Maine ranks highly as a treasure-hunting state with a variety of sites. Nearly every beach in the state has a story about pirate treasure and many stories about pioneers, Indians, and early bandit caches.
An unusual treasure is probably still where it was stored, about ten miles southwest of Portland, Maine, waiting to be found.
To some people, searching for Egyptian mummies might seem blasphemous, but remember that they have already been taken from their original graves, transported to the United States, and are worth more on today’s collectors’ market than $12,000 each. Here is the story.
In 1857, and for several years afterward, newspaper publishers in this country faced a severe shortage of rags, which were necessary to add strength and body to the wood fibers used in paper sheets. As the shortage of rags increased, large numbers of small newspapers went out of business.
Augustus Stanwood, a printer in Portland, Maine, was greatly affected by this rag shortage. Realizing he was about to go bankrupt, Stanwood looked for a much-needed source of this ever-increasing fiber shortage.
While drinking with a sea captain, Stanwood told him of his troubles one night. The sailing captain suggested using the cloth wrappings of mummies. (At this time, the Egyptian grave sites were being exploited, and thousands were selling artifacts, coffins, and mummies worldwide.)
Augustus made a deal with the ship’s captain to obtain several dozen cloth-wrapped bodies. When the shipment arrived, Stanwood stored them on his property, in pits to preserve them, about ten miles southwest of Portland.
During the next three to seven years, he used about half of the mummies, putting their linen and cotton wrappings into his paper grinders. The pulp made an excellent grade of paper stock.
About this time, the rag shortage let up because of the Civil War and the capture of huge cotton stores by Union forces throughout the South. Thus, Stanwood did not need to use the rest of his mummies. After he tried to sell them and couldn’t, Stanwood left the mummies in the pits he had dug on his property.
After Stanwood died, few people even remembered the mummies, and they are, as far as can be determined, still buried on the old Stanwood property, about ten miles southwest of Portland, Maine. If you aren’t afraid of ghosts, this unusual treasure could be worth thousands of dollars today.
The stories of a treasure that Captain William Kidd supposedly buried are so numerous that it would be a waste of time to try to investigate them all. I will give the sites near Maine, where Kidd is rumored to have left part of his ill-gotten gains.
I won’t try to guess how much each treasure is worth, but I will name some of the islands Kidd is said to have visited. You will have to do local research on these different locations.
The islands are Orrs, Outer Heron, Squirrel, Monhegan, Hollowell, Pittston, Isle of Haute, Twobush, Oak Island, Deer, and Bailey.
These two instances of treasure being found in Maine lend credence to the fact that more is probably there.
Jewell Island, in Casco Bay, is supposed to be where Captain Kidd buried his treasure. No one knows if Kidd ever went to the island, but there is a story, supported by a lot of evidence, that Captain Jonathan Chase found a big treasure on the island and killed and buried his helper while getting it. No record of what happened to Chase or the money can be found.
On Bailey Island, also in Casco Bay, there is a well-authenticated story of pirate treasure found in the 1850s. A farmer named John Wilson was duck hunting on the island when, in an attempt to retrieve a fallen bird, he slipped into a crevice between two ledges.
In his scramble to climb out, he uncovered an iron pot filled with pieces of Spanish gold. He exchanged these for $12,000 in coins of the realm, a comfortable fortune at that time.
A story of possible treasure on the Allagash River, which could be worthwhile to check out, is that of Anse Hanley. During the early days of timber-cutting, the lumber companies were constantly in trouble with squatters.
These people would carve out a small homestead on company land, then hint to the owners that if they were forced to move, a forest fire might start that would destroy millions of dollars worth of timber. In most cases, the settlers stayed on the property.
One such land parasite was Anse Hanley. Around 1900, Hanley came to Fort Kent, accompanied by his wife and two children. After getting food and water, he moved up the Allagash River in Aroostook County and squatted there.
During the next few years, Hanley made whiskey for sale to the loggers.
