As a kid in Connecticut, I hoped to meet the pirate William Thompson—an ancestor of mine, I thought. He spelled Thomson the wrong way (with a P) but pirates weren’t known for their literacy. Another mitigating factor was that he died in 1825. Regardless, if you’re eight, you can stare out to sea and believe there’s a pretty good chance your pirate ancestor’s masts might appear on the horizon, and that he might row ashore and say to you, “Kid, I need you to go on an adventure to get gold.”
Twenty years later, this was basically the premise of my first novel, Pirates of Pensacola: A land-lubbing accountant’s life is anything but exciting until his estranged pirate father shows up after twenty-some years in jail and says, “Let’s hit the sea, lad, there’s treasure to be got.” And the adventure is under weigh.
Today I’m thinking: Why not actually get a pirate treasure?
Here are our clues: In 1820, Jose de San Martin was leading his rebel forces toward Lima. The Spanish colonists occupying Lima were worried he’d seize the gold and jewels they’d earlier seized from the natives, including solid gold roof panels worth $12 million (in 1820!) and a life size jewel-studded golden Virgin Mary. So the Spaniards hired then-trustworthy British sea captain, William Thompson, to stow the treasure on his brig Mary Dear, sail around for a few months until San Martin had moved on, then return the haul to Lima. The Spaniards sent a few of their men along to make sure Capt. Thompson stayed trustworthy. Thompson and his crew killed them all and turned pirate.
Almost immediately, dozens of Spanish men-o’-war were scouring the Seven Seas for the Mary Dear. The well-known roof panels and the life-size jewel-studded virgin would’ve been tough to fence under the best of circumstances; Thompson and his first mate secured the loot in a cave on an uninhabited island three hundred miles west of Costa Rica. They planned to return for it when things cooled off. Problem was, they died of Yellow Fever. The rest of the crew was caught by a man o’ war and sent to hang out with Davy Jones.
The island is now called Cocos, and it’s still uninhabited. Thompson did draw up a map. Copies of it are around because, over the years, numerous people have tried to find the treasure, including Franklin Roosevelt on two separate expeditions. The cave was clearly marked on the map, but no one ever located it because of severe shoreline erosion. Likely the cave is now covered by ocean floor.
The thing is, none of the previous expeditions had the advantage of the sonar technology commonly found on modern dive ships. If you’ve got that sort of rig, talk to me. Alternatively we can acquire one somehow.
Related links: Pirates of Pensacola