Baby of the Beach, Home Page!

Pieces-of-Eight
©2010-2019 Doug Wilson

Spanish Treasure FleetHavana harbor was a hotbed of activity as the 1750 Spanish treasure fleet readied itself for the long and perilous voyage to Spain. It was August and the hurricane season was already upon them. ... the vessels assembling beneath the mighty guns of Morro Castle numbered just seven. They had been placed under the overall command of Captain-General Don Juan Manuel de Bonilla, a brave and courageous man but one occasionally prone to indecision.

The most important ship was the Admirante, or "admiral" of the fleet, Bonilla's five-hundred-ton, four-year-old, Dutch-built Nuestra Señora de Guadeloupe, alias Nympha. She was owned by Don Jose de Renturo de Respaldizar, commanded by Don Manuel Molviedo, and piloted by Don Felipe Garcia. Guadeloupe was a big ship, and had been alotted a substantial cargo of sugar, Capeche dyewoods, Purge of Jalapa (a laxative restorative plant found in Mexico), cotton, vanilla, cocoa, plant seedlings, copper, a great quantity of hides, valuable cochineal and indigo for dyes, and most importantly, as many as three hundred chests of silver containing 400,000 pieces-of-eight valued at 613,000 pesos. Among her passengers was the president of Santo Domingo, Hispaniola, as well as a company of prisoners. (Shomette 2007:19)

So writes Shomette in his enlightening tale of a routine Spanish treasure shipment casting its fate to the wind. Another account reports just five ships and names only de Guadeloupe. And according to a TreasureNet™ post by rik, there are as many as eight ships in the armada under Bonilla's command:

  1. Nuestra Señora de Guadeloupe alias Augusta Celi or Nympha, with Captain Molviedo, owned by Respaldizar;
  2. the King's 50-gun frigate, Nuestra Señora del Carmen alias La Galga, Don Daniel Mahoney, captain;
  3. the King's small brigatine or Zumaca schooner Nuestra Señora de la Merced, or La Mercede, Don Antonio Barroso, captain;
  4. a Portuguese ship, Nuestra Señora de los Godos alias Arinton, captained by Don Pedro de Pumarejo and Don Francisco de Ortiz;
  5. a small Portuguese frigate with Cartagena registry, San Pedro or Saint Peter, John Kelly, commander;
  6. a Cartagena registered Snow packet boat, El Salvador alias El Henrique, owned by Don Francisco Arizon, Don Juan Cruanio, captain;
  7. a small frigate, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad y San Francisco Xavier, owned by Don Jose de Respaldizar and Don Manuel de Molbudro; and, possibly,
  8. a sloop from Compeche, La Marianna, Don Antonio Ianasio de Anaya, commander.

Pieces-of-Eight:  one ounce Spanish dollars that could be cut into eight bits to make changeThe small armada carries important passengers like the Governor of Havana and family, the quartermaster general of Chile and family, a treasure and luxury item shipment of the King's own company, and a silversmith as representative of another precious cargo's owner. They are similarly laden with more Spanish Reales (known as pieces-of-eight), valuable commodities, diamonds, and precious metals, all extracted from the conquest of Central and South America. But it is de Guadeloupe that is the greatest prize, with more than 12 tons of silver in 400,000 pieces-of-eight, each of which weighs one ounce. The early American silver dollar is based upon this coin and its weight / value in silver. That is why 25¢ is known as two bits. Two pieces (or bits) of eight make a quarter. (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

The King is anxious for a successful voyage and transit of his goods. These valuables are sorely needed to replenish the Spanish treasurer from years of conflict with England and France, known in Europe as the War of Austrian Succession and, in the colonies as, King George's War. Mother Nature has other plans. This time, Bonilla's own flagship and its precious cargo will be jeopardized by the fierce weather. It will force him to trust a former enemy in a desperate encounter with English privateers turned pirates - including some FitzRandolphs and a young Joseph (Thorne) Jackson of Woodbridge, New Jersey, that are the original subjects of my research.