It was said of his homemade product, “If a man can drink it and come back for more, he will live forever.” Hanley also sold farm products and smuggled whiskey, guns, and cigarettes from Canada, which he sold to American athletes and hunters.
When Hanley died, he left a rumored $60,000, some of which he had hidden before his death and could never be found. Local research could help with this.
This information can be helpful to the Maine rock hound interested in searching for rocks and gems. In Maine are found ores of most metals, as well as valuable non-metallic minerals such as quartz, feldspar, mica, graphite, and gemstones such as tourmalines, beryl, amethyst, garnet, and topaz.
At least one mineral, beryllonite, has never been found outside of Maine, and the best emerald beryl ever found in the United States was found in this state. Maine is about in the middle of the pack regarding mineral production, with an annual yield worth about $6,000,000.
One-third of the state hasn’t been looked into yet for mineral resources, and only a few places have been looked into enough.
Platinum and iridium are also mentioned, but it’s unclear if they can be used in business. Gold is present in small quantities in several places. Silver is found in most of the lead and zinc localities and the copper ores at Bluehill.
That considerable bodies of lead and zinc of definite value have been known since they were first mined in 1860. Some pure silver has been mined at Sullivan and elsewhere.
The locations of different mineral sites can probably be obtained from the State Geology Department in Augusta, Maine.
Maine rates highly as a treasure-hunting state with a large number and variety of treasure sites. There is hardly a beach along its coastline that has not at some time been connected with tales of buried treasure. The following locations and stories could be worthwhile to investigate.
Cliff Island was once the home of a tough, old salvager called Captain Keiff. He lived alone in a log hut on the island. His favorite way to wreck ships was to tie a lantern to his horse’s neck, then ride up and down the shoreline.
This light and wreck would mislead ships on the island’s reefs and ledges. Keiff would kill any survivors of the wrecks and then salvage the cargo. In those days, illegal salvaging was condoned but not encouraged, and no questions were asked when someone sold salvaged goods.
Keiff is supposed to have made a fortune in his nefarious occupation. There is a place on the island still known as Keiff’s Gardens. Local stories say that a large part of Keiff’s money is buried somewhere on the island. This is possible since he had no family and lived alone with few ways to spend money, as the wrecked ships supplied him with most of his needs.
Great Chebeague Island, reached by ferry from Falmouth to Portland, is the second-largest island in Casco Bay.
In the 1860s, an old sailor said that in his pirate days, he had been one of a pirate crew that had buried a great treasure here many years before. He began digging in a secluded part of the island. One day, a young islander offered to assist him.
When the offer was curtly refused, the islander leaped over the rope with which the old man had enclosed the spot where he was digging, after that the treasure seeker, in a voice quaking with anger, cried, “I call on God and you people to witness that within a year this young fool will be tied in knots, even as I could tie this rope.”
No one remembers whether any treasure was found, but a short time later, the young man was soaked while fishing. He was confined to his bed with an agonizing malady that drew up his arms and legs as if tied in knots, and when he died, soon afterward, it was necessary to break the bones of his limbs to get his body into the casket.
The story of Samuel Bellamy and Paulsgrave Williams, two pirates who lived around 1716–1717, has been told before, but my version comes from a book written before 1900 and has details I haven’t seen in any other book.
It was not at the mouth of the Machias River where the two pirates had their stronghold but further upriver. They did dig a subterranean treasure house, but it was not inside the fort. There is little doubt that the vault holds a large hoard of treasure today. The story of Bellamy and Williams started as what could have been just another instance of illegal salvaging in the West Indies.
After several years of wrecking ships from the shore, the two men decided to try it at sea by becoming pirates.
For piracy, they needed a ship, which they did not have. But the problem was quickly fixed when the British merchant ship Whidah showed up close to their headquarters. The Whidah, her holds bulging with precious metals, ivory, and gems, took shelter in a small West Indian cove.
