is supposedly a cache of 160 kegs of Irish whiskey. These came from a schooner bound from Ireland to New Orleans in 1763. The vessel was caught in a severe hurricane and dashed to destruction on St. George Island.
The captain and surviving crew members secreted the oaken kegs in a large hole just back from the beach on the island’s eastern end. They had hoped to return later but never did. According to local stories, this same ship’s strongbox is buried just west of the whiskey cache.
A reported $6,000,000 in gold bars buried in clay crocks is alleged to have been secreted at the eastern tip of St. George Island. This Spanish loot was supposedly buried in an eight foot deep pit.
Somewhere on sandy St. George Island, a $10,000,000 pirate treasure was reportedly buried in 1796 by William Augustus Bowles, a self-styled “King of Florida.” This cache is mentioned in the book “ROMANTIC AND HISTORIC FLORIDA” (1936 Dodd, Mead, and Co.)
One of Florida’s least-known yet largest land treasures is in a swamp pond near the Chattahoochee river in the northwestern part of the state. Well hidden near Neal’s Landing on the Florida-Georgia border, a fortune in English gold has defied all efforts at recovery for over 150 years.
The gold, and other articles of plunder, are alleged to have been thrown into the quagmire by a band of Seminoles who were about to be trapped by Andrew Jackson and his advancing Militia and have been sought sporadically by amateur and professional hunters alike. A guide will be needed for a trip to the “money pit” as Yarbor Pond is known today.
If you leave Bascom, Florida, you will cross Old Slavery Road halfway to the pond, the only artery to serve the wilderness a century ago. Today, it is a dim, overgrown path in a low basin, surrounded by gum and cypress trees.
Florida’s history confirms, in part, the accounts of the elusive treasure trove. It is after the British defeat at New Orleans in 1814 that English Lt. Col. Nicholls led his colonial marines into Spanish Florida to erect a fort on the Apalachicola River. He befriended the warlike Creeks and Seminoles and eventually incited them into open attacks on American settlers near the Florida-Georgia border. By 1817, several families had been massacred.
President Monroe ordered Andrew Jackson to personally command his force of the Tennessee Militia and drive the savages into Spanish territory. Jackson was only a short distance from the border when his scouts relayed word that an army detachment escorting women and children en route to meet him had been ambushed.
Enraged, Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, smashed into Florida, leveling and burning Indian settlements wherever he found them. Local legend claims that Billy Neal, for whom Neal’s Landing was named, was captured by the Indians and witnessed the treasure’s hiding. Jackson’s troops later rescued him.
“The Indians were trapped at the head of Carter’s Mill Creek, just above Neal’s Landing,” he related, “That night, they learned that the white men were coming, so they loaded seven ponies with their gold and other articles and slipped away to the Old Harbor Pond, as it’s now called. When they returned before daybreak, the ponies’ sacks were empty. The Indians realized they could not make away with the plunder so they hid it well.”
It’s generally understood that the Seminoles who buried the fortune received most of it from English renegades acting under orders from the crown, perhaps from the infamous Arbuthnot and Ambrister, the two English traders who Jackson later hung for stirring the savages into uprisings.
Leaders of several expeditions in search of money, calculating loads of seven Indian ponies and types of coinage minted at the time, conservatively estimated the treasure at $84.000. While the bulk of the coinage is in gold, some silver pieces were also included, along with guns, lead, etc.
Was the story of the lost gold passed down through the generations of the Seminole nation, and did descendants of those who left it there return to search for it? It seems they did because a small band of wandering Seminoles, in the early 1900s, traveled along the banks of the Chattahoochee every fall, asking permission from the various plantation owners to camp on their lands.
The report was this” “They were always digging into the ground, and when you asked them, they claimed to be looking for iron pieces, axe heads, and the like. They always used back trails and avoided white men.”
All but forgotten today (except by a few treasure hunters), this store of coins is almost certainly under the waters of what is now know as Yarbor Pond in Jackson County, Florida.
This would be a good site for local research because, if the plantation site is located, chances are good that a cache of Spanish gold and silver could be found.
Ed Watson was one of Florida’s lesser know but more treacherous outlaws. It is known locally that he buried treasure on Florida’s west coast, Ten Thousand Islands. Edgar J. Watson, a 200 lb red-haired brawler, moved to a key near Chokoloskee Island in Collier County, about 160 miles southeast of Tampa, in about 1800. This region was a haven for outlaws and fugitives.
Watson had fled from Georgia with his wife and son, where he was wanted for murdering three men. Establishing a plantation, he grew sugar cane and manufactured syrup. His plantation became a rendezvous for black and white fugitives, who were put to work in the fields and paid off at the end of the season with a bullet.