This story draws from several different accounts of the events retold from personal records and government documents. The Spanish perspective is taken from Bonilla's log and Spanish documents as referenced in Donald Shomette's recent compilation of shipwreck tales. The English and Dutch perspectives are contained in colonial government correspondence and news articles. The Jersey pirates' tale is told by shipmate William Waller in his 1750 testimony to the New Jersey Provincial Justices. The New Englander sloop's story was passed down in the family of one of the ship's owners. But there are also two jokers in the pack, Owen Lloyd and William Blackstock. It is Blackstock, alias William Davidson, who tells their story in his 1750 testimony before Dutch West Indies Justices. He'll also tell us how some of the treasure gets buried on the "real" Treasure Island - and what happens to it next. Be sure to follow the links to learn more about these stories.

Click on a section title below to learn more about the next events in this adventure or open all sections and browse.

Dangerous Shoals

Acts of Piracy

Colonial American sloop of the dayAfter the treasure was loaded on FitzRandolph's sloop, Mary, "the hatches of the sloop going into the hold were barred and locked by the Spaniards; and the said Spaniards took the keys away with them." Master Samuel FitzRandolph and his two sons, Kinsey and Samuel, stay aboard Mary while Waller and the rest of the crew go for water. When they return, Kinsey tells Waller that he had been in the hold and had gotten 700 pieces-of-eight for his father and 40 pieces for himself. Furthermore, Kinsey and Thomas Edwards cut a hole at the foot of the larboard cabin, through the bulkhead, and into the hold. Money is taken out of the hold twice before they are done. Twice the crew divide the silver pieces amongst themselves.

Later, crewman Joseph Jackson gives Waller about "450 pieces-of-eight tied up in an oznabrig bag" and "a letter directed to his [step]father, James Jackson, in Woodbridge", New Jersey. Joseph instructs Waller to deliver 213 pieces-of-eight to James Jackson and the remainder Waller keeps as his share. A few days more, Master Samuel & Waller "had words" and part by mutual consent. Waller then goes aboard a sloop riding in the harbour, captained by a Master Anderson. It soon sets sail for Middletown in New Jersey, Waller's home. After they pass the bar at Ocracoke Inlet, Anderson discovers that Waller has Spanish money on board and tells him that "if he had known it before, he would not have brought him." (NJ Archives, v16 , p277-280)

When Mary's master returns to the ship from shore, he probably does not tell Waller of his plans with Lloyd, Blackstock, and Wade. If so, Waller would likely have included some reference to new crew members coming aboard with him. As it is, the boarding of Owen Lloyd's brother, Thomas, and some of the "seaworthy" rabble collected ashore should have been well noticed and questioned by the crew that sailed together out of Perth Amboy a few weeks earlier.

The plan with which FitzRandolph and Wade agree has the two shipmasters hiding below deck when the Lloyd brothers and their men make it look as though they commandeer the two sloops and make off with the cargo. Blackstock will pilot Seaflower with Owen Lloyd in command and Thomas Lloyd will maneuver Mary. Once away, they will sail to the West Indies and bury the treasure on an island well known to the scheming Lloyd. The peglegged Thomas was likely unaware of the damage to the hull by the crews pilfering, but their fate is likely sealed by those earlier actions. (Knight)

Shomette describes the next piratical events as they unfold before the stunned Spaniards.

... the seamen's escapades palled by comparison to a cabal hatched between Captain Wade, Captain FitzRandolph, and one Owen Lloyd, who "had armed themselves for that purpose, to run away with what was put on board their vessels."