Before starting the long voyage to England, the British replenished their water supply here. A few hours later, the land-bound pirates rowed toward the unsuspecting ship. In a matter of minutes, every member of the crew was dead. Bellamy and Williams immediately commissioned the Whidah as a pirate ship and headed north.
After stealing from a few ships along the way, the pirates arrived at a place chosen by Captain Bellamy, who was the only one who knew how to navigate. The spot was near the mouth of the Machias River, far from any civilized community at that time.
It was here that the two leaders put into action a plan they had had for some time. They reasoned that their ship’s cargo should be hidden before they sailed again.
The two decided to build a permanent headquarters, which took the form of a large log fort with defensive fences and earthworks. A large vault was excavated close by to serve as a treasure house. Here the spoils of their pirating were secreted.
Bellamy and Williams set sail again when this was done, and the Whidah had been overhauled. For several months, their piratical exploits were the talk of the region, from New England to the Carolinas. After several forays, the treasure house was filled. Because there was so much money, Bellamy and Williams decided they could stop being pirates.
However, the temptation to make one more trip was too much, and on the last trip out, a near-disaster occurred in the vicinity of Fortune Bay. When they came within range, the pirates spotted a wealthy-looking vessel, a French corvette with 36 guns.
In the battle that followed, most of the crew of Bellamy and Williams were killed, although the battered Whidah did manage to elude the French vessel and sailed back to their pirate headquarters. When the Whidah was repaired, they set sail on one last trip.
Near Nantucket Shoals, Massachusetts, the pirates took the New Bedford whaler Mary Jane as it left port. It carried nothing of value. Bellamy appointed Mary Jane’s captain to lead the Whidah through the unfamiliar shoals until the tip of Cape Cod was passed, and then Bellamy himself would navigate.
The captain of the Mary Jane, threading his way through the reefs, led the Whidah around, and both vessels were torn apart. All the men onboard both ships were drowned except the captain of the Mary Jane, who finally made it to shore.
Seven pirates following the two vessels in a small sloop reached the shore, but they were swiftly captured and hanged by the angry townspeople of Eastham, Mass.
Bellamy and Williams’s headquarters, near the Machias River’s mouth, has just about disappeared. But somewhere nearby is hidden one of the richest pirate caches in North America, one that has never been reported found.
This short story has a mystery concerning a treasure location that has never been reported solved. Outer Heron Island, Maine, lies a few miles offshore from Boothbay Harbor.
Around 1900, two young men came to Outer Heron Island from New York. They had a map of the island showing where a chest of pirate gold was supposedly buried. The two never revealed how this map came into their possession.
They started boring near a single, strangely shaped spruce tree on the island’s highest point. They did this with a special auger that could be made longer by adding sections of the iron rod.
After a month of constant work and a depth of 30 feet, the auger brought up oaken chips. They penetrated this, and the bit came up with particles of what seemed to be gold. The two then hired two Italian laborers and excavated a 30-foot shaft. At this depth, a 6-foot oak plank was found, and that was all. The gold had come from a copper spike which the auger point had rapped.
The mystery is: how did a copper spike and a six-foot plank get 30 feet underground unless some excavation had been done years before? No reports of any treasures being found in the area can be located.
One of the few instances of counterfeiting in Maine was on Ragged Island in Cumberland County. This gang operated for several years until federal agents finally routed them. Because of its isolated position, the island was also a rendezvous for different lawbreakers for several years.
This little-known location could pay off because some of these outlaws almost certainly hid something.
This little-known treasure was found by accident, then lost again, and has never been rediscovered. Manana Island is off the middle coast of Maine. Around 1900, several fishermen stopped their boats on this island to relax.
They decided to play a game of soccer. When a wild kick was made by one of the crew members, the captain of the group ran to retrieve the ball. As he picked up the ball, he noticed rusty metal sticking out of the sand.
He dug the sand from around the object and saw that it was an old iron pot filled with coins. Since he was out of sight of his crew, he stuck the pot into a nearby rock crevice, intending to come back for it later.