The law, however, did not reach into that area, and the outlaw soon became know as Emperor Watson. He was involved in several killings in Key West, but when arrested, bail was always posted and then forfeited. Watson always had unlimited cash.
Aside from his profitable farm, he is believed to have found the remains of a wrecked Spanish treasure galleon and salvaged many gold and silver bars. These are said to be buried on this plantation.
For a long time, no law officer ventured into Watson’s territory. Later, those who did were either killed or forced to labor in the fields until released and sent to the mainland with a warning never to return. Finally, in 1910, after a 30-year reign, Watson forced a companion to murder a man and woman who lived on a nearby key.
Chokoloskee residents organized a posse, cornered Watson, and shot him down. When Mrs. Watson was informed where she could find the body, she merely shrugged and said, “I don’t want him or his money. Just give me his watch.”
The exact site of Watson’s plantation may be difficult to locate. But no one has searched for this treasure for many years. The site is usually believed to be on Lostman’s Key.
This story began in Georgia during the Revolutionary War. Dan McGirth was a self-proclaimed patriot – First Class. He left Georgia and went to the Florida border, where he joined the East Florida Rangers, a small group of loyalists fighting for King George against the rebels.
East Florida Rangers would strike without warning, killing, stealing, and burning in parties of about fifty armed and mounted men. McGirth learned the business of raiding from experts in their field.
At the war’s end, the beaten English pulled out of Florida, leaving it in the hands of the Spanish. A homeless fugitive, McGirth turned to banditry.
He gathered a group of about 50 families of outlaw Indians and white thieves and set up camp in the wilderness between the St. Johns River and the St. Marys River. This was supposed to be a Spanish area but was, in fact, a no-man’s land of outlaws. McGirth became famous for his raids.
McGirth’s career as an outlaw lasted for quite a few years. He raided, killed, and stole, then retreated into the forest among the Indians. He had little use for the gold and silver he acquired. Legend says he hid it in a secret place in the forest, hoping to dig it all up someday and sail away to a new life. But fate was to decide otherwise.
The Spanish officials were having a lot of trouble with the Indians north of St. Augustine, and decided on a campaign of punitive raids against them. One night, a cavalry detachment came upon an Indian camp in the woods. The Spanish struck quickly and, to their surprise, grabbed McGirth. He was sent to prison for five years before he died.
McGirth’s treasure is somewhere in the swamp between St. Mary’s and St. Johns Rivers. It is probably in present-day Nassau County, along the Georgia-Florida border, still a place with few people or towns.
Buried each in its sand pit somewhere in Cudjoe Key, in the Straits of Florida, are three treasure troves, their aggregate worth estimated to be over $4,000,000. These are the principal caches of the Dutch pirate Jan Van Oss, amassed during his vendetta against the Spanish in the latter half of the 16th century.
Van Oss garnered nearly six million dollars in oblong silver bars, gold and silver specie, gold religious plate, and hundreds of crucifixes and other hand-worked ornamental jewelry, some of it adorned with small gemstones. About one-third of this vast fortune was distributed among his crew or shipped back to the Netherlands.
The rest, worth almost four million dollars, was divided and buried in three pits over months. The exact depth or precise location of these treasure-filled excavations remains a mystery to this day. The treasure remains securely hidden somewhere on Cudjoe Key, Florida.
Turtle Mound, seven miles from Coronado Beach (near New Smyrna), is under protection of the Florida State Historical Society. It is also an area that is rich in treasure stories. Called Mount Surrugue by the Indians, it was charted on Florida maps as early as 1564.
Because Spanish galleons stopped there for repairs, wood, and water, stories of buried treasure are associated with the place. This would be a good spot to do some local research.
In the 1890’s local farmers around a pool formed by a cold water spring near Deleon Springs, Volusia County, were clearing brush and debris out of a spring basin. During operations, an iron chest was seen through the pool’s clear waters.
It was about 25 feet below the surface and rested on a projecting ledge of stone. Many such ledges around this pool narrow into crevices toward the bottom. An attempt was made to drag – not lift – the chest using ropes. Some progress was made, but suddenly the ropes severed, and the chest fell into the depths.
In 1927, an interested group employed a diver to recover the chest, but he reported many rock crevices at the bottom of the pool, into any of which the chest might have fallen. So far as is known, the chest has not yet been retrieved. It is believed that the chest contains treasures put there by some unknown pirate or sea raider.
$1,000,000 to $15,000,000 in gold and silver bullion, coin, and church treasures is believed buried in the sands near Fowler’s Bluff on the Suwanee River, 15 miles above where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, not far from Chiefland, Levy County.
