"Buried Treasure"-Real or Myth?

The legends about pirates burying treasure-how much of this is real? From what I understand, piracy flourished in and around the Caribbean Sea, in the time period from about 1600- 1750, and many pirates were well known. They mainly preyed upon Spanish ships which were carrying gold and silver back to Spain. From what I understand, the pirates would attack a vessel, kill the crew, and sail the (captured) ship into a pirate-held port (like Port Royal in Jamaica), and divide the treasure. In certain cases, (if the Spanish ship was captured far away), the pirates might bury a portion of it, on some remote island, and return to it later.
The Caribbean pirates were gradually suppressed by the British navy, and captured pirates sent to London for trial (and execution). I would guess most of the buried loot was recovered long ago-is there any evidence that some of it was forgotten ? have there been any finds of “buried treasure” in modern times?

I think it’s mostly legend. Pirates didn’t hide their money, they spent it like, well, sailors. Captain Kidd claimed to have buried a huge treasure on, I believe, Manhattan, but he was saying that to try to keep from being executed.

Most pirates (like Lafitte) drank and gambled away far more than they would ever have saved, but there have been a few minor finds that may have been pirate treasure. Kidd is believed to have buried some on Long Island (whadya know- I googled Kidd and Long Island and the first thing to google was the Wiki for "Buried Treasure… they’re getting scary).

Now there are definitely NON-PIRATE buried treasures out there. They still stumble on some Nazi plunder hidden in salt mines once every few years and that’s probably the most valuable.

A few years ago I was working at a college in Milledgeville, GA, the antebellum capitol of Georgia. There were tons of college and residential building projects going on all over the place and while excavating land for a new apartment complex a small casket (as in jewel box, not coffin) was found containing a pair of ruby earrings, a diamong ring, and some gold coins. It was almost certainly buried during the Civil War, probably around the time Sherman occupied the town (Nov 1864), but the mystery is why whoever buried it never recovered it. Only one person died during the occupation- a drunk Irish immigrant who fired a pistol at the troops and was shot dead- looting was relatively minimal (the men were in a rush to reach Savannah), the only burnings were of state buildings (mainly a prison, parts of the capitol building, and a pistol factory a few miles away), so it’s almost inconceivable that the lady (presumably a lady) who buried the items was killed during the occupation, though she may have left them there for a while until she was sure it was safe and died of natural causes in the meantime.

In any case, when I left there in December '04 it was still unknown who they belonged to (they researched the history of the land and it would not have been whoever lived on it in 1864 as it was a very poor family then) or what to do with it. I’ve heard it was sent to the state archives but I’m not sure.

This past winter a wrecked blockade running vessel was unearthed by the tides near where my sister lives in Gulf Shores, AL. I can’t find pics online (I have some I took) but basically it’s a ship shape and some rotten wood sticking out of the sand. The rumor is that when the blockade runner beached- it was supposedly chased off course by the Union blockade that was beginning to bottle Mobile and then caught in a storm- its men buried the cargo nearby. Contents are rumored to include everything from the Confederate treasury to the library of Alexandria of course, but more likely it was cloth and coffee and alcohol and other standard blockade items that rotted more than a century ago IF they existed at all.

PS- Here’s a page with photos of the tidally exposed shipwreck mentioned above.

Largely a myth, the creation of R.L. Stevenson in his bookTreasure Island. Which, by the way, is an excellent book and I cannot recommend it enough. The only pirate I can think of who buried treasure was William Kidd, but he planned on using that gold as an insurance policy against being punished by the law. It didn’t work and he was hanged.

As a general rule, no, pirates didn’t bury treasure. Think about it, you have a bunch of (mostly) young sailors who just risked their lives to take that booty and they’re not likely to live into old age. They’re going to want to spend that money on booze, clothes, and women as soon as they get the chance. Any pirate captain who suggested they bury the loot was likely to be thrown overboard. (Pirate captains didn’t have absolute rule for the most part.)