After playing longer, the crew went back to their fishing boat. The captain made an excuse to stay behind for a short time. Returning to what he thought was the crevice where he had put the pot of coins, he was amazed that he could not find the right one.
Deciding that part of the coins would be better than none, the captain called his crew and told them what he had done.
The entire company spent several hours searching for the coins but could never find them. As far as is known, somewhere on Manana Island, stuck in a rock crevice, there is a cache of coins waiting for a lucky treasure hunter.
In Washington County, many stagecoach robberies happened in Crawford, which used to be the hub of a large lumber business. In popular stories about early stagecoach travel, it is said that when deep snow made it hard for the coach to move, packs of wolves would follow the wheel tracks and could only be scared off by the alertness of the drivers and the quick priming and firing of hand-loaded guns.
Other exciting tales abound in this region. One concern is for three brothers, who live near Bangor, and became highwaymen, terrorizing this district by stopping coaches several times a week and extracting all valuables from the passengers and their luggage.
A passenger who was robbed while passing through the area several months later in Boston recognized a man lounging in a tavern as one of the three bandits.
Accused, the man shouted his innocence, but a gold nugget hanging from his watch chain was found to bear the initials of the coach passenger. It could pay to do local research on this gang.
Here is a treasure lead in Maine that, to my knowledge, has not been publicized too much. It is based on legend, but don’t let that bother you. Legends do come true!
The legend states that Indians, under Captain Sunday, mined silver near the town of Cornish, Cumberland County. The place was marked by three small hills flanking the Saco River near its junction with the Ossipee River. The mined silver was stored and never used.
After working the mine for several years, the Indians sold the land on which it was located to William Phillips, who spent the remainder of his life searching for the mine, but never found it.
I have no idea whether there is any truth to the story of the treasure on John’s Island in Casco Bay. Many stories cling to this little island, which is famed as the summer home of the Lauder family and Gene Tunney.
Tradition has it that a large frame tavern on the island’s north end was a hangout for seamen. One of these was a Portuguese man who never did any work but always had plenty of gold and silver to spend when he appeared from parts unknown.
This went on for years. Finally, he died in a foreign land, but before he breathed his last, he gave a friend a map of John’s Island, showing the location of a hidden well near the tavern.
At the bottom of the well, he said that gold and silver would be found at the bottom of the well because “I helped put it there from the pirate craft Dare Devil, commanded by Dixie Bull.” Searches have been done for this well, but without success.
Jean-Vincent de l’Abadie, Baron de St. Castine, was a French nobleman who inherited land on Penobscot Bay in Maine. In 1665, he bought the land. For almost 25 years, he ran a successful trading post in the village of Pentagoet and made a lot of money.
During this time, there were fierce border fights between French Canadians and people from New England. Although de Castine fortified the village, it was plundered by the British several times. Sir Edmund Andros, Governor General of Massachusetts, led one such attack in June 1688. However, the baron had fled with his treasure.
In 1840, Captain Stephen Grindle and his son Samuel were hauling logs to the Narrows, about six miles from the village, when they found a French crown coin. The pair dug until dark, recovering 20 more coins. It was late November, and a severe blizzard struck during the night, so digging was suspended until the spring of 1841.
Returning in the spring, the Grindles dug up nearly 500 coins from France, Spain, South America, Portugal, Holland, England, and Massachusetts. Was this the de Castine hoard, missing for 137 years?
Everyone believed that it was and that much more could be found. The old rumors that the baron had been forced to bury his treasure as he fled were revived. Dying shortly after falling in France, de Castine had never been able to return to America to retrieve his fortune. Now the Grindles had found at least some of it.
In April 1841, Dr. Joseph L. Stevens of Castine, Maine, named after the baron, visited the site and was present when more coins were unearthed. He purchased one of each type of coin dated between 1642 and 1682.