Originally it was 30 feet inland from the high water mark, but now it is believed to be closer to or under the water because of channel changes in the river.
The pirate Jean LaFitte supposedly buried this treasure. Since 1888, men have gathered information and spent $200,000 searching for this treasure. It is believed to be buried in separate locations near three large oaks.
Local rumor says that a portion, possibly one of the three treasure locations, was discovered some years ago in a 20-foot hole under oak and helped to establish a Georgia bank and other enterprises.
William Rogers, an Englishman, came to New Orleans in 1810 as a youth of 15. After marrying a Choctaw Indian squaw, he settled on a small plantation. Finding this peaceful existence unsuited to his nature, he sought a more adventurous life by joining the pirate gang of the infamous Jean LaFitte.
After the War of 1812, the federal government, in recognition of the service performed by LaFitte during the conflict, gave the pirate a pardon on his promise to no longer engaging freebooting.
When LaFitte went out of business temporarily, Rogers, who had acquired the trade name of “Billy Bowlegs,” set up a shop on his own. He was a specialist in raiding Spanish vessels laden with Mexican gold plat, and within a few years, his activities made him wealthy.
In 1838 the federal government, tiring of his raids, forced him into brief retirement. A prudent man, Bowlegs had decided some years before to lay aside some of his loot for the proverbial rainy day. He cached his treasure in three separate locations.
Leading a comparatively honest but dull life for several years aboard his 50-foot schooner, Bowlegs finally tired of it all. He refitted his vessel, hoisted the Jolly Roger, and set sail again. A few weeks later saw the ship well laden with plunder but badly shot, returning to her base.
However, the pirate was spotted by a suspicious English warship, which gave chase. Although he and his crew of 27 escaped capture by the English, Bowlegs was forced to scuttle his vessel in four fathoms of water close to the mouth of the Suwanee River.
The pirate then quietly devoted his time to organizing a salvage expedition in New Orleans. Still, when he returned from there with his family and with his salvage plans, he found his original crew gone through disease and desertion.
Shorthanded, he couldn’t raise the vessel, so after the death of his wife and unable to bear leaving all that money at the bottom of the river, even though he had millions buried elsewhere, Bowlegs settled down in a cabin nearby to watch over the sunken treasure. He died in 1888, having attained the remarkable age for a pirate of 91.
At his death, only two persons knew of his original buried treasure locations: a nephew who later dug up one of the smaller hoards and a youthful acquaintance to whom Bowlegs had taken a liking. The latter finally got around to looking for the loot in the 1930s, but shifting sands had deepened the treasure, and the fellow, easily discouraged, gave up.
The treasure is supposed to be in the northwestern part of the state, with the bulk of treasure buried on the north side of a sandy island, possibly Santa Rosa Island or one of the islands to the east facing Choctawhatchee Bay, where pirate headquarters were kept in 1830, and the remainder cached in a single location on the nearby mainland.
White settlement on Indian Key dates back to the early 1500’s when a Spanish explorer, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, established a mission and trading post there. The Caloosa and Tequesta Indians were eager to trade raccoon and otter skins for firearms, rum, and trade beads. Trade beads have been recovered that may go as far back as Spanish colonial times.
In the 1600s, this trading center was abandoned, and several small groups of Indians came to live there, hence the name Indian Key. Two better-known pirates of the late 1700’ss and early 1800s were Black Caesar and Tavernier, who had shipped with LaFitte. Both are reported to have buried treasure in the area of the Key, and several finds have been made in recent years.
When the last pirates were captured in 1823, several squatters made Indian Key their home. They were later joined by wreckers, thieves, murderers, scientists, businessmen, army personnel, and settler to form the county seat of Dade County shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between the whites and the Seminoles in 1835.
Following its destruction by Indians in 1840, the Key remained active as a wrecking station until the 1870s. Gradually, the inhabitants left, and the once thriving community of nearly 100 people became a jungle-choked ruin populated by lizards, birds, and rats.
So there you have it – four centuries of relics at your feet, waiting to be discovered on Indian Key.
The Caloosa Indians were excellent seamen and strong underwater swimmers. These skills enabled them to prey on Spanish vessels wrecked in the waters around southern Florida. When lookouts spotted a foundering galleon, its bottom ripped open by an offshore reef, the Caloosas swooped down in their dugout canoes.
All on board were usually slaughtered. The warriors then looted the ship’s hold of treasures and dove for any valuable cargo already lying on the coral bottom. Los Matires, the reef most dreaded, is now shown on the charts as the Florida Keys.