There’s Oak Island, which is near Nova Scotia or Newfoundland I think, where there is supposedly some buried treasure. Since the 19th century a few people have died trying to excavate the thing and they’ve only recovered a few gold chain links. I don’t know if there’s actually any treasure there though. For the most part, buried treasure is just a myth. People don’t just bury vast amounts of wealth and then forget about them. Pyramids and other tombs nonwithstanding.

And most of those were looted asap by thieves not scared of superstition and curses. The same’s probably true of pirate treasure.

All buried treasure would have been hidden for one reason: to keep it sake until its buryer could come reclaim it. The most likely hidden treasures still out there are those where 1)VERY FEW knew of its existence and 2) They died before they could get back to it, hence war plunder is probably the most likely.

There are all kinds of stories about a fortune in Confederate gold being buried in the Carolinas as Davis and the government fled. In the unlikely event it ever was, it would have been unearthed quickly by whoever buried it after the war was over. Davis certainly wouldn’t have endured years of poverty after the war if he had known where there was a fortune he could get his hands on (though the 2 years he spent in prison probably would have seen it excavated anyway).

I came in to mention treasures buried in tombs, but see that MGibson already has. This is the only kind of treasure I know of that really has been found. Pharaohs and Macedonian rulers had their valuables buried with them, and knowledge of these inspired tomb-robbers. When I visited Ireland, I found stories of excavated Bronze Age tombs , complete with folklore about how they should be dug up so that the Gold doesn’t disappear. I strongly suspect any truth about Leprechauns and their supposed pots o’ gold come from memories and stories of discoveries of such Bronze Age burial treasures.
Some people may have buried their treasures for safekeeping – Odysseus does so near the end of The Odyssey, but it’s more likely that pirates spent theirs. Or maybe banked it.

Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t invent buried pirate treasure, though. Edgar Allen Poe has Legrand unearth some of William Kidd’s treasure in the classic story “The Gold Bug”, from the 1840s, and in that story he talks about the stories of Kidd’s buried treasure being old stuff. I’ve come across stories from the 1830s in books on Folklore, and some people accused Joseph Smith (the founder of the Mormons) of being after Kidd’s treasure.

If you do find something like pirate’s treasure, who gets it? Is it finder’s keepers, or does it go to whoever owns the land, or can descendents make claims on stolen goods?

There was a story I heard when I was a kid about pioneers burying valuables when they left their domocile. Like trappers or prospectors who would be gone for weeks or months and didn’t want anyone coming through who used the place to steal stuff. The story took place in the Emerald Necklace in Cleveland, and I remember hunting through the cliffs and hills for caves or markers.

Did he bury treasure? I thought he just claimed he buried treasure to buy some time. Surely it would have been found by now if he had.

He claimed he did, but I don’t know how reliable the claim is. Heck, it took them longer to find King Tut’s treasures, so if it exist maybe they’ll find it one of these days. People might come within feet of it on a daily basis without ever knowing.


You’ve got some nerve! First you ask people not to call you Shirley and then you proceed to call MGibson Shirley yourself!

Another possibility for hidden (though not necessarily buried) treasure is old people. My dad and my aunt both used to squirrel away cash in all sorts of nooks and crannies. (Out of fear of being robbed, I imagine.) As a matter of fact, when my dad died, he supposedly had $3,000 cash squirreled away for an upcoming trip. We never found it. Not hard to imagine larger sums being lost under such circumstances.

Wasn’t there a story in the news a while back about someone uncovering a big stash of money that had been buried in fruit jars?

As Sampiro mentioned, a lot of valuables got buried in the South as the Union Army approached. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of those valuables never again saw the light of day.

Buried pirate treasure, though? Nah.

Even so, it’s a reasonably common occurance in the UK for buried hoards of Roman coins to turn up, as in this 2004 case. Nobody can be certain, but the usual assumption is that these were people temporarily burying their accumulated wealth for safekeeping at about the end of Roman rule and then, for whatever reason, not being able to recover the deposit at a later date.