There were also 150 Pine Tree shillings and sixpence dated 1652 in the collection. This was the first coin struck in the colonies. The pine tree shillings are valued at up to $2000 each.
It was reported in 1855 that a man named Conolley, another Narrows resident, found an old chest with the remains of clothing and other goods.
Records show Baron de St. Castine fled with six money chests. Thus far, only one has reportedly been found. Records further indicate that a year before the Baron’s flight, a French visitor had estimated the treasure to be worth $200,000.
Over three hundred years have passed. What is the value of those five missing chests today?
Somewhere in the middle of southwestern Maine, in Oxford County, there exists a mother lode of gold beyond the wildest dreams of any treasure hunter. Pure conjecture? Not at all; that statement is based on solid facts and research.
For 50 years, professional geologists have concentrated on finding the gold source in Oxford County’s brooks, lakes, and ponds. Precious metals are found everywhere, and platinum is found occasionally.
Research is continuing in the Wilson Mills area, which is very close to the New Hampshire border. There is unquestionably gold in those hills, particularly in the Eustis area.
Near Byron, the Swift River and its many feeders have produced more gold than the other Maine regions combined. Anyone who can handle a pan will find small traces of the color if he is willing to spend the time.
On any given day, up to a dozen people can be seen panning the stream. A few prospecting by searching behind the stream on any given day. Some people go prospecting by looking behind rocks and stones that have been turned over, where small nuggets can sometimes be found. Fly fishermen often set aside the rod and search for gold, perhaps attracted by a flashing glint.
Trappers have found a small amount of gold in the Swift River since the area was first settled. In recent memory, over $7000 of the yellow stuff was taken from among a jumbled pile of rocks at a bend in the river.
Perley Whitney took several thousand dollars from one of the branches for years. Two Boston vacationers panned almost $500 in two weeks from one of the small brooks that flow into the Swift River.
Northwest of Byron is the Rangeley Lake Chain, a popular vacation area in the northeast. In Nile Brook, not far from the village of Rangeley, both platinum and gold have been found. All of the streams flowing into the chain of lakes contain the precious metal, and several freshwater pearls have been found in a few.
But the area extending from the village of Eustis southward to Lake Parmachenne causes excitement among those searching for gold. It is generally believed that the mother lode is somewhere in this general area.
The Kibbey Brook, which flows through the village, and the Magalloway River, southwest of the village, both have great crystals. Trappers often find traces of gold while running their lines.
Remember that you’re in a region that even prominent scientists believe harbors a fabulous mother lode. There is nothing mythological about the gold of Maine.
For those interested in sunken treasure, somewhere in Penobscot Bay, Maine, not far from Vinalhaven, are the charred remains of the side-wheeler Royal Tar and her treasure chest of $35,000 in gold and silver.
The 164-foot side-wheeler steamer was a new ship built in the spring of 1836 in St. John, New Brunswick.
Indeed a show palace on the water, she was often considered the sturdiest and safest craft on the run between Maine and New Brunswick.
So, it wasn’t a big surprise that a circus returning to the United States after a successful summer tour of New Brunswick rented the Royal Tar for the trip.
However, the circus was so big that the steamer was almost too small to hold. This necessitated the removal of several of the Royal Tar’s lifeboats to fit the troupe aboard. The removal of the lifeboats was to have fatal consequences later in the voyage.
When the wide-wheeler sailed for Portland, Maine, on October 21, 1836, she rode low in the water with her decks crowded with huge cages filled with horses, camels, and other circus animals, including the show’s headliner, Mogul, the gigantic Indian elephant.
When the circus wagons and other gear were added, it should have been obvious to all that the vessel was overloaded. But despite her tremendous cargo, the sturdy Royal Tar encountered no major problems on her journey down the coast until the unexpected happened!
As the steamer lay at anchor about two miles off the Fox Island thoroughfare in Penobscot Bay, disaster hit without warning. One of the boilers became dry and quickly overheated, causing the wooden timbers to burst into flames.