True to form, Pedro Rodriguez proved as untrustworthy as ever and may have even been a partner to the larcenous conspiracy that ensued. Whatever his later excuses may have been, he had neglected to remove the sails of at least one, and possibly both, of the bilanders and had posted no guard onboard Guadeloupe. On October 9, with Bonilla far away, and a fresh, fair wind blowing, the English pirates, led by Owen Lloyd, put their plan into action. About noon and without warning, the two vessels cut their cables and put out to sea. The astonished Spaniards immediately took up pursuit in a longboat, firing their guns as they scuttled along like an elongated waterbug. Seaflower, commanded in the action by one William Blackstock, alias William Davidson, and navigated by Lloyd, nevertheless successfully carried off "55 chests of money, some trunks of gold and silver wrought plate, and 155 bales of conchineal and other things." Though described as a "dull Sailor" and carrying no more than ten men aboard, and soon also pursued by the Guadeloupe's pinnace, the pirate sloop made a clean escape over the bar and sailed away for the West Indies. FitzRandolph's sloop, however, had the misfortune of missing stays and, perhaps slowed in the escape by the plugged hole in her side cut by the crew, ran aground in the roads. She was quickly boarded and captured by a launch from Guadeloupe. On learning of the piracy, Bonilla was devastated. "I fell very ill of shock," he morosely informed the Marquis de la Ensenada, "and nearly died. I am very weak and in ill health now." He placed the blame for the affair squarely on Rodriguez, who with fifty men under his command had failed to stop the slow sailing Seaflower and had succeeded in taking Mary only because it ran aground.

The Sticks give us a Carolina perspective.

By the time H.M.S. Scorpion arrived from Charleston, Bonilla was so concerned over his mutinous crew, the disappearance of the treasure laden sloops, and the prospect of bad weather that he petitioned Governor Johnston to direct the Scorpion to transport the balance of the cargo to Europe. Governor Johnston agreed to this, but at the same time he presented Bonilla with a claim for salvage and promptly commandeered something over 16,000 dollars for his trouble, though the British government forced him to give it back some time later.

So Captain Bonilla finally left the Banks and returned to Cadiz, but with less than half of the cargo and specie which had been aboard the vessel when she entered Ocracoke Inlet. And the residents of the Banks, having been hemmed in from all sides as these various intrigues were in progress, probably were as glad to be rid of this group of Spaniards as they were when the crew of the "large black sloop" had departed nine years earlier, after burning the tents on Ocracoke.

Wadsworth relies on an account of the events passed down in the Aaron Pratt family, one of the owners of the New Englander sloop. In this version, the ship is named Three Sisters rather than Seaflower. The master is the same Zebulon Wade, who conspires with FitzRandolph to run off with their cargoes. The sloops are to head for the West Indies and bury the booty in the sand. With Mary running aground, Three Sisters proceeds alone to Statia, now St. Eustacius in the Netherlands Antilles - a Dutch colony - to bury the treasure. There will be more on that later.

Sandy Hook and Raritan Bay, New Jersey towns circa 1775By Friday, October 16th, Master Anderson's sloop with Waller aboard arrives at Sandy Hook. There, Waller goes aboard a sloop belonging to James Smith, Esquire, of Woodbridge. Note that two of Smith's kin sign the Jersey money in those days (see image below).

The next morning Waller sends for "Mary Jackson junior the [step]sister of Joseph Jackson" and daughter of Mary (FitzRandolph) Jackson. He gives the young Mary six pieces-of-eight and the letter directed to their stepfather, James Jackson.

On Monday night, the 19th, he meets Mary junior again. This time she is accompanied by her mother, Mary, second wife of James; and her mother's brothers, Robert and Hartshorne FitzRandolph (their uncle, William, also signs the colonial paper money - see image below); and their sister-in-law, Mercy Smith. Waller gives Mary junior 207 pieces-of-eight more. Hartshorne FitzRandolph becomes security until the money "should be demanded." So 213 Spanish dollars end up in the hands of Hartshorne FitzRandolph on behalf of Woodbridge tavernkeeper, James Jackson. (NJ Archives, v16, p280; NJ Archives, v12, p520)

1756 15 shilling Jersey note - frontWaller also accounts for 129 of the 237 pieces-of-eight he has from the sloop's hold. He testifies later that he "laid out at New York 68 pieces." He lends James Coddington 25 pieces, James Pike 13 pieces, Robert FitzRandolph five pieces, and Isaac FitzRandolph three pieces. He exchanges 15 pieces for Jersey money. The remainder is "now at the deponents place of abode," the house of Robert FitzRandolph.

