From the August 26, 1920 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

A rakish gray ship steals on the south shore of Martha’s Vineyard. If you are close enough you may see and hear that all is not well on board. You may hear course voiced men, gathered in secret conclave, plotting death and theft. You may see the captain and his mate, outwardly calm, but betraying now and then, by a nervous movement, that some idea of their impending fate has reached them.

Then you may watch that gray ship come to anchor, you may gaze, breathless, at the battle in progress on its decks, you may see first the mate, then the captain, fall senseless, and a moment later see the mutineers toss their bodies overboard.

Now they forsake the vessel, lowering over her side with great care and difficulty large pots filled with something heavy. They scuttle their ship and make their perilous way in the tiny boat to safe harbor.

A fairy tale? What might have been? Then read this.

“We are informed to day that the people of Edgartown have been exploring and digging Chilmark beach, in quest of gold, which they suppose was buried there eleven years ago, by four pirates which landed there and murdered one of their crew.”

Few stories of buried treasure are complete unless the lure which leads men and women to take shop for far distant lands in search of it is contained in some musty old trunk or some secret drawer, and is scrawled in faded ink on an ancient bit of paper or preserved or gold-loving posterity in a torn and time-worn journal.

Then here, in these excerpts from a cherished journal, penned almost one hundred years ago, are the very bone and sinew of a breath-taking thriller relating the crimes and adventures of pirates of yesteryear.

It was more than 97 years ago, January 18th, 1823, that Miss Hannah Smith made the entry in her journal regarding the romantic adventures that occurred on the Vineyard coast eleven years before that. Mrs. Ruth B. Mayhew, of Edgartown, her niece, remembers the tale as it was told with amplifications, by her mother and aunts. Its Vineyard flavor is enhanced in the telling, for, so the story goes, there was another confession, made by a member of the pirate crew, but one of Island birth.

Long years ago it seems he lay dying in New York. Somehow he learned that a woman from the Vineyard was in the city, and he asked to see her. As potent as conscience the approach of death makes talkers of us all. He admitted that he had been one of the crew on the ill-fated vessel, but disclaimed any part in the murders, or profit from the booty, and felt only remorse about the whole affair.

Thirty years ago, Dr. William H. Luce, father of Dr. Lyman Luce, wrote the story for the Sea Gull, which was then published annually by the Congregational church at West Tisbury. He identifies the spot where the treasure was buried as in the neighborhood of Quenames and places the event in 1815 instead of 1812.

Two men, strolling down the beach, found a boat, far above the reach of the surf and carefully secured. They followed the tracks which led away from the spot but lost the trail. That same night, three roughly clad men in sailor’s garb, came to a house in Squibnocket and finally persuaded the owner to let them spend the night.

A Wampanoag girl from Gay Head slept in the unfinished attic directly over the room they occupied, and through a crack, she watched their movements. As she told it they were seated at a table piled with “yellow dollars,” which they were dividing into three piles. Next day these strange visitors hired a boat for New Bedford, but according to Dr. Luce, it was they who were cowed by the determination of the boatman with the heavy oak tiller in his hand.

But the end is not yet, for a hunter on the beach shooting marsh birds, needing a piece of cloth for wadding, reached down to pick up a piece on the beach, and discovered, to his horror that the rag covered the leg of a man, murdered and buried in the sand, with his throat cut from ear to ear. A jury was impaneled and brought in a verdict charging the three sailors as probably guilty. Search was made for them in New Bedford, but nothing more was heard until their confessions, which disclosed that the boat was a brig from South America, that she had specie aboard, and that it had been buried in the copper kettles on the Island.

And the treasure? Is it still buried treasure? For months, people dug for it without success. After the great September gale of 1815 the beach was thrown in by the sea several rods on the marsh, and, it is supposed, buried the treasure full fathom deep.

Rumor has it that two men, appearing as mysteriously as had the first three at the house in Squibnocket, and labeling themselves naturalists, finally discovered and carried away the pots of gold, leaving a great dug hole in the sand. But no one actually saw the “Yellow dollars” removed from the Island. And where treasure is or has been or never was, there is hope.

Compiled by Hilary Wall