A former New Jersey Congressman spent the later years of his life in a quest for the notorious pirate Captain Kidd's legendary treasure of folklore and myth in New Jersey. And Dr. Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, MD, thinks the Hudson County Democrat might have been on to something.
Rep. Alan Benny was a member of Congress in the early 1900s. But it was in the years following, while practicing law in Bayonne, N.J. that he became fascinated with the myriad rumors of Captain Kidd's treasure perhaps being right here under our sandy feet at the Jersey Shore or, perhaps, along the shoreline in his hometown of Bayonne. During his decades of research he accumulated a long list of possible sites but using his own litmus test he whittled them down to a short list of eight possible locations. All are described here a bit later on.
In the last years of his infamous life the pirate boasted he had buried 40,000 British pounds sterling, mostly in gold coins. "To date hardly 10,000 pounds that can be associated with him have ever been found," notes Dr. Boyd.
"Commencing with Captain Kidd's death by hanging in London on May 23, 1701 rumors immediately began circulating that the bulk, if not all, of his treasure was buried somewhere along the coast of the Colony of New Jersey in the New World," he said.
Now, more than two centuries since the pirate had to be hung twice (because the rope broke the first time) Boyd is picking up the trail begun a half century ago by Congressman Benny.
The idea to prove, or debunk, all the treasure stories began with the unexpected discovery, by William J. Luzzu of Bayonne, of a long forgotten file containing an outline, partial manuscript, old newspaper clippings and resource material for an autobiography Benny was planning before his death in the 1940s. Luzzu's late sister, Marjorie, was a legal secretary to the Congressman, and the documents were among possessions she left when she died.
Before his own death a few years ago Luzzu shared the documents with Boyd. The Bayonne resident who was known to be a friend of President Richard Nixon when the future president was a Congressman, considered Benny's quest for Captain Kidd's treasure a flight of fancy, a caprice by an otherwise serious and level headed individual. He never thought of it as anything but folly. But Boyd isn't so sure.
"Congressman Benny apparently had a keen interest in history, particularly New Jersey history. The extensive bibliography of historical source material he left attests to that. Somewhere along the way he became interested in all the stories by various New Jersey short towns that Captain Kidd had buried his treasure in the Garden State," Boyd says.
Luzzu had told Boyd that Benny's notes indicate he had pursued several New Jersey and regional stories "eliminating some he thought were worthless, including the hype when gold pieces were discovered on Gardiners Island near Long Island, N.Y., leading many people to believe more treasure was buried nearby in New Jersey." According to Boyd, Benny's notes say that a number of coins found on Gardiners Island off Long Island, New York, caused "a rash of fabricated tales up and down the New Jersey Shore as resort areas scampered to attract tourist business."
With Benny having apparently done some extensive leg work, albeit years ago, Boyd feels the documents give would-be treasure hunters a good head start. "I'm not smitten by all this the way Alan Benny was. But, on the other hand, I don't totally dismiss it the way Bill Luzzu did either. So I'm just telling you the facts the way I remember them and perhaps some reader may get lucky and actually find some treasure," Boyd said. "Then again people could spend years tracking these clues down and come up empty."
Here are some of the most popular places Boyd says were on Congressman Benny's so-called short list' that Luzzu showed him. Could one of these locations actually be where Captain Kidd's treasure is buried?
Bayonne: This is the only site on the congressman's list not at the Jersey Shore but, according to Boyd, the one he spent considerable time investigating. Bayonne is a peninsula with the lower Hudson River and Manhattan to the east; the Kill van Kull waterway at its southern terminus (separating it from Staten Island); and Newark Bay on its western side. Benny's interest centered mainly on the coastline facing Newark Bay since he believed traversing the peninsula and dropping anchor there provided privacy and shelter from the relatively substantial ship traffic (the same geographical reasoning favoring Cape May, further down) up and down the Hudson and Atlantic coast. Bayonne's proximity to New York was also a consideration. Despite such reasoning, no one other than Congressman Alan Benny has ever considered Bayonne a viable site for Kidd's treasure.
The Atlantic Highlands is a strong contender for Captain Kidd's (or other's) treasure. In 1948, a local fisherman spotted a few old gold coins on the beach of the Highlands after a storm. News of the discovery led to a minor "gold rush" locals and people from as far away as New York and Philadelphia digging up more than a mile of beach. By the end of the first week, it was reported locally that a large number of gold coins had been found. But though the initial thinking was that the coins were from the treasure of Captain Kidd that proved not to be the case. All of the coins were dated 1730, 29 years after Kidd swung from the gallows. The coins were most likely from a British frigate ship known to have sunk in the offshore waters.
Sandy Hook: It is a matter of record that Captain Kidd anchored off of Sandy Hook on his final voyage up to New York and Boston. There is considerable support for the theory that Kidd buried his treasure here because he could not be certain if the governor in Boston would give him sanctuary or have him arrested. The treasure is supposedly buried in a grove of pine trees, but the trees were destroyed during World War II when the area was fortified as a military installation. No one presently knows where the trees were located.