Then there are 108 Spanish dollars in Waller's possession as he resides at Robert FitzRandolph's house. (NJ Archives, v16, p277-280) That makes a total of 321 Spanish dollars still in the possession of the "Jersey pirates."

I suspect Waller is residing at this location because of a close family relationship between Robert and Waller's bride, Margaret FitzRandolph. I have not yet ascertained Margaret's relationship to the FitzRandolph family, because it may have been through a previous marriage. I do notice that Waller was reported above to be a resident of Middletown yet was residing with Robert, who has a very young daughter also named Margaret. Since there are no other Margaret's on the record in close relation to Robert's immediate family, I wonder if Waller's wife may yet be young Margaret's namesake.

map of Norman Island and the Bight beach where the chests are buriedDuring this time in the Virgin Islands, as Knight relays to us from Blackstock's testimony, the Seaflower slips into a cove on Norman Island, probably The Bight, as shown on the map. Its coves and caves make it perfect for burying treasure and the model for Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate tale Treasure Island.

Wade, Lloyd, Blackstock, Dames and eight more crewmen unload "sixty bundles of moldy tobacco", "seventeen bags of indigo", and "one hundred and twenty bale of cochineal, each weighing some two hundred and thirty pounds". That left "a tight-packed stack of heavy wooden crates" for the crew to inspect. There are 52 chests in all. Fifty are uniformly sized and two are taller and wider measuring three feet by two feet, and one-and-a-half-feet deep.

They pry off the lid of one of the many chests to reveal three compartments, each containing a large oznabrig sack sealed with lead. Each bag contains "one thousand freshly-struck, eight-reales coins" - pieces-of-eight. The two larger crates are "filled with 'church plate' and other wrought silver." These are religious items decorated with icons and, sometimes, encrusted with jewels.

The pirates divide up the pieces-of-eight with five chests each to Lloyd and Wade; four chests go to each of the other 10 men. The church plate and dyes are split into twelve roughly even shares. Nearly all the pirates bury their share of coins and silver plate ashore. Each hiding their treasure out of sight of the open beach back into the trees and underbrush. "Lloyd and Captain Wade each kept one chest of coins on board and buried the rest. Blackstock and William Dames resolved to leave the ship at their first opportunity and were the only ones to remove all of their booty (silver and goods) to shore."

The men return to the beach late in the afternoon to witness a fisherman, Thomas Walts, push off from alongside their sloop and head for the far north end of the cove. Lloyd leaves Blackstock, Dames and old Charles ashore with the treasure, and departs in the sloop with the rest of the crew and goods. The marooned sailors soon realize they are without food and water and so hail the fisherman for help. Blackstock and Dames get a ride in the fishing boat to the larger, nearby island of Tortola, leaving Charles to watch the situation on Norman Island.

At Tortola, Blackstock reports his situation to the island council president, Abraham Chalwell, without mentioning the chests of silver. Chalwell decides to go to Norman Island the next day to inspect the goods and check out Blackstock's story. President Chalwell, Blackstock and Dames arrive at the Bight late the next morning to find dozens of sailboats and smaller craft dotting the cove's shoreline and beach. As they approach the southern beachfront where the goods are piled, Blackstock notices Charles motioning wildly and yelling that their chests of silver have been discovered. So Blackstock directs Chalwell's attention to the bales of cochineal while Dames gets old Charles under control before he says any more about chests.

