The image of pirates as one-eyed, one-legged, bloodthirsty plunderers who made off with chests brimming with treasure pervades popular culture. However, the truth is not so romantic. Only the infamous Captain William Kidd is said to have ever buried his goods, and most pirate treasure today is sequestered in Davy Jones’ Locker.
The so-called ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ lasted from around 1650 to 1730. During this period, hundreds of pirate ships plagued the seas, attacking and robbing any non-Naval vessels that crossed their paths. They primarily operated in the Caribbean, the coast of Africa and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Gold, weapons, medicines, spices, sugar, tobacco, cotton and even enslaved people made up just some of the plunder seized by marauding pirate crews. While many of the goods taken were delicate or consumable, and have since been lost, substantial pirate hauls of precious metals are still thought to exist. Only one – the Wydah Galley Treasure – has been found, having previously been one of the most sought-after pirate treasures on the planet.
Here are 5 of the most famous lost pirate treasures in existence.
1. Captain William Kidd’s Treasure
Scottish Captain William Kidd is one of the most famous pirates in history. He started his career as a respected privateer, hired by European royals to attack foreign ships and protect trade routes. He turned to a life of piracy, mainly across the Indian Ocean, before eventually being executed in 1701 for murder and piracy.
Before he died, Kidd claimed to have buried a treasure worth 40,000 British Pounds, though rumours stated that it was more like 400,000. Only 10,000 Pounds were ever recovered from Gardiner’s Island off the coast of Long Island, NY, and were sent to England along with Kidd in 1700 as evidence against him.
Kidd tried in vain to use the location of his hidden treasure as a bargaining chip at his trial. A false find in 2015 caused a media frenzy, and today, treasure hunters are hard at work to find the remainder of the loot which is reported to be anywhere from the Caribbean to the east coast of America.
2. Amaro Pargo’s Treasure
Amaro Pargo was a Spanish pirate turned privateer who lived from the late 17th century into the first half of the 18th century. He dominated the route between Cádiz and the Caribbean, mainly attacking ships belonging to enemies of the Spanish Crown. He was known as a kind of Spanish Robin Hood, since he gave many of his plundered spoils to the poor, and was as popular as figures such as Blackbeard and Sir Francis Drake.
Pargo was eventually the richest man of the Canary Islands. After he died in 1747, much of his wealth went to his heirs. However, in his will, he wrote about a chest with a carved wood pattern on the lid which he kept in his cabin. Inside was gold, jewellery, silver, pearls, Chinese porcelain, paintings, fabrics and valuable precious stones.
He explained that the chest contents were itemised in a book wrapped in parchment and marked with the letter ‘D’. However, he didn’t tell anyone where the book was. Treasure hunters have scoured every location imaginable in search of the treasure, but have discovered nothing.
3. Blackbeard’s Treasure
Infamous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, terrorised the West Indies and east coast of America in the late 17th to early 18th centuries. He primarily attacked ships rich in gold, silver and other treasures leaving Mexico and South America on their way back to Spain.
According to his ledger, Blackbeard’s wealth was evaluated at $12.5 million, which was relatively little for a pirate of his stature. Before his bloody death in 1718, Blackbeard stated that his ‘real’ treasure “lay in a location known only to him and the devil.”
Though Blackbeard’s ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, is thought to have been discovered in 1996, there was little on board of value aside from a handful of gold. There are many theories as to where Blackbeard’s treasure might lie, but in the 300 years since he died, nothing has been found.
4. Treasures of Lima
Though not strictly a pirate treasure, the Treasures of Lima fell into pirate hands and have never been seen again. Removed from Lima, Peru, when it was on the edge of revolt in 1820, the treasures were given to British Captain William Thompson, who was to transport the riches to Mexico for safekeeping.
However, Thompson and his crew turned to pirating: they cut the throats of the guards and accompanying priests before taking the treasure for themselves. Before they could divvy up the spoils, they were tried and executed for piracy, taking the location of hidden treasure with them to the grave.
The haul is said to be worth £160 million and is made up of 12 chests. Within these chests are 500,000 gold coins, 16 to 18 pounds of gold dust, 11,000 silver ingots, solid gold religious statues, chests of jewels, hundreds of swords, thousands of diamonds and solid gold crowns. So far, treasure hunters have discovered nothing.
5. Whydah Galley Treasure
Though not technically still lost, The Whydah Gally Treasure was one of the most famous lost pirate hauls on Earth, and it eluded treasure hunters for nearly 300 years. It was lost when a ship named Whydah Galley sank off Cape Cod in 1717 under the command of notorious pirate Sam “Black Sam” Bellamy, who is thought to be the wealthiest pirate in history. The ship was carrying tens of thousands of gold coins earned from selling enslaved people in the Caribbean.
In 1984, an expedition to find the treasure honed in on a patch of sand off the coast of Cape Cod. A team of divers initially discovered the ship’s bell, before finding a cache of some 200,000 artefacts. This included African jewellery, muskets, silver coins, gold belt buckles and 60 cannons which are worth more than $100 million.
6 skeletons were also discovered, and it is theorised that one might belong to the infamous Black Sam himself. An incredible discovery, it is the only verified pirate treasure to have ever been discovered.