Did Captain William Kidd bury treasure at Deer Isle, Maine, or in St. Augustine, Florida? Is there any truth to the legend that John Jacob Astor acquired his vast wealth when one of his fur trappers found the treasure? Is there a curse to this pirate treasure? These are among a few of the questions asked by forensic geologist Scott Wolter in last night′s episode of America Unearthed, Captain Kidd′s Pirate Code, aired on the History Channel H2. The ′pirate code′ stems from an alleged note which Kidd gave his wife while locked up in jail in Boston awaiting his execution. According to the legend, the note had a series of numbers, 44106818. Are they the latitude and longitude to where the treasure is buried? Or is the clue a true code with the numbers needing to be deciphered?
Scott Wolter gets a tip about Captain Kidd and flies to Boston where he meets with Bill Scheller. Bill tells Scott about how Kidd was actually a privateer, backed by high rollers in British society, such as Lord Belamont. That Kidd was betrayed and set up by his backers and went to Boston to clear his name. But, instead, he was convicted on six charges of piracy and the murder of a crewman, William Moore. For this, Kidd was hung not once, but three times!
Scheller shows Wolter the clue, 44106818, and Scott assumes that it is the latitude and longitude of where Captain Kidd buried his treasure. A bit of a simplified assumption if you ask me. The location is Deer Isle, Maine, which may make sense as Kidd did operate in the waters of New England, though he also spent a good deal of time in the Indian Ocean. Scheller also talks with Wolter about a possible connection between Kidd, who died in 1701, and rumors that fur magnate John Jacob Astor may have obtained Kidd′s treasure. The legend is that one of his fur trappers found it in a cave on Deer Isle. In 1801, Astor′s bank account suddenly jumped from just $4,000 to $500,000. Hmm! Astor went on to get into the real estate business in Manhattan after that, and by the time he died was worth some $20 Million dollars, which would be the same as $100 Billion dollars today.
Wolter and Scheller head for New York State to meet with Alexandra Aldrich, a descendant of Astor. John Jacob Astor would be her great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. She knows nothing about any pirate treasure. In fact, her particular branch of the Astor family is broke. Whatever fortune they had left was blown by the 1960s by her grandmother. Despite the family fortune, other members of the Astor clan did not fair well. Others went bankrupt, some died tragic deaths. Could this be a pirate curse?
On to Deer Isle! The legend says that Kidd had a treasure of some twenty bars of gold along with many silver coins known as Rix Dollars. The treasure would have been worth about $1 Million dollars in the 18th Century, considerably more today. Our two treasure hunters hitch a ride on a lobster boat and make their way to Deer Isle. Not far is another alleged site of where Kidd is said to have buried treasure, Oak Island, Nova Scotia. Along the way, another boat intercepts them. The skipper calls and asks if Scott Wolter is aboard? Scott introduces himself and the mysterious captain tells Wolter that he may be able to help him find Kidd′s treasure.
They dock together on Deer Isle and the mystery man identifies himself as being Walter Reed, a local charter captain. Reed tells Scheller and Wolter that the story about Kidd burying treasure on Deer Isle is a myth. So too is the Astor connection. Scott shows Walter the code of numbers and Reed confirms that it is the coordinates for Deer Isle. But he then shows Scott a photo of what may be Captain Kidd′s treasure chest. Its in a museum in St. Augustine, Florida!
So Scott heads to Florida, but before leaving he reads up on another potential connection with a millionaire and Kidd. Pat Croce is very wealthy, even owning a sports team, and has a thing for pirates. Scott meets Pat at a small pirate museum he funds in St. Augustine. There, Croce shows Wolter Captain Kidd′s personal treasure chest. The chest is not very big, about the size of a large jewelry box. Pat points out various features which seem to make the chest authentic for the time period. He also shows Scott several documents concerning Kidd. One is a daily log or journal by a Royal Naval officer who notes having Kidd in custody. He was arrested in 1699 and then taken to Boston to stand trial. At his hanging, some 200,000 people watched, hoping that Kidd would reveal the location of his treasure. But no such luck. So the episode concludes with Scott Wolter complimenting Pat Croce for his efforts to preserve and display history to the general public.