Stevenson is no doubt the main reason why the notion gets so strongly associated with pirates, but here appears to have been a bit of a craze in early modern England for trying to find buried treasure, which Keith Thomas describes in Religion and the Decline of Magic. While the searching methods often involved omens and spells, Thomas doesn’t quite dismiss the underlying hope, suggesting that there probably were enough cases where farmers randomly came across old hoards to sustain the belief that there was treasure out there to be found.

ralph124c, me Hearty!


Never mind these Lubbers!

The tale o’ Pirate Gold be TRUE! By Billy Bones!


For I have…a Treasure Map!


And, ye can share in me treasure…for a mere contribution to our expenses.

A measely $10,000 will get ye a full share…half of any buried treasure I happen to find!


Just send it me account in Somalia (where all the best Pirates do their bankin’).



Actually, buried treasures are relatively common. Where do you think old coins that are still around come from? People probably didn’t forget about them, but had to flee and couldn’t come back, or were killed. Most buried treasures date back from troubled periods, like for instance in France the great invasions or the wars of religion.
Besides that, there are a lot of treasures that were simply the savings of some individual who hide them, for instance in a wall, and died without telling anybody. The biggest treasure found in Paris (dating back from the 17th century, if I’m not mistaken.It has been found during the 30s’) had been hidden along with a will that (to the sorrow of the workers who found it while demolishing an old house) was found valid by courts. Anecdotically the daughter (and heir) of the man who had hidden it was very unlucky. Another treasure, probably hidden by a husband she outlived, was found later in what used to be her manor.
I understand that some people make a living out of these caches. They contact the owners of old houses, manors, etc…, sign a contract with them and search around, hoping for hidden and forgotten valuables.
Regarding pirates’ treasures (I don’t believe any has ever been found, but I could be mistaken), there’s something weird in the way it is usually depicted : the idea that the pirates would have hidden it in some remote and out of the way place. Logically, if they had a treasure to hide, they would probably have hidden it like everybody else : buried in their basement or yard, behind a stone in their house, etc… or at least somewhere within a reasonnable distance, not on some remote island 3 000 miles away from their dwelling.

The reasoning behind burying treasure was to dispose of evidence whiel in enemy waters. If treasure was captured in hostile waters you often couldn’t make it all the way back home. For example if you got you captured treasure in Ecuador you very likely couldn’t make it back to any freindly port without stopping somewhere for supplies and repairs in an enemy port, which meant the risk of search. So the treasure was hidden before entering the major sea lanes the ship then changed flags and pulled into town to get supplies. After the ship was ready for the journey home you went and picked up the treasure.

I’ve seen semi-reputable acocunts which suggested that it happened fairly frequently. I imagine that at least some of them were caught or sunk by storms etc before collecting the treasure again, but not many.

All right, I revise my statement in the face of overwhelming evidence. Buried treasure, as in X marks the spot and a regular facet of pirate life, is largely a myth. I had forgotten that there are occasional treasure troves dug up in Europe by famers and others. I seem to remember a Roman era find that was worth quite a bit and including various gold and silver artifacts. Boo me for making such a narrow statement.


Some of D.B. Cooper’s money was found on the bank of the Columbia River in 1980.

It’s widely believed here that the Japanese buried a huge cache of war booty and money in a cave in Kanchanaburi Province, close to the Burmese border and in the area of the Bridge over the River Kwai. There’s one Thai politician in particular who keeps digging for it, insisting it’s there somewhere. (Actually, he’s not been in the news for about five or six years, so maybe he finally gave up, or died.)

I had actually had a neat book that basically detailed all the major “treasures” that had yet to be found. Including a few famous pirate hauls that have never been found that we know of, there are things like tons of gold or silver from famous train heists and other such things.

There’s also the mystery of where much of the money that was donated to Mother Teresa went, because it sure didn’t end up in Calcutta. :slight_smile: