1872 Newspaper Headline
Google Earth photo of Goethals' Bridge & Morses Creek (on left)
Current map showing Morses Creek
1870's map of area. Note: Morses Creek called Moss Creek here.
CAPTAIN KIDD’S TREASURE FOUND BETWEEN NEW JERSEY & STATEN ISLAND?
By Steve Singer
Many newspapers ran a story in 1872 about treasure being found in the Staten Island Sound (now known as the Author Kill Channel). It attributed the finds to possibly belonging to the pirate William Kidd. Now it’s well known that Kidd frequented the New York City area and also resided there for a time. Whether a pirate or a privateer depends on who you ask, but he was eventually found guilty of piracy and hanged in London in 1701.
Of all the stories about buried pirate treasure, Captain William Kidd always comes to mind. There’s almost nowhere along the east and gulf coasts of the U.S., the Caribbean, and other areas around the world, where there isn’t a story of supposed treasure being buried there by William Kidd. Gardiner Island, which lies off Long Island, N.Y., is supposedly where he last buried any treasure just before he was captured and sent to London for trial.
So back to the treasure in what is now called the Arthur Kill Channel. According to the reports, an oyster fisherman named Van Pelt, along with his father and another oysterman, found a number of large silver coins while dredging for oysters not far below Elizabethport, between the mouth of a narrow stream known to older residents as “Morss Creek,” or “Morse’s Creek” (believe Morses is correct as it’s on current maps), and the brick yard of “Kelly, Sheridan & Curtis.” All showed their age due to corrosion or encrustation, and many were attached to some small oysters. Word got out, and soon hundreds of other oystermen were on the site. Three brothers named Dixon, also oystermen, were said to have recovered a large quantity of these coins. The brothers recovered 80 coins one day and some were Spanish “Cob” coins and were dated 1604. The coins that were shown by the Van Pelts and the Dixons, ranged in years from 1534 to 1687, and were mostly of Spanish, Flemish and East Indian origin. It was believed much more remained on the seabed. As the report was being written, it mentioned more coins were still being found and that there was a swarm of boats now at the site. Other newspaper reports mentioned that around forty years earlier, a large number of people had dug up the land in the same area and recovered treasure before the “sea encroached upon it.” How many coins were actually found in 1872 was not revealed, and I’m sure the finders kept the true amount secret. One newspaper had a couple diagrams and descriptions of what was imprinted on some of the coins that they were able to get a glimpse of. Most of the Spanish coins were said to be from either the Lima or Potosi mint or maybe both, and the word HISPANIA was seen on some, as was the “PLV SVL TRA” motto (which translates to plus ultra or “more beyond,”) and some had the number “8” indicating eight reals. Another was said to have an image of a dragon and keys on it. The coins varied in sizes. Most newspapers only reported silver coins being found, though one paper said both gold and silver.
The Authur Kill Channel was known as the “Staten Island Sound” in 1872, and is the waterway that runs between Staten Island and New Jersey, from Elizabeth down past Perth Amboy and into the Raritan Bay. The mouth of Morses Creek lies just south of the Goethal’s Bridge, which I’ve driven over numerous times, never realizing that treasure was found close by. The water way averages about a quarter mile across, and is home to many industrial shipping and dockage sites. Brick manufacturing was abundant in the area in 1872 and the location of the brickyard mentioned should be available in local archives and I believe is on the Jersey side.
Could the coins mentioned be part of Kidd’s buried treasure? That may be a stretch, but who knows. The dates and origins of the coins found would be the type Captain Kidd took from the many vessels he captured predominately in the West Indies and the Indian Ocean areas. Some of the reports said the Staten Island Sound was a favorite area for Kidd to anchor when he came to New York. No mention of any wreckage being found, so maybe they were lost overboard? What about the coins reported as being dug up 40 years previously on land now underwater in the same area? It’s anyone’s guess as to their origin, or if more may still remain hidden on the bottom waiting to be found. That may never be known as this area would be quite difficult to search today due to the heavy shipping traffic, and other variables. As this waterway supports an abundance of commercial shipping traffic, it has been dredged over the years, though no idea if in the same area where the coins were found. I’ve heard a number of stories of those working on a commercial dredge finding treasure, though they usually kept that information to themselves.
This is not the only treasure lost in the Author Kill. You can search the “Guggenheim Treasure,” lost there in Sept. 1903. Silver and lead bars slid off a barge on the way to a smelting plant in Perth Amboy. Much was salvaged, but some still remains estimated to be worth twenty million dollars. The bars have been searched for in recent years, though I haven’t heard of any being found as yet.
I learned to scuba dive in New Jersey, and heard a number of treasure stories such as the wreck of the Sindia in 1901, which lies only 150 yards off Ocean City. Its wreckage was visible up till the 1970’s. But that’s a story for another day.
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The trial of Capt. William Kidd. Credit: Law Library of Congress.