Whipped by near-gale force winds, the fire grew with lightning intensity until it was beyond control. The flames raced at will through the overcrowded decks of the anchored steamer. When Captain Reed saw nothing could be done, he ordered the few lifeboats to be filled and lowered.
Seven hours after the fire had begun, the Royal Tar sank beneath the waves. It is estimated that, in the meantime, she had drifted some 20 miles as the captain had pulled the anchor.
What is attractive to the treasure hunter, however, is that the $35,000 in the purser’s safe was untouched by anyone during the fire. Understandably, all concerned had to abandon the ship too quickly to think about saving money. At least, this was the report of all questions following the disaster.
So the treasure was still on board the Royal Tar when she sank, and the facts indicate that it is still at the bottom of Penobscot Bay.
One of Maine’s little-known treasures concerns Jim Dolliver, a wealthy sawmill owner who secreted over $10,000 in gold for safekeeping between The Forks, now Manchester, and Murphy’s. He had previously made an overland journey to Montréal, where he converted his notes, checks, shares, and bonds into gold sovereigns. He liked the feel of gold better than paper. This occurred during the 1890s.
During his journey home on the old French Trail, Dolliver saw some mixed-race Canadians following him. Were they going to rob him? Would they kill him? As Jim tore through the dense woods to evade the real, or imagined, robbers, he went completely insane from fear after hiding his money in an old stump.
Relatives later stated that Dolliver died battling imaginary thieves. These same relatives offered three-quarters of the money to whoever should find it, and they spent $3,000 to discover its whereabouts, to no avail. As far as is known, this cache has never been found.
In Waldo County, the little town of Liberty also boasts a lost treasure of $70,000 in gold coins. This trove belonged to Timothy Barrett, who lived there in the early 1700s. People noticed that Barrett always had a lot of money, even though he never worked. Was he a retired pirate?
That explanation seemed to satisfy his neighbors. In time, the old fellow became vexed with people always asking him about the source of his wealth, so he moved across nearby George’s Stream and dug a cave for a home. He cultivated a small garden for his simple needs.
When old Barrett finally died, the villagers began searching for his fortune. A couple of fellows dug up an iron kettle near the cave. It was filled with ancient French coins. However, this was believed to have been only a small part of the main cache, which is still safe in the ground near George’s Stream.
Maine’s rocky coast, long beaches, offshore islands, and jagged peninsulas still hide treasures that daring pirates and hardy settlers buried or lost a long time ago. Tales of these obscure troves are still told by rugged characters mending lobster gear on the decaying wharves. Folks up there continue searching for buried pirate gold in lonely coves and shadowy islands, often lacing their stories with a half faith in spooks, ghosts, and spirits.
If you are ever in the areas of the coastal town of Machias, you will hear tales of loot hidden by the notorious pirate, Captain Rhodes. He roamed this shore in 1675, using the sheltered inlet of the Machias River as a hideout and a place for careening his ship.
Another Machia’s area treasure is also stashed along Starbird’s Creek. A long time ago, Captain Harry Thompson and another pirate named Starbird would often meet up at the entrance to the Machias River.
Consequently, they used a nearby creek named Starbird to cache their plunder. Thompson was said to have marked some trees and drawn a crude map to aid his children in locating this trove, but they misinterpreted the clues, for they dug without success.
In the same general area, Brothers Island, named for two brothers called Flynn, is a hiding place for their trove. However, information concerning this cache is not easy to establish.
In the summer of 1956, the Bangor newspaper commented upon the finding of an alleged Revolutionary cannon on the bottom of the Penobscot River near that city. Authorities at the time described the cannon as probably part of the ill-fated expedition of 1779.
The Penobscot campaign, one of the costliest of the entire War of Independence and one of the worst defeats suffered by American armies in the long conflict, is also one of its least known. Few revolutionary histories devote more than a few paragraphs to the combined land and sea attack.
