There was a time, back around the turn of the century, that Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island, had taken on a life of its own, one distinctly different from the way it is today.
Settlement was in full swing here, and the area was heralded both provincially and abroad as a paradise to be found. An actor’s colony, filled with some of the finest stock which the American theatre scene could produce, had taken root here, and for all intents and purposes it was a paradise (3).
It was, and remains, a place of beauty; of locale of allure that proved all the more attractive for the mystery which maintained a firm grasp in the minds of locals and tourists alike, namely, that Bay Fortune was “made famous as the receptacle and hiding place of Captain Kidd’s stolen hoards” (1)
These legends have persisted for time immemorial, but they gained popularity as they were rediscovered by those of the actor’s colony who summered here.
For example, in the Prince Edward Island Magazine, dated December 1901, Charles Kent, one member of the colony, provides a detailed introduction to the subject, although he too expresses his incredulity surrounding the claims of Captain Kidd and his buried treasure (1).
However, despite this apparent disbelief, the legend lives on, and can be traced through the pages of history in such a way so as to lead even the most doubting to at least question the possibility.
And while it may seem to be an outlandish assertion, such claims are not entirely out of character for the Fortune area, which has a long history of relations with the dark and unexplained.
Forerunners abound in the area; a wounded man made his death-bed will to be buried upon the cape (which he was), ghosts are known to haunt its dark woods, and even Charles Coghlan’s floating coffin found its way to Bay Fortune’s shores (3). In fact, this very site gained notoriety for Patrick Pearce’s infamous murder of Edward Abel, the namesake of the Cape itself (3).
With that being said, it is no surprise that the persistent claim of buried treasure lingers to this day, and thus, we turn our attention backwards in time, in order to explore the mysterious history of Bay Fortune.
Who was Captain Kidd?
Captain Kidd was perhaps one of the most infamous pirates of his time, and to this day his name is still synonymous with piracy on the high seas. Born in Scotland in 1645, his family emigrated to the United States when he was only a young man (4).
There, amid rising tensions between England and France, Captain Kidd found employment working for the British government as a privateer – hired by European royals to protect British shipping interests at sea in the Caribbean, and furthermore to thwart French naval expansionism and trade.
This line of work had in the past proven to be a lucrative industry, as it was well known that privateers were to gain the profits of any rival ship which was confiscated.
His career as a privateer proved to be successful, and in 1696 he was commissioned to travel to the West Indies aboard the ship the Adventure Galley, under the funding of English Lord Bellomont, to attack French ships and pirate vessels there (4).
Kidd’s endeavours in the West Indies were less than noteworthy, and amid illness and unrest aboard the Adventure Galley, Kidd quickly determined that a successful bounty would needed be if he were to avoid mutiny aboard his ship.
It was then, as it seems, that Fate intervened, for as his ship rounded the tip of India, it encountered the Quedagh Merchant, a 500-ton Armenian ship carrying gold, silk, spices, and other riches, owned, in part, by the Indian Grand Moghul.
The ship was poorly defended, and such an opportunity was to come only once in a lifetime (4). Decisively Captain Kidd ordered his men to assail the vessel, and in no time it was under Kidd’s control.
Word of the capture of the Quedagh Merchant hurriedly reached England, as the ship had been under the direction of the East India Company. Condemnation came swiftly, and Captain Kidd was soon sought by English officials, wanted for the act of piracy.
This was of little consequence to Captain Kidd, who now patrolled the Indian and Atlantic oceans aboard the regal Merchant. The powerful ship yielded him greater fortunes as he made his way back to the Caribbean and up the eastern seaboard of North America. Alas, during a stop-over in Boston harbor, Captain Kidd was captured and shipped back to England.
Once in Europe, Kidd’s trial was swift and merciless. Captain Kidd found no friend in Lord Bellomont, who would have had his own dealings in privateers scrutinized had he come to Kidd’s aid.
As such, little defence was mounted, and Captain Kidd was found guilty of piracy and hanged on 23 May 1701. Moreover, to serve as a warning to other pirates, his body was hung in a cage over the river Thames, and left to rot for all to see (4).
But what of his treasure? It seems that to this day history has neglected to account for the whereabouts of Captain Kidd’s treasure, and perhaps for good reason; as legend has it, Captain Kidd had anticipated such events, and had arranged to have all of the treasure buried before he was captured.
Such a treasure would be vast: not only would it contain the aforementioned wealth of the Quedagh Merchant, but also the riches of any of the smaller vessels which he had assailed in his journey westward from India.
This treasure would necessarily need to be hidden in a remote area, far from the prying eyes of other pirates, and moreso, from the government agencies which sought to thwart him.
It is with these facts in mind that we then turn our attention to Bay Fortune, Prince Edward Island, for here in Fortune do we discover a long and colourful connection to Captain Kidd’s treasure, as rumor has it that his treasure is buried here.
This is, of course, a sensational claim; however, it is not made without any evidence. In fact, one need only look as far as the name of the area itself as an indication of the treasure which may be buried there.
The etymology of the Fortune area is thought to refer to the ship La Fortune, an English schooner weighing 40 tons which was brought to the area in 1754 by Le Sieur Laborde (5). This, however, is contradicted somewhat by Rayburn in Geographical Names of Prince Edward Island, as he indicates that "de la Rocque (seen below) shows Riviere a la Fortune in 1752", two years prior to this schooner. Given this, it is posited that the name may possibly mean "river of riches" (5).
