Buried Pirate Treasure in Florida

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Florida is rich in pirate history due to the fact that it was a hot spot for pirate activity during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Not only are there hundreds of shipwrecks off the coast of Florida reportedly loaded down with sunken treasure, there are also many stories of buried pirate treasure on land in Florida.

Florida has very clear laws about treasure hunting in the state but it is generally allowed as long as you abide by the rules, so feel free to try your luck at finding some of these lost treasures.

The following are some stories of buried pirate treasure in Florida:

Aury’s Treasure on Honeymoon Island:

It is rumored that French privateer Louis-Michel Aury may have buried his loot on Honeymoon Island in the Gulf Coast of Florida in the early 1800s.

Aury was on the run from the authorities due to his pirate activities in the area and some believe he stopped at Honeymoon Island and buried some of his treasure in bronze cannons in the shallow waters of the island.

In 2021, treasure hunter, Joe Zsika, found strange markings on some stones on a popular beach on Honeymoon Island and believes that they may mark the spot where Aury hid his treasure (Sowers 2021.)

Zsika planned to search the waters off the coast of the island stating in the spring of 2022.

It’s also possible Aury buried his treasure on Amelia Island when he captured it in 1817. Treasures hunters have been searching the island ever since but have yet to find any treasure.

Treasure Chest at Deleon Springs:

Local legend states that a pirate treasure chest resides at the bottom of Ponce de Leon Springs, which is now a state park, and has been seen by various eyewitnesses since the 19th century.

Some sources say that the chest was thrown into the spring in 1612 by Spanish settlers retreating from Native Americans while others stated it was cast into the spring by conquistadors before being massacre or possibly by pirates looking to hide their loot.

DeLeon Springs near De Land, Florida, circa 1900 - 1910
DeLeon Springs near De Land, Florida, circa 1900 – 1910

A developer who helped turn the springs into a tourist destination in the late 1800s, B.H. Wright, reportedly saw the chest in 1888 when he hired some workers to dredge and clean the basin of the springs.

The dredge pulled up logs, dugout canoes and flintlock muskets before it snagged on something that came loose and slipped back into the water.

Wright dived into the water to investigate what it was and felt a flat, hard surface like an iron chest. Unfortunately, it was late and getting too dark to continue diving so Wright gave up on the search.

Stories about the chest continued for decades and came to a head in 1927 when a psychic visited the spring and claimed to have a vision of the lost chest hidden under limestone rubble in an underwater cave in the spring.

In 1930, investors formed a treasure-hunting syndicate and hired Victor Estelle to dive into the spring in a diving suit and search it. Estelle found a small cave with a human skull and some bones in it but no chest.

In 1938, writer Charles Driscoll wrote a story for The American Magazine about a lost pirate chest at the spring and was spotted sitting on a ledge in the spring by a diver in the late 1800s.

The diver reportedly tied a rope around the chest to haul it to the surface but the rope broke and the chest sank deeper into the spring.

In 1949, another diver searched the spring, while a crowd watched and armed guards stood by to protect the treasure, but debris and water pressure prevented the diver from entering the underwater cave.

In 1955, members of the Daytona Beach Seacombers dive club also searched the springs and found a dugout canoe and Native American artifacts but no treasure.

Visitors to the park can see a map of the mysterious underwater cave but the treasure reportedly hidden inside it has yet to be found.

Buried Treasure at Lettuce Lake:

Legend says that Juan Gonzalez, a pirate who reportedly served on Gasparilla’s crew, claimed to have been a part of his crew who buried some of his treasure on the shores of Lettuce Lake in De Soto County in the early 19th century.

In the 1870s, Gonzalez, an old man by then, reportedly asked two local ranchers to help him dig up the treasure and haul it.

The two men agreed and showed up at his cabin with a small boat and a wagon but Gonzalez said he wasn’t feeling well and asked them to come back in a few days. The men returned a few days later and found Gonzalez dead on the floor.

They searched his cabin and found a jar of gold coins and a small sheet of copper engraved with a code indicating the location of the treasure.

Ever since the 1870s, treasure hunters have been trying to crack the code but no one has been successful.

The code reads:

O-X-NXW-W-VER-VAR

LEGUA 1/10 O-X-SWXW-VER-VAR

HASTA X

Black Caesar’s Buried Treasure:

Black Caesar was an African pirate who served aboard Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and reportedly buried between $2 million and $6 million in treasure on several islands, including Sanibel Island, Marco Island, Pine Island and Elliot Key.

It is believed that the treasure has never been found on any of the islands. Yet, there are stories about a poor pineapple farmer, John Saunders, on Elliot Key in 1890 who was tilling his soil one day and then up and left only to return a short time later with a brand new ship, the Hollyhock, which he had purchased in Cuba (Troop 1991.)

A treasure map
A treasure map

No one knew how he was able to obtain the boat or how he later managed to build a fleet of trading ships but some people believe he may have stumbled upon Black Caesar’s treasure and never told anyone.

Ashley Gang Treasure:

The Ashley Gang were a notorious gang of bootleggers and outlaws from southern Florida who also dabbled in piracy during the 1910s and 1920s.