During the 98 years between 1519 and 1617, when the Caloosas were at the height of their power, the King of Spain’s “plate fleets” transported a total of $1,536 million in New World gold, silver, and precious stones.
The leader of the Caloosas was named Carlos, and he also ruled over a vast Indian federation that controlled the entire Florida coastal region adjacent to the plate fleet route. As a tribute, the other Indians of the federation would bestow most of their booty on him whenever a ship sank along the eastern coast of Florida, and they were able to salvage any of the cargo.
Accounts of Carlos’ wealth and power were recorded in the memoirs of a shipwrecked Spaniard. Escalante Fontaneda was only a boy of 13, en route to Spain, when he found himself stranded on one of the keys. He was soon taken captive by the Caloosas and brought to the village of the chief, where he managed to amuse Carlos by performing songs and dances.
The young castaway’s life was spared, and he spent the next 17 years as a member of the tribe. He learned several Indian dialects and served as a translator for Carlos in dealings with other tribes. Finally, when he was 30, he managed to escape.
In a book entitled “NARRATIVE OF LEMOYNE, AN ARTIST WHO ACCOMPANIED LANDONNIERE,” mention is made of the proposed expedition that Fonteneda wanted to take back to try and recover some of the treasure Carlos had accumulated.
“.they (Fonteneda and his companion) also reported that he (Carlos) possessed a great store of gold and silver and that he kept it in a certain village in a pit not less than a man’s height in-depth and as large as a cask; and that if I could make my way to the place with a hundred arquebusiers, the could put all the wealth into my hands besides what I might obtain from the richer natives.”
When Fonteneda eventually found passage to Spain, he wrote an account of his experiences in Florida and delivered it to the King of Spain. By doing this, he hoped to win favor and enter the King’s service.
In one section of Fonteneda’s memoirs, dated 1575, there are several references to Caloosa’s wrecking activity and the tribe’s enormous wealth.
The following is but one example:
“I desire to speak of the riches found by the Indians of Ais, which perhaps were as much as a million dollars or over, in bars of silver, gold, and in articles of jewelry made by the hands of Mexican Indians, which the passengers were bringing with them. These things Carlos divided with the cacigues of Ais, Jeaga, Quacata, Mayajuaco, and Mayaca, and he took what pleased him, or the best part.”
Today, Florida historians, archeologists, and treasure hunters are still looking for leads to the tribe’s lost gold. It is known that Carlos’s village was near what is now called Charlotte Harbor. Perhaps delving into all of the tomes of unpublished and untranslated documents of that period in the West Indies Archives in Seville, Spain, will uncover missing information to relocate Carlos’s village and the treasures.
Louis d’Aury is hardly known in history, although they pirated millions of dollars in loot. This plunder is still secreted on Florida’s islands and beaches. Some of these treasure sites are in Seahorse Key, Honeymoon Island, Cotee River, Anclotte Key, Amelia Island, and Clearwater.
Louis d’Aury was born about 1707 in the coastal town of Calais, France. Like so many boys who grew up along the coast, his only prospect in life was fishing. However, d’Aury wanted more than that from life, so at 15, he joined the French Navy.
His first cruise aboard one of Napoleon’s ships was in the West Indies. Unfortunately, his ship tangled with a more formidable British Man-o-War and sank off the island of Martinique.
Young d’Aury was among the lucky sailors who could gain safety if the island’s shore. Later he signed aboard a merchant ship bound for New Orleans. At his arrival, the notorious privateer, Jean LaFitte, was recruiting men for his ships, and d’Aury found a berth with him. He was eventually placed in command of one of LaFite’s ships.
Shortly before assuming command, d’Aury’ made several successful raids on Gulf Coast shipping and had accumulated eleven chests of gold and silver valued in the neighborhood of $14,000,000. In need of fresh water, he dropped anchor in Clearwater Bay on Florida’s west coast.
Reasoning that his loot was too valuable to be carried aboard for long, d’Aury buried his eleven chests in the vicinity of a small spring located on a small bluff near some oak trees to serve as markers.
In 1818, d’Aury’s name suddenly dropped from history, and no details of his death are known. However, the search for d’Aury’s hidden hoards continues. Honeymoon Island on Florida’s west coast near Dunedin alone can boast three treasure tales attributed to d’Aury.
The first tells of a concrete vault loaded with pirates’ gold, silver, jewels, and other loot. The second purports that he buried three brass cannons crammed with loot near the northern end of Honeymoon Island. Another story relates that d’Aury secreted three chests near the island’s north shoreline. An old ship’s anchor was alleged to mark the spot.
