Tall tales of Edward Teach’s buried treasure

Published 6:09 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2022

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Over the course of his 79 years of life, Harry Lewis Thompson owned a sawmill and sold building supplies. But yet he is best known for a completely different craft – the art of storytelling.

Thompson, who lived his life in his native Bertie County, was credited for his contributions to the History Channel and to documentaries aired on UNC-TV.

Long before his death in 2013, Harry Thompson authored several books of local historical interest. He was also well known for his extensive genealogical research.

This past weekend, while digging through the vast archives I’ve collected over the course of my newspaper career, I stumbled across one of Thompson’s most intriguing tales – his research into one of the most famous – and feared – sailors: Blackbeard the pirate. We published it in our annual Crossroads edition back in 2008, crediting the work of Thompson in his very first book – “Bertie Folklore” (1999).

Blackbeard’s connections to Bertie County stem back to one of the first governors of North Carolina, Charles Eden. Eden made his home at a beautiful spot on the Bertie County side of the Chowan River, the location that is even today known as “Eden House” on one side of the Chowan River Bridge.

The other side is similarly known today as “Blackbeard’s Beach,” due to Eden’s history with the infamous pirate.

Blackbeard, who was born in 1680 and was killed in 1718, was otherwise known as Edward Teach. He was rumored to be friends with Governor Eden and even had a secret entrance to Eden’s home via an underground tunnel.

According to Thompson’s book, it’s an established fact that there were business dealings and visitations in Bertie County between Governor Eden and Teach at the Governor’s mansion on the Chowan River.

There, the two would meet clandestinely and Teach would reportedly supply Eden with pirated goods in exchange for Eden’s favors and pardons.

The most interesting thing to some, though, is the location of the long-lost treasure of Blackbeard.

Where did he hide his loot? Some have speculated over the years that its final resting place may lie in the now-collapsed underground tunnel along the Chowan River.

In his book, Thompson recalls listening to stories in his childhood of his teenaged babysitters telling tales of finding pearls or other goodies in Blackbeard’s cave, the mouth of which was still visible in those days.

The cave in existence then was located several hundred yards up the river in front of the former site of Eden’s home of 1711 (the days of Blackbeard).

“Many still alive today recall seeing the (cave) entrance still in existence around the era of 1939-1940,” Thompson’s book reports.

He continued, “Most of the tunnel had long collapsed, but massive wooden doors were set in the mouth of the tunnel in a brick frame with massive iron hinges.”

Even in the late 1950’s, the fallen tunnel’s path could still be traced across a plowed field to the cellar site of Eden’s house.

“Two hundred and eighty years of tradition says this was the tunnel Blackbeard used to visit Governor Charles Eden in order to conduct his nefarious business,” Thompson said in his book.

Even so, Thompson himself doesn’t believe that’s the location of the treasure’s final resting place.

“It wouldn’t be practical, because one crook is not going to bury money in another crook’s yard,” he joked.

Thompson continued, “There are several ideas as to where Blackbeard’s treasure is buried, three rumored locations are in Bertie County and one more is nearby, then there’s another in Okracoke and one on Indian Island.”

It is the latter theory to which Thompson subscribes.

Blackbeard built his house in Bath on Plum Point, at a spot overlooking the river.

“There’s a place down there called Indian Island that is visible from Blackbeard’s house; it’s always been my personal belief that that’s where his money was buried… close enough where he could see it and that’s also where his men were working on his ships everyday, so it wouldn’t be very easy for somebody to slip in and steal it without him or his men seeing them,” Thompson explained.

Others still hold firm to the possibility that the treasure might be found more locally.

“It was always rumored here in our region that Blackbeard’s money was buried on Holiday Island in the middle of the Chowan River, that’s located where the river turns at Colerain,” Thompson stated.

The reason behind that theory is that one of Blackbeard’s 13 wives was supposed to have been a woman from Bennett Creek, so many in Bertie County speculated he buried his money on nearby Holiday Island.

Blackbeard was viewed as surprisingly heroic in the eyes of many colonials.

At a time when everyone was forced to buy over-priced goods from the English trade ships, Blackbeard would steal the goods from those ships and sell them to colonial merchants at half the normal price.

“A storeowner could buy a pound of sugar for half price from Blackbeard, but still sell it for regular price and make much more money than he would buying it from England,” Thompson explained.

In 1713, Blackbeard attempted to give up his life of piracy when he secured a pardon from Governor Eden, but several years later he apparently grew bored and headed back out to sea.

“After going back to sea he captured two ships, but some people swam back to shore and told everyone that Blackbeard had captured the ships, so (Virginia) Governor Spotswood sent his men to go kill him,” Thompson said.

“It’s always been rumored and handed down ever since he was killed that the night before his death, he was sitting and drinking in bar with his crew and his first mate asked him about the coming fight the next day, with real soldiers. He asked him if his wife knew where his money was buried, but Blackbeard said, ‘Only two people know where it’s buried and that’s me and the Devil,’ and since no one has ever found Blackbeard’s treasure, it’s presumed the Devil’s got it,” Thompson stated.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Blackbeard tales existing around North Carolina and all across the country. And as Thompson put it, there are just as many tales about Blackbeard as there are people who tell them.

Where is his treasure? Did one ever exist?

No one knows for certain… but it sure is fun to look.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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