Although the gang mostly robbed banks and sold bootleg liquor during prohibition, they also raided a British colonial town, West End, in the Bahamas in 1925, which is considered the first American pirate raid on a British Crown colony in over a century, and they often raided rum-runners off the coast of southern Florida.

Out of the reportedly $100,000 or more that the group is believed to have stolen, only around $32,000 of it has been recovered, and that was only with the help of an ex-gang member Joe Tracy.

Some believe that the money is buried somewhere on the property of the gang’s old homestead near Gomez, Florida while others think it may have been buried on a small island where the gang built their secret rum distillery in the Florida everglades.

Another theory is that is that the gang buried it in their secret campsites around the Hobe sound.

The Treasure of Billy Bowlegs:

Billy Bowlegs was a pirate (not to be confused with the Seminole chief Billy Bowlegs) who attacked Spanish ships along the Gulf Coast in the 1830s and 1840s.

Bowlegs is believed to have buried some of his treasure on Santa Rosa Island in the Choctawhatchee Bay area and also may have buried several small chests in a small river near the bay.

Several 18th century Spanish coins were found on Santa Rosa Island in 1906, which further supports the claims of buried treasure there (“Spanish Coin” 1906.)

Anastasia Island:

The pirate Gasparilla is said to have buried a large chest containing $50,000 in gold on Anastasia Island near Charlotte Harbor north of Fort Meyers.

Yet, there is no actual evidence that any pirate named Gasparilla even existed though so it’s highly likely that neither does the treasure.

Bokeelia Key:

It is rumored that Bocilla the pirate buried some of his treasure on Bokeelia Key in Charlotte Harbor, north of Pine Island.

Pinellas Point:

In the 1930s, several chests of Spanish gold and silver were dug up on Pinellas Point in St. Petersburg and it is rumored that there may be more treasure buried somewhere nearby.

If you would like to see an authentic pirate chest in Florida, check out this article on the Thomas Tew treasure chest in the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum.

Sources:
National Treasure Society. 10 Treasure Legends! Florida. Createspace, 2014.
Jameson, W.C. Buried Treasure of the Atlantic Coast. August House Publishers, 1998.
Beater, Jack. Pirates and Buried Treasures of Florida. Pineapple Press, 2021.
Driscoll, Charles Benedict. Pirates Ahoy! Farrar & Rinheart, 1941
Williamson, Ronald. Volusia County’s West Side: Steamboats and Sandhills. The History Presss, 2008.
Driscoll, Charles. “A Rainbow With a Million Ends.” The American Magazine, Vol. 126. Frank Leslie Publishing House, 1938
McGreevy, Nora. “The True History and Swashbuckling Myth Behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Namesake.” Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Feb. 2021, smithsonianmag.com/history/true-history-and-swashbuckling-myth-behind-tampa-bay-buccaneers-namesake-180976918/
Spata, Christopher. “Is Gasparilla’s treasure real? We went with these friends to find it.” Tampa Bay Times, 5 Sept. 2019, tampabay.com/arts-entertainment/is-gasparillas-treasure-real-we-went-with-these-friends-to-find-it-20190117/
Bradshaw, Jim. “Jim Bradshaw: Gulf Pirates and Billy Bowlegs’ Lost Treasure.” St. Mary, 24 June. 2002, stmarynow.com/state-columns/jim-bradshaw-gulf-pirates-and-billy-bowlegs-lost-treasure
Spanish Coin Found on Island.” Pensacola Journal, 18 Nov. 1906, chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87062268/1906-11-18/ed-1/seq-5/
Troop, Alan F. “The Legends of Black Caesar.” Sun Sentinel, 6 Oct. 1991, sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1991-10-06-9102090910-story.html
Pirate Past: Is Sanibel Island Home to Buried Treasure?” The Travel, 8 Mar. 2022, thetravel.com/sanibel-island-pirates-home-to-buried-treasure/
Florida’s Fabulous Treasures.” Palm Beach County History Online, pbchistoryonline.org/middle-school-lessons/031-Treasure/Florida-Treasure001.htm
Lane, Mark. “Lane: In 1920s, A Psychic Saw Sunken Treasure in DeLeon Springs.” The Daytona Beach News Journal, 29 Aug. 2017, news-journalonline.com/story/opinion/columns/guest/2017/08/29/lane-in-1920s-psychic-saw-sunken-treasure-in-deleon-springs/18969903007/
Luckhardt, Alice and Greg. “History: There’s Still Treasure To Be Found.” TC Palm, 12 Dec. 2012, archive.tcpalm.com/news/history-theres-still-treasure-to-be-found-ep-381532472-342827732.html/
Sowers, Lloyd. “Treasure Hunter Thinks Honeymoon Island May Be Hiding Privateer’s 200-Year-Old Haul.” Fox 13 Tampa Bay, 20 Dec. 2021, fox13news.com/news/treasure-hunter-thinks-honeymoon-island-may-be-hiding-privateers-200-year-old-haul
Looking for Treasure on Amelia Island.” Fernandina Observer, 12 April. 2021, fernandinaobserver.com/2021/04/12/looking-for-treasure-on-amelia-island/