After Chalwell decides that Blackstock's story has merit, the two head for Dames and Charles position in some shade on the north shore. At first encounter, Chalwell demands of Charles "if there is any money here bring it out. If you do, I will take care of it for you. Otherwise, I will leave you here and let these people take your life for it." The council president must have been an effective leader and interrogator as Charles then produced "six bags of silver coins" from "a rock crevasse not far from the tobacco pile." The group returned to Tortula that afternoon. (Knight)

On the following morning, a shallop belonging to one Captain Purser of St. Christopher arrived at Tortola and President Chalwell made quick use of it to bring the cochineal over from Norman Island. Along with the dyestuff, the ship also brought three more bags of coins that Charles claimed to have "met" while loading the bales.

True to his word, Chalwell handed all of the recovered goods over to Blackstock, retaining only two bales of cochineal as a "present" Blackstock then gave one bale of cochineal to the "collector of the port", another to Thomas Walts for the service of his cobble, and yet another to Captain Purser for freight on the shallop. The remaining fifteen bales of cochineal and nine bags of coins, plus a handkerchief containing about four or five hundred coins, were divided equally between Blackstock, Dames and Charles. Additionally, Blackstock and Dames each kept their one-bag share of indigo, as Charles had left his aboard the sloop. Later, Charles and Dames sold their cochineal to John Pickering, Esquire, for one thousand pounds currency per bale, while the “collector” purchased Dames’ indigo. (Knight)

1756 15 shilling Jersey note - backAbout two weeks after Waller delivers James Jackson's share to his family in Woodbridge, the 46 year old James dies, suggesting that James may have been too ill to receive the money in person on the 19th. The NJ Calendar of Wills provides an account of the estate of "James Jackson, yeoman." His widow, Mary, and her brother, Hartshorne FitzRandolph are administrators on the estate. Richard FitzRandolph is fellow bondsman. The inventory made by Sam Moores and Abram Tappan assesses the estate value at £80.4. The Memorandum of bonds, bills and book debts dated November 7, 1750, lists 289 local male residents that probably had accounts due to James' tavern operation. (NJ Archives, v30, p260)

Among the many debtors are familiar Woodbridge family names. Surnames listed more than once in order of frequency include eight each named Bloomfield or Moore[s]; six named Alston, Dunham, [Fitz] Randolph, Inslee, Kelly, or Thorpe; five with surnames Bishop, Bunn, Shotwell, or Walker; four named Freeman, Morris, Smith, or Thompson; three each with names Conger, Cutter, Davis, Jones, Kinsey, Martin, Pike, Reynolds, or Wheaton; and two each named Arvine, Ayres, Brown, Brooks, Bird, Clarkson, Condict, Crowell, Daniels, Davi[d]son, Force, Ford, Herod, Harriman, Horner, Jackson, Johnson, Kearny, Kent, MacLachlin, Pack, Pangborn, Parker, Potter, Robinson, Ross, Sharp, Thornell, and Vale. In thirty years, these names will feature prominently in the War for Independence as many descendents of these citizens will be Patriots serving at all levels and in all ways.

Listed of special interest to our story are Samuel [Fitz]Randolph Jr, Sylas Walker, and Benjamin Moore of Mary's crew. There are also John Waller, keeper of the Perth Amboy Jail; James Nevill, likely kin of the Provincial Supreme Court Justice; and Zebulon Pike, great grandfather to the adventurous Colonel of the same name. Altogether, it would seem that James Jackson is a well-known member of the community.

On November 5, just two days after James' death and before this inventory of the estate, William Waller testifies before Judge Samuel Nevill, Esq. and James Smith, Esq. Master Samuel Fitz Randolph, Kinsey Fitz Randolph, Benjamin Moore, and Silas Walker are also deposed. As Mary's owner and master, Samuel Sr. also petitions for the Governor's guidance on the disposition of the stolen money. (NJ Archives, v16 , p277-280)

 

Close this and open next section Close all sections

Justice

References

©1996-2019   Doug Wilson   All rights reserved.