Barnegat Bay: There is a popular local legend that claims Captain Kidd buried a considerable treasure on the shoreline of Barnegat Bay and beheaded one of his crew to make sure it wasn't stolen before he returned. Kidd never came back for the treasure but some area residents swear they've seen the ghostly apparition of a buccaneer crew member pacing up and down the beach on dark, foggy nights.
Cliffwood Beach once boasted an offshore island named Money Island where Spanish gold coins have been found, hence its name. Over the centuries, the island eroded into the Raritan Bay but nearby, back on the mainland, there is a relatively small body of water where gold coins have also been found. Formerly known as Duck Pond, many area residents now call it Treasure Lake.
The true believers will tell you there are other clues to indicate that Kidd's treasure is buried in Cliffwood Beach. Two giant elm trees in the area were known as "Kidd's Rangers". The first was near the mouth of the Matawan Creek while the other was on Rose Hill, where a cemetery now exists. According to lore, these trees were landmarks Kidd used to mark the location of his treasure. The actual site is said to be in the middle of the trees. Which, as it turns out, also denotes the location of Cliffwood Beach.
Ocean City, N.J. was actually founded by pirates. The location afforded an excellent vantage point for detecting British warships that might be searching for them. This advance warning Ocean City afforded the pirates gave them the advantage to escape if indeed they had been discovered. Captain Kidd reportedly visited Ocean City and was impressed by the site. His presence supports the belief he could very well have buried treasure there.
Cape May, at the bottom of the state, where pirates often made port and dropped anchor to remain concealed in the several creeks. From this vantage point they were able to pounce on ships entering the bay and heading for Philadelphia.
Pirate treasure has long been believed to be buried at Cape May Point. A many times told tale notes that a man at a life saving station noticed men leaving a ship on a yawl and coming ashore. After vanishing behind sand dunes they came out with a chest (thought to be a treasure chest) returned to the ship and sailed away. Kidd treasure aficionados insist the chest they departed with was very likely one of many. People have been digging around the area for years with no luck.
But of all the alleged sites where Kidd's treasure could be, Cape May has made the pirate's long ago visits pay off handsomely in the form of increased tourism during the last 41 years.
Since the 1960s Cape May has resurrected the late Captain Kidd annually in reenactments in
which the notorious mariner comes ashore onto Cape May's beach searching for his treasure. But instead of rum drinking, cutlass wielding cronies, this modern Captain Kidd is assisted by upwards of 300 children aged 3 to 10 years old. There's no charge to take part. Over $400 worth of booty and gift certificates are up for grabs, and in true pirate fashion, it's finders-keepers.' The treasure hunt, led by Kidd, commences from Cape May Convention Hall, usually on a Sunday in June, and wends its way down the promenade to the "exact spot" where the booty is hidden.
William Kidd was born in 1645 in Greenock, Scotland. His father was a Presbyterian minister. His name first appears in history in 1689 when he was 45 years old and the Nine Years War between France and Great Britain broke out. Kidd was a crewman on a French privateer in Basseterre, St. Kitts, West Indies. Buccaneers of various nationalities manned privateers under any flag, and their loyalty was first to plunder and second to their country.
Kidd executed his first act of piracy by organizing the other British crew members of the privateer and they stole the 20 gun ship and sailed her across the channel to the island Nevis. Under Kidd's command she was formally presented to Leeward Islands Governor, Sir Christopher Codrington, upon anchoring in Charlestown harbor, Nevis.
Impressed with Kidd's daring, Codrington gave Kidd command of the vessel with a crew of 80 to 90 men, and renamed the ship Blessed William, in honor of Prince William of Orange, who had assumed the English throne in 1688.
British troops were being brought into British-held Nevis with the idea of retaking French-held St. Kitts, and this gave Kidd his first battle opportunity.
Kidd and three other ships raided the French island of Mariegalante as a distraction. The pirates would be paid from what they could take as plunder.
After his service ended, he moved to New York City and became a private captain. He bought beach houses on the coast and rented them out. Kidd was an upstanding, law-abiding citizen.
However, the governors of New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts hired him to protect the coast from the buccaneers. Captain Kidd's job was to attack French and pirate ships and take their cargos, which he could keep.
Soon he began attacking ships regardless of their countries of origin and solidified his infamy as a pirate by attacking the Indian ship Quediah Merchant, which carried silks, gold, spices, weapons, and other riches well beyond imagination.
While in the Caribbean, Kidd learned that the British were hunting him as a pirate. He bought a new, larger ship and transferred his treasure onto it. Captain Kidd then sailed toward New York, stopping several times along the New Jersey coastline, to try to clear his name. It is thought that during these New Jersey stops he buried his treasure in the Garden State.
He then sailed for Boston and the governor arrested him for piracy. Kidd was sent to England, tried and convicted of piracy, and sentenced to death. British authorities covered him with tar, chained him, and hung his body off a bridge over the Thames River in London where it stayed until it rotted away.