A romantic tale of another of d’Aury’s hoards exists in New Port Ritchey, Florida. The old pirate was professed to have built a treasure vault in the bank of Pithlachascotte (Cotee) River just south of town. The way old-timers tell it, the entrance is accessible only by small boat when the tide is low. Otherwise, the opening is covered by water.
Upper Key Largo has a vast amount of Florida history, especially if you are a treasure or relic hunter, and happen to own an underwater detector, for there is an old steamboat dock situated down a coral rock road half covered by dense underbrush eas of Card Sound bridge.
The area is dated to the early 1900s, and the dock was used by steamboats even before the Flagler railroad to the lower keys existed.
Scattered throughout the old dock area are ruins of cisterns and foundations of homes built from timbers and planking salvaged from the sea that washed deck loads off passing ships.
The site is located near two one-time hamlets dating around the time of the railroad and known as High Mangroves and Redbird City. Both are long abandoned, but a true treasure or hunter using a metal detector, along with the knowledge of the area, could discover the site profitable.
Tiny Ross Island, in Upper Tampa Bay near St. Petersburg, Florida, holds the secret of a pirate treasure that has been lost since the late 1820s. Only about one mile long, north to south, and one half mile wide, this low-lying isle was the site of a pirate colony, a lair for renegades who preyed upon merchant ships in the Tampa Bay area.
Captain Henry Ross, the colony’s ruler, buried a chest of gold there in about 1821. More was buried later, but none has ever been recovered – to the best of anyone’s knowledge.
Ross came on the historical scene before the War of 1812 when he served as one of the ship captains operating out of Barataria under Jean LaFitte. During his sea-roving days under LaFitte, he had spotted a small island in Tampa Bay that was ideal for a pirate headquarters. Later named Ross Island, it had a natural lagoon for hiding a pirate ship.
This was when Captain Henry Ross recruited a band of ex-pirates eager for adventure and the opportunity to line their pockets. Acquiring a small but fast three-masted schooner with less than a five-foot draft, the band set sail about 1817-1818 to establish their colony on the secluded island.
About a dozen shacks were first constructed from old ships’ timbers found on the beach, and a well was dug. Docking facilities and a stout fort were erected, along with two storehouses.
Ross did not restrict his illegal operations to mere pirating. Smuggling and the slave trade also claimed a goodly share of his attention. New Orleans was naturally the best port for the disposal of smuggled goods and the fencing of stolen plunder. After each transaction, the old pirate returned to his secret island stronghold ad buried his ill-gotten gains.
This easy life went on for many months until so many complaints reached the Navy Department in Washington that the Anti-Piracy Squadron of the U. S. Navy stationed at Key West was ordered to take action against these sea marauders.
Ross did not know that the U. S. Navy was out to destroy him, for he did not curtail his operations. While looting a merchant ship just outside Egmont Channel, the naval sloop surprised the pirates.
Ross successfully made a getaway, but the naval sloop followed closely in his wake. Reaching the island, Ross slipped into the safety of the lagoon. The sloop of war was deeper drafted and could not enter.
While Ross thought he was safe, he was not aware that the naval craft was fitted with new long-range rifled guns. Approaching the island as closely as safety permitted, the warship zeroed in her powerful guns and sank the pirate craft with several direct hits.
The pirates were terrorized when they saw their ship smashed to splinters, particularly when they spotted a landing party of sailors and marines approaching in long boats. Picking up only a few of their belongings, the pirates and their families escaped into the mangroves.
The attackers then set fire to the shacks, warehouses, and forts. The captain of the naval sloop later reported that a brief search was done for treasure but that none was found, as he did not have time for a thorough search. What happened to Captain Ross is still a mystery, but the bulk of his treasure was certainly never recovered since that disastrous day in the 1820s.
If you are a relic hunter and want to discover a new type of artifact for the mantelpiece, try the old riverboats. Florida’s rivers are cluttered with these derelict vessels from Jacksonville and the St. Johns River – the old steamers made their runs back in the early 1900s, and many were damaged, sunk, or destroyed along the many routes.
The St. Johns riverboats were probably more prominent in those days due to the length of the winding St. Johns River, which extends from Jacksonville to Palatka and Lake George.
Even today, a treasure hunter, with the aid of a metal detector, can search the surrounding banks of St. Johns and other areas can find many unusual artifacts. Some ships are still intact and are seen rotting away after many years.
A good Florida map, with the St. Johns River marked, is the best way to begin. Many of the towns along the river were steamboat stops. Or one can write the Department of Transportation, Tallahassee, Florida, for information on the steamers or riverboats.