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Howard Pyle illustration of pirates burying treasure, from Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates.

A buried treasure is an important part of the popular beliefs surrounding pirates. According to popular conception, pirates often buried their stolen fortunes in remote places, intending to return for them later (often with the use of treasure maps).

However, in reality, the only pirate known to have done this was William Kidd,[1] who is believed to have buried at least some of his wealth on Long Island before sailing into New York. Kidd had originally been commissioned as a privateer for England, but his behavior had strayed into outright piracy, and he hoped that his treasure could serve as a bargaining chip in negotiations to avoid punishment. His bid was unsuccessful, however, and Kidd was hanged as a pirate.

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Overview

In English fiction there are three well known stories that helped popularize the myth of buried pirate treasure[2]: "The Gold-Bug" by Edgar Allan Poe, "Wolfert Webber" by Washington Irving and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. They differ widely in plot and literary treatment but are blood kin from the common ancestor of the William Kidd legend.[3] Stevenson's Treasure Island was directly influenced by Irving's "Wolfert Webber", Stevenson saying in his preface "It is my debt to Washington Irving that exercises my conscience, and justly so, for I believe plagiarism was rarely carried farther.. the whole inner spirit and a good deal of the material detail of my first chapters.. were the property of Washington Irving."[3]

However, there are a number of reports of supposed buried pirate treasure that surfaced much earlier than these works, which indicates that at least the idea was around for more than a century before those stories were published. For example, some underground passages and structures on Oak Island (in Nova Scotia) have supposedly been excavated extensively since 1795 in the belief that one or more pirate captains had stashed large amounts of loot there. These excavations were said to have been prompted by still older legends of buried pirate treasure in the area. No treasure has ever been found.

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Endnotes
  1. ^ *David Cordingly (1995). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. ISBN 0-679-42560-8.
  2. ^ Paine, pp. 27–28
  3. ^ a b Paine, pg. 28
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