Not one of the 24 means of transport remained afloat following the end of the fighting. All were burned, and their skeletons were visible at low tide for decades. The vast armada was scuttled, not in the open sea, but in the Penobscot River. None of the artillery or armaments were salvaged. They remain in the mud and silt of the river to this day.
The fleet consisted of 19 ships carrying 344 guns plus 24 armed means of transportation. The impressive convoy, the biggest one ever put together during the war, was led by the frigate Warren, which had 32 eighteen-pounders and twelve-pounders. It took about a month to assemble the troops and crew the ships.
The imposing fleet appeared off Castine at the mouth of the Penobscot River on July 28. Few people inside the fort, which wasn’t finished yet, thought they stood a chance against such a strong show of force. The first attack was repulsed, though the only damage was to the ships’ rigging.
For the first week, most of the action consisted of minor action between the fleets. Despite his preponderance in numbers and armament, Commodore Saltonstall seemed unwilling to risk an all-out attack. Colonel Brewer, an American officer in the fort, told General Lovell that the fort was undermanned.
He later said, “I told Commodore Saltonstall that he could silence the fort and small battery and have everything his way within half an hour.”
Saltonstall answered in heated tones: “You seem to be damned knowing about this matter; however, I am not going to risk my shipping in that damned hole.”
When Lovell decided to carry the fort by storm, Saltonstall declined any assistance. Unknowingly, General MacLean was ready to strike his colors, and had a concerted attack been made; the British would have surrendered.
On August 11, Lovell made a final passionate appeal to the fleet commander: “I am once more compelled to request the most speedy service in your Department and that a moment be no longer delayed to put into execution a combined attack by both land and sea forces, I mean not to determine your mode of attack, but it appears that any further delay must be infamous. The delay means to destroy the ships or raise the siege.”
Saltonstall refused, and on the 13th, as Lovell was getting ready for a final all-out effort on land, seven enemy ships appeared on the horizon. Even though he might easily have handled this fleet, Commodore Saltonstall gave the order that “all must shift for themselves.”
The rest of the fleet swarmed up the Penobscot River with the transport ships in front, which completely shocked the British garrison. Then, Sir George Collier, in charge of the enemy fleet, put the cork on the bottle by closing the river’s mouth.
No effort was spared to get the troops ashore, but now they were all messed up and in a frenzy. Guns were hurled aside as men melted into the forest. To the horror of the gallant few who remained, one of the ships ran aground, and another was captured without firing a shot.
One transport after another burst into flames, set afire by the men aboard. Wadsworth led off five companies in good order as the river became a sea of fire. A few ships made it to the mouth of the Kenduskeag, where they were beached.
At low tide, they served as a reminder for years. All the others were burned, and not one ship remained. Nothing was salvaged.
It was a frightful defeat. American forces had suffered 500 casualties. The loss of guns and supplies would never be accurately known.
No major salvage effort has ever been made, and outside of Maine and Massachusetts, few Americans have ever read of the worst defeat suffered by American armies during the Revolution.
Not even the contemporaries of Benedict Arnold knew how much was in the lost chest of gold. Supposedly lost beneath one of the falls of the Chaudière River on the abortive march against the walls of Québec, the loot has never been found.
Arnold was asked to explain where the money went at his famous court martial in Philadelphia. The one-day traitor did produce shaky records for $5000, but he said the rest of the money was lost in the Maine woods.
It all began in the summer of 1775 when the swarthy Colonel Benedict Arnold appeared before George Washington in Cambridge and laid before the new commander a plan to capture Québec. Arnold explained that he knew every rock of the famous bastion and both routes, having frequently gone to the French city on horse-trading junkets.
One wing of the expedition would go by way of Lake George, Champlain, and the Richelieu River. The other would proceed through the Maine wilderness. The pincer would snip off the walled city like a ripe plum. Besides, Arnold pointed out; the French did not love their new masters.
