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Captain Kidd: The Lost Treasure of New Jersey

by Mary Sparago
The Lost Treasure of New Jersey

Stories of pirates and hidden treasure bring out everyone’s inner child. But what if the stories were true––and happened right in your backyard? One pirate’s legend brings all of these questions to the forefront. Captain William Kidd, a famous privateer-turned-pirate, sailed along New Jersey’s shores. Though he’s long since passed, the legend of his gold, buried somewhere in the Garden State, lives on. Some of it has even been found. So, who will find the rest of the lost treasure of New Jersey? 

Pirates in New Jersey

New Jersey draws in tourists every year. Whether it’s for the beaches, local diners, or national parks–the Garden State is a popular destination. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the state’s unique position drew the attention of some very special visitors––pirates. 

Contrary to media representation, pirates didn’t just reside in the Caribbean. The state of New Jersey played a significant role for pirating and privateers. Throughout Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook, privateering boats––government-sanctioned ships designed to destroy vessels from enemy countries––would counter pirate ships in battles for fortune and glory. 

Blackbeard himself raided villages and farms in the area now known as Middletown. The equally infamous Captain Kidd also used New Jersey as docking points and raid opportunities. During the Golden Age of Piracy, the state was flooded with naval battles and stories of hidden treasure. 

To sustain their presence in New Jersey, Captain Kidd and other pirates would bribe the area’s politicians and businessmen. Despite their reputation today, piracy was even encouraged by local officials who invested in their crimes. In return, those leaders would protect pirates like Captain Kidd from persecution, letting them hunt for treasure and split the bounty. 

Throughout the entire state, Captain Kidd himself was the most famous pirate to travel through New Jersey. However, his legend didn’t end there.

The Lost Treasure of New Jersey

Photo by Alonso Reyes

The Legend of Captain Kidd

Captain William Kidd was born around 1645 in Scotland. Before his infamous expeditions, he was living in New York City, dreaming of wealth and prosperity. His aspirations led him to leave for England in 1695, intending to join the Royal Navy as a commissioner. 

He was named the commander of a privateer ship, eventually gaining his license based on recommendations from important officials in England and New Jersey. England provided him with a vessel––named Adventure Galley––and a crew, ordering Captain Kidd to set sail for the Caribbean and seize French and pirate ships. 

Captain Kidd and his crew gained wealth quickly, sailing along the Red Sea in search of fortunes. However, he was reluctant to attack pirate ships. Instead, his ship only sought the French, occasionally docking beside pirates and establishing relationships. 

Greed washed over his crew, leading them to demand the captain attack every wealthy ship that passed. After Captain Kidd refused, his men staged a mutiny. Luckily, the infamous pirate subdued his attackers after killing one, William Moore, with a bucket. From then on, Captain Kidd and his crew attacked every single ship––pirate and enemy country––without sanction from the government. He became a pirate. 

A Greedy Exchange

Relinquishing their orders from England, Captain Kidd attacked and captured several ships. Most notably, he seized an incredibly rich Indian ship, acquiring silk, guns, spices, and gold. His crew continued to sail on that vessel, renaming it Adventure Prize. 

However, his victory was short-lived. Eventually, Captain Kidd learned he was wanted as a pirate by the British Crown. Desperate to acquit himself, he sailed towards Boston.

On his way, Captain Kidd stopped at several places in New Jersey, landing at Raritan Bay in Monmouth County. There, he revisited his political connections in the area, bribing officials with his newfound treasure in exchange for clearing his name. After several successful exchanges, he allegedly hid his wealth throughout the Garden State. 

Setting sail once more, Captain Kidd was finally arrested in Boston. He claimed to have hidden 40,000 pounds worth of treasure (about $2 million in today’s currency), offering it to officials in return for his release. Though, rumors claim he actually had 400,000 pounds. His offer was declined and he was sent back to England.

Found guilty of murdering William Moore and engaging in piracy, the captain was sentenced to death. It took two separate attempts to end his life. On that day in May of 1701, Captain Kidd’s body hung over the Thames River in London as a warning to other pirates. However, his legend persisted, with many wondering where the lost treasure of New Jersey was hidden. 

Captain Kidd

Photo by N.

The Lost Treasure of New Jersey 

Soon after Captain Kidd’s arrest, 20,000 pounds (about $1 million today) was discovered on Gardiner’s Island, off the coast of Long Island. The reveal sparked a huge treasure hunt, with pirates and officials alike searching for the remaining treasure. 

Today, there are several places in New Jersey speculated as Captain Kidd’s treasure sites, from Cape May to Toms River. One particular area, Sandy Hook, was heavily searched. It was the last place the pirate anchored before his final trip towards the Raritan Bay, making it the perfect drop-off point. Interestingly enough, just north of Sandy Hook, 17th century Spanish gold coins were discovered on an island. The site was later named Money Island, although the Raritan Bay has long since eroded its shores. 

One of the most notable rumors is of Cliffwood Beach. Proven true, there were two large elm trees––one at the mouth of Matawan Creek, and the other on Fox Hill––that were known as “Kidd’s Rangers.” The trees were used as markers for Captain Kidd to relocate his buried treasure. 

When sailing from Long Island between these two landmarks, Cliffwood Beach sits at the center. Even today, people are found digging around the beach’s shores and dunes in the hopes of discovering Kidd’s hidden treasure. Some gold and silver Spanish doubloons have even been found. Whether they were from the famous Jersey pirate is yet to be confirmed. What’s certain is the lost treasure of New Jersey is still out there.

Feature image courtesy of Nadjib BR

Have you ever heard of Captain Kidd’s treasure in New Jersey? Tell us in the comments!

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