Read CHAPTER I of Our Pirate Hoard 1891 , free online book, by Thomas A. Janvier, on

My great-great-great-uncle was one of the many sturdy, honest, high-spirited men to whom the early years of the last century gave birth. He was a brave man and a ready fighter, yet was he ever controlled in his actions by so nice a regard for the feelings of others, and through the strong fibre of his hardy nature ran a strain of such almost womanly gentleness and tenderness, that throughout the rather exceptionally wide circle of his acquaintance he was very generally beloved.

By profession he was a pirate, and although it is not becoming in me, perhaps, to speak boastingly of a blood-relation, I would be doing his memory injustice did I not add that he was one of the ablest and most successful pirates of his time. His usual cruising-ground was between the capes of the Chesapeake and the lower end of Long Island; yet now and then, as opportunity offered, he would take a run to the New England coast, and in winter he frequently would drop down to the s’uthard and do a good stroke of business off the Spanish Main. His home station, however, was the Delaware coast, and his family lived in Lewes, being quite the upper crust of Lewes society as it then was constituted. When his schooner, the Martha Ann, was off duty, she usually was harbored in Rehoboth Bay. That was a pretty good harbor for pirate schooners in those days.

My great-great-great-uncle threw himself into his profession in the hearty fashion that was to be expected from a man of his sincere, earnest character. He toiled early and late at sea, and on shore he regulated the affairs of his family so that his expenses should be well within his large though somewhat fluctuating income; and the result of his prudence in affairs was that he saved the greater portion of what he earned. The people of Lewes respected him greatly, and the boys of the town were bidden to emulate his steady business ways and habit of thrift. He was, too, a man of public spirit. At his own cost and charge he renewed the town pump; and he presented the church he was a very regular churchgoer when on shore with a large bell of singularly sweet tone that had come into his possession after a casual encounter with a Cuban-bound galleon off the Bahama Banks.

And yet when at last my great-great-great-uncle, in the fulness of his years and virtues, was gathered to his fathers, and the sweet-toned Spanish bell tolled his requiem, everybody was very much surprised to find that of the fine fortune accumulated during his successful business career nothing worth speaking of could be found. The house that he owned in Lewes, the handsome furniture that it contained, and a sea-chest in which were some odds and ends of silverware (of a Spanish make) and some few pieces-of-eight and doubloons, constituted the whole of his visible wealth.

For my great-great-great-aunt, with a family of five sons and seven daughters (including three sets of twins) all under eleven years of age, the outlook was a sorry one. She was puzzled, too, to think what had gone with the great fortune which certainly had existed, and so was everybody else. The explanation that finally was adopted was that my great-great-great-uncle, in accordance with well established pirate usage, had buried his treasure somewhere, and had taken the secret of its burial-place with him to another and a better world. Probability was given to this conjecture by the fact that he had died in something of a hurry. He had been brought ashore by his men after an unexpected (and by him uninvited) encounter with a King’s ship off the capes of the Delaware. One of his legs was shot off, and his head was pretty well laid open by a desperate cutlass slash. He already was in a raging fever, and although the best medical advice in Lewes was procured, he died that very night. As he lay dying his talk was wild and incoherent; but at the very last, as my great-great-great-aunt well remembered, he suddenly grew calm, straightened himself in the bed, and said, with great earnestness: “Sheer up the plank midway ”

That was all. He did not live to finish the sentence. At the moment, my great-great-great-aunt believed the words to be nothing more than a delirious use of a professional phrase; and this belief received color from the fact that a little before, in his feverish fancy, he had been capturing a Spanish galleon, and had got about to the part of the affair where the sheering up of a plank midway between the main and mizzen masts, for the accommodation of the Spaniards in leaving their vessel, would be appropriate. Thinking the matter over calmly afterwards, and in the light of subsequent events, she came to the conclusion that he was trying to tell her how and where his treasure was hid. Acting upon this belief, she sheered up all the planks about the house that seemed at all promising. She even had the cellar dug up and the well dragged. But not a scrap of the treasure did she ever find.

And the worst part of it was, that from that time onward our family had no luck at all. Excepting my elderly cousin, Gregory Wilkinson who inherited a snug little fortune from his mother, and expanded it into a very considerable fortune by building up a large manufacture of carpet-slippers for the export trade the rule in my family has been a respectable poverty that has just bordered upon actual want. But all the generations since my great-great-great-uncle’s time have been cheered, as poverty-stricken people naturally would be cheered, by the knowledge that the pirate hoard was in existence; and by the hope that some day it would be found, and would make them all enormously rich at a jump. From the moment when I first heard of the treasure, as a little boy, I believed in it thoroughly; and I also believed that I was the member of the family destined to discover it.