Description of Informant
NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends. From 1970-1980 (his birth through elementary school), NM lived at 118 Andover Street, Wilmington, MA (the address is significant given the legend). Wilmington was a bit further inland, about 20 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.
Context of Interview
The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.
NM: Ah, there was a pirate legend when we lived in Wilmington. In the back of that house, there was a huge rock wall, and a cave at the bottom of it, and, uhh… the legend… and we would have people come and knock on our door, in Wilmington, to take their little metal detectors and walk around the backyard. Because the legend was that Bluebeard or Blackbeard or some old pirate was seen coming down the street with a chest and a couple slaves. And then he left that street with just the cart. With no slave, and no chest. So the legend was that he buried his treasure, killed the slaves to protect it, buried them with it, and that there’s treasure somewhere in that backyard. And the cave is called Devil’s Den. So we would have people looking for that treasure in our backyard every once in a while with their metal detectors. But obviously *laughing* none was ever found!
BK: Was there a ghost story associated with this legend?
NM: No. Just that story. That the slaves were killed to protect it. But yeah, we were never, as kids, nervous about being back there. I climbed pretty far into that cave but it had a dead-end. There was no treasure down at the bottom of it. It was just a dead-end, and extremely claustrophobic. You start getting really nervous when you’re surrounded by that much stone.
I wouldn’t be surprised— I’ve got to ask my mom if I’ve got the pirate’s name right… I think it was like Blackbeard or Bluebeard.
BK: Was your house in Wilmington close to the sea?
NM: *thinking* No! Yeah, what the heck was he [the pirate] doing in that area? Yeah like I said, we were a good 15-minute bike ride, 20-minute, hmm, maybe 15-minute car ride. So I don’t know what he would be doing that deep into, uh, suburban. Yeah, that raises a flag on that legend. Why he would go that far into suburbia to bury his treasure.
BK: When you say this was in your backyard… could you give me some sense of scale?
NM: That property was like an acre-and-a-half, I guess, and I think our property line probably ended above this rock wall. Y’know it was an old, 1800s type of house. Sort of victorian. Mainly people would go from just, near the cave, and wander within a 50 meters circle. Wandering around to see what they could— the trouble was there was a lot of magnetic rock in the area so *laughing* they got a lot of false… probably made them give up pretty quickly when they realized how much magnetic rock was around there and not finding anything worthwhile.
NM: If you were looking out the backdoor or the back window, you could’ve easily seen everything. It was probably about 100-feet from the backdoor to the face of the rock wall. And you could see the cave and… uhh… everything was pretty open.
BK: Would people ever come dig up your yard? Would your mom get upset about it?
NM: I don’t remember anybody doing any digging. I feel like they— they’re thing would go off. They might go a few inches deep and realize it was a rock. I’d have to ask them [my parents] if anybody ever got really serious about digging a hole. But I don’t remember ever going back there and seeing a big hole that somebody dug. I mean, by the time you were really looking where they were looking, it was woodsy. It wasn’t like our lawn. So, maybe they didn’t care, and maybe that’s why we didn’t know. Maybe they were digging holes, filling them in, covering them with leaves, and we just didn’t know.
BK: If you could figure out who the pirate was, that would be really helpful.
NM: I’ll ask them. I don’t know why I think they had a beard in it… but I’ll ask my mom.
It seems the pirate did not have “a beard in it” after all; Captain William Kidd is the legendary swashbuckler said to have hidden his treasure in Wilmington’s Devil’s Den cave. According to local legend, Kidd would frequent Harden Tavern. Today, the tavern is a preserved, victorian style home. NM’s mother used to volunteer there as a guide for tourists, and he has visited several times. Given Kidd’s seeming regular presence in the town, the idea of him burying his treasure there does not seem so far-fetched.
Contrary to NM, versions of this legend do account for a ghostly aspect. It is said that the slave Kidd murdered remained there in spirit; his ghost would move the treasure should anyone try to find it.
I find the legend dubious, as (1) the supposed treasure has yet to be found, (2) I find it dubious that such an infamous seafarer would move his treasure so far inland, and (3) the original legend is based on an eyewitness account from children, who claimed to have seen Kidd’s oxcart move down the lane. Regardless, it’s a fun tale and an exciting piece of Wilmington, MA culture.
For another account of Captain Kidd’s legend, please see:
Neilson, Larz F. “Buried Treasure in Wilmington?: A Look Back at Wilmington of Yesteryear….” Wilmington Town Crier, 22 Dec. 2008.