Washington approved the expedition, Philip Schuyler was given command of the western wing, and Arnold was given command of the force that would proceed through the Maine wilderness. To allay the cost of raising the necessary troops, purchasing supplies, hiring Canuck guides, and a dozen other things, the Virginian turned over an iron war chest to the volatile Arnold, ordering that he keep a record of how the money was spent.
The expedition left Cambridge on September 13, 1775, and headed for Newburyport, where the troops boarded ships and finally landed at the mouth of the Kennebec River. Arnold was shocked when he found that the two hundred Bateaux awaiting his arrival were in such bad condition as to be practically unusable.
Arnold grudgingly paid the carpenters who had constructed the unwieldy rafts out of the great chest, one of the few times his subordinates were to see the money.
In one of the most incredible marches ever made in military history, the little band moved through forests that, even today, would be difficult for an army to penetrate.
Men were dying like flies from dysentery and hunger, and Arnold had to deal with a new enemy: early winter. Arnold’s army was down to 600 men because people quit, one regiment went back, and people died. To make matters worse, the boat carrying Arnold’s personal belongings was crushed in the rapids, sending the box into ten or twelve feet of icy water.
While no one is certain, the chest and the gold are supposed to be somewhere north of the modern village of Stratton on the Dead River, although many claim it was the Chaudière River.
On December 31, the two ragtag armies launched an attack on Québec. Montgomery was killed in the first volley, and the Americans were defeated. After they were defeated, the Americans had to run back to the shores of Lake Champlain, where they suffered again greatly.
Arnold was never able to pinpoint where he had lost the chest, and it has never been reported found.
Dixie Bull, an English sea captain descended from an aristocratic family, was the first pirate known to prey upon shipping off the northeastern colonies, especially along the rocky coast of Maine. Some of his hidden hoards have contributed to the traditions of pirates and buried treasure along the New England coast.
One of his treasures was worth $400,000 at its burial on Damariscove Island. If found today, its value could be ten times that amount. Another of his hoards is supposed to have been buried on Cushing Island, also off the Maine coast.
Neither trove is known to have been recovered.
The bull was a native of London who came to Boston in 1631. He was associated with Sir Ferdinando Gorges in developing a large land grant east of Agamonticus at York, Maine.
He rapidly adapted to the rugged life of the New World’s wilderness, becoming a trader in beaver pelts with the Indians.
In June 1631, while trading in the Penobscot Bay area, the bull was attacked by a roving band of Frenchmen in a pinnace or small sailing ship. They seized his sloop and stock of coats, rugs, blankets, biscuits, etc. This same group took over the Castine trading post of the Plymouth Company, which was full of valuable goods.
Fired by a desire for revenge, Trader Bull assembled 20 men to prey upon French shipping to recoup his loss. Their attempts were unsuccessful, for the French had temporarily ceased their raids. Bull’s food and supplies were running low, so he attacked and plundered three small English vessels to keep operating.
These attacks put him in serious trouble with the Crown, and he became desperate. Later in 1632, he sailed into the harbor of Pemaquid, robbed the trading post and nearby houses, and left with $2500 from both.
There was little resistance to the attack, but while loading goods aboard his sloop, someone on shore fired a musket, and Bull’s second in command was struck in the chest, killing him. Until then, many of the crew had considered piracy a lark. Now it suddenly became deadly serious business.
Since Dixie Bull and his men were forced to become freebooters, they attacked small ships and raided small towns until November. At that time, the government of Boston sent five sloops and pinnaces under the command of Samuel Maverick to catch the bull. The small fleet sailed along the Maine coast for a few weeks before giving up and going back to Boston.
Early in February 1633, three of the bull’s crew secretly returned to their Maine homes. They said the bull had sailed eastward and joined the French, his former enemies. Another statement by Captain Roger Clap indicated that the bull eventually returned to England. His destiny is lost in the maze of history. One version says that he was finally captured and hung at Tyburn, England.
Bull’s fate will probably never be known. A skillful treasure hunter may determine the fate of his buried treasure on the Cushing and Damariscove Islands.