And as if this weren’t enough to lead one’s mind towards the connection with Captain Kidd, Reginald Carrington Short, one of the famous members of C. P. Flockton’s acting company who summered in Bay Fortune and whose autobiography details the subject matter extensively, suggests a direct connection between Captain Kidd and the naming of Bay Fortune, writing that “a strong belief persisted among the natives [Islanders] that somewhere on the Cape…Captain Kidd, had buried his treasure. This fact may have been responsible for the name Fortune Bay on which the Cape itself was situated.” (2).
Given the inconsistency in naming as indicated above, perhaps there is some validity to Short’s claim.
In Search of Gold
Short goes further, citing various local peoples who indicate to him that numerous attempts have been made to unearth the treasure (2). Kent too informs us that still it is visited by mystics and those with divining rods, all of them prompted by dreams to dig for Kidd’s gold, and that at the time of his writing there remained “Many holes proving how firm is the belief that the treasure is buried here”(1).
Countless attempts have been made to claim the treasure, with one of the most infamous incidents relating to the ‘Boys from Boston’, which transpired around the turn of the century.
As Short explains, one of the old locals, a Mr. Abimelech “Bim” Burke, was confronted by two men from Boston who had travelled all that way in search of the treasure (2). These men asked Bim if he knew of Abel’s Cape, and, when he answered in the affirmative, asked if he would help to guide them there. They offered him a bit of money and some ‘Boston ‘shine’, and Bim agreed to lead them. He informed them, however, that “it ain’t no use diggin’ for treasure ‘ceptin at midnight; anyone’ll tell ya that” (2)
And so the night went on, and the shine went down, as the men waited until midnight. They had a map, procured somehow in Boston, and as it was a terribly dark night they brought with them a lantern. So as the midnight hour neared, the unlikely trio headed towards the cape, but even the lamplight was little match for the persistent darkness, and as it was they were several hours before they landed upon the precise spot to dig.
The search continued for some time, to no avail, until suddenly the clouds parted and the moon shone bright, as if guided by some unseen force. Bim then recounts that in the moonlight they suddenly saw the appearance of a regal ship (2).
From the ship was seen to disembark a small rowboat, and as Bim and the others looked on, they spied inside the boat “the worst looking lot you ever seen… handkerchiefs over their heads, belts full o’ knives and pistols.”
There was no doubt among the treasure-hunters that before them was the apparition of Captain Kidd himself. As Bim tells it, they were back to his place “like the devil hisself was after us. Mebbe he was. Seems like I smelled brimstone” (2)
As for the boys from Boston, they were out the door at the crack of crow and caught the train from Bear River, bound for a return trip to Boston. They left in such a hurry, Bim notes, that they left their prospecting tools behind (2).
Given the above, it is no surprise that the stories best remembered about the treasure are those with a comical conclusion, for another one is often told of the search for the treasure, wherein the 1920s a young man from Souris ventured out to try his luck in finding it (6).
However, some local boys caught wind of this development and before he could arrive they quickly buried a metal bucket full of stones in the area. That night, again by moonlight, the young man and his friends prowled for the treasure, and were focused upon digging when one of their shovels struck something metallic, shattering the silent night (6).
Excitedly they pulled forth from the ground the source of the sound, only to discover that they had been fooled, and that their treasure was nothing but a bucket of rocks. Nothing else came of their expedition, save for the laughs of the boys who eagerly retold the story in the days to come (6).
The Search Continues
Stories such as the ones above abound in the collective memory and folklore of the local people, and to this day the evidence of these digs, the pitted pockmarks and potholes of explorers from days-gone-by, continue to dot the landscape of the cape (6).
A worn and well beaten trail winds its way from Fortune Back Beach up into the cape, indicative of the persistent memory of Captain Kidd’s treasure. Whatever the truth, whether it be pirate’s gold or merely fool’s gold, Bay Fortune continues to offer the allure of something more than meets the eye, and it is certain to continue to do so, for many years to come.
As Kent notes, while many still search for the treasure, “they are always unsuccessful, and are usually scared away by the ghosts of Kidd and his crew,” something he too fell victim of in years gone by (1).
He writes that “for weeks I have searched and delved in the sand, but all to no purpose save the amusement of the Islanders,” a sentiment all too common in the search for Kidd’s gold (1). And so, he concludes, that despite the endless onslaught of “moonlight diggings” which the passage of time has brought forth unto the area, none of them shall ever succeed, for “Kidd’s spirit knows how to protect it” (1)
But as to the treasure itself, Kent is more than confident: “that it is buried here is now an undisputed fact” (1).
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1. Kent, Charles. Ed. Irwin, Archibald. "Kidd's Treasure" The Prince Edward Island Magazine. 1901. Print.
2. Short, Reginald Carrington. Ed. Hornby, Jim. "The C.P. Flockton Comedy Company" The Island Magazine. 1982. Print.
3. Townshend, Adele. "Drama at Abel's Cape" The Island Magazine. 1979. Print.
4. William Kidd, Pirate. Biography. Biography.com. 22 February 2017.
5. Sourispedia. "Fortune, Prince Edward Island." 22 February 2017.
6. Eastern Kings. "Captain Kidd's Treasure" Island Narratives Program. 22 February 2017.