Did Pirates Bury Treasure?

Buried treasures are one of the staples of pirates in fiction. And although pirates were undoubtedly eager to plunder valuable ships, it’s not clear that they ever resorted to hiding their wealth in this manner. Are buried treasures just another of our many misconceptions about pirates?

Pirates didn’t bury treasure. The only pirate known to have buried a treasure is Captain Kidd. There are legends of pirates who buried their hoards, but these mostly come from influential fictional works. Pirates distributed their loot among the crew, so there weren’t many large hoards.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of notable occasions where this happened. Even though buried treasures are a thing of fiction, answering this question reveals many interesting facts about how pirates handled their loot.

Did Pirates Have Treasure Chests?

As with most common knowledge about pirates, buried treasures are more a fictional trope than a historical reality.

Pirates didn’t have treasure chests. Some pirates had hoards of wealth, but they didn’t bury it. The captain distributed plunder evenly among the crew, and most pirates didn’t get large prizes.

Pirates have buried treasure occasionally, but it wasn’t something pirates typically did.

Most pirates didn’t get prizes as handsome as those won by the most notable figures. It wouldn’t make much sense to bury a small number of goods. They would usually spend their money on drinking and women.

More interestingly, captains didn’t get to hoard the majority of the plunders. Instead, they distributed the loot among the crew.

During the Golden Age of Piracy, pirates functioned somewhat like companies. These communities were democratic, and specific rules influenced how the crew made decisions. For example, a ship’s crew would take a vote to choose their captain, and they could vote him out if they were unsatisfied with his performance. [1]

The distribution of booty was also subject to these laws. After a successful raid, the captain distributed the bounty among the crew. For the entirety of the loot to be buried, the entire pirate crew would have to give up their share. This eventuality was improbable—pirates were eager to take their prize.

However, there is at least one occasion where this happened. In 1573, Francis Drake—a hero to the English but labeled as a pirate by the Spanish—assaulted a mule train full of silver, the Nombre de Dios. As he and his crew made their way back to the coast, they found that their ships had sailed down the coast to avoid the Spanish flotilla.

Drake and his crew buried their stolen cargo. Drake then proceeded to his ships in a raft, leaving some men behind to guard the treasure. Soon after, the boat returned to pick them up—along with the loot. [2]

However, the idea of buried treasures has persisted across the centuries and owes its prominence to the exploits of a single man—Captain William Kidd.

Why Do People Believe Pirate Buried Treasures?

People believe pirates buried treasures because of the legend of Captain Kidd. Rumors told of Kidd’s buried treasure. This legend inspired several influential literary works, such as The Gold-Bug and Treasure Island, influencing how people perceive pirates.

Although Captain Kidd entered history as a pirate, this isn’t wholly accurate. He did have an aggressive temperament, which contributed to this image. On one occasion, he killed one of his crew members in a rage by hitting him in the head with a bucket.

Kidd was contracted as a buccaneer and was authorized to seize French ships, but in one of his voyages, he took over a vessel called Quedagh Merchant. The boat had a French sailing pass, but the captain was English, and the cargo came from India.

It’s not clear whether this was an act of piracy, but the fact is that he was brought to court in England with charges of piracy and murder. Legend says he buried a treasure hoping to win some leveraging power in court, but they eventually sentenced him to hang.

Kidd did bury a treasure in Gardiners Island, near Long Island. It was found and seized by the English government soon after his trial. [3]

The life and trials of Kidd received a lot of attention, and many legends started to grow around his life. Legend says that the treasure he buried was worth £400,000—a large fortune at that time. In reality, it was a much more modest sum.

Captain Kidd inspired several literary works that popularized the idea of buried treasure. The Gold-Bug (1843) by Edgar Allan Poe was among the first to introduce the trope, and Treasure Island (1883) by Robert L. Stevenson had a defining influence on the portrayal of pirates.

Did Blackbeard Bury Treasure?

No evidence suggests Blackbeard buried treasure. There are legends that he buried his treasure chest in North Carolina, but treasure hunters have been looking for it for centuries in vain. Archeologists did find his sunken ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Salvagers discovered the remains of Blackbeard’s ship in 1996. There was no treasure aboard, but they retrieved many valuable artifacts. [4]

Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, is arguably the most well-known pirate, but he didn’t have a specially successful career. He was renowned for being ruthless and bloodthirsty, but historical evidence suggests that people may have exaggerated these accounts. He was a pirate for only two years.

Has Any Pirate Treasure Ever Been Found?

The only significant pirate treasure found to date is the loot inside Whydah, a ship that belonged to Sam Bellamy. He’s believed to be the wealthiest pirate in history. The Whydah contains $400,000 worth of treasure. No records exist of someone finding buried pirate treasures.

While not a buried chest, the Whydah is still an impressive treasure. The ship sank in 1717, carrying Bellamy, his crew, and a large hoard of wealth. [5]

The Whydah contains gold coins, gold bars, African Jewelry, gold beads, and gold ornaments. Most of the crew were slaves from Africa, and the Whydah was a slave ship before Bellamy stole it.

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