We’ve all heard stories of pirates and buried treasure, but often they’re the direct result of a dramatic heist on the waves of the seven seas including all the necessary bloodshed, gallantry and trickery. This story, while not nearly as dramatic, is the tale of a heist that has never been verified but continues to shape the history and heritage of one Massachusetts town.
A long time ago, most likely sometime in the early nineteenth century, a tailor lived in the town of Chatham, Massachusetts. John Eldridge (this is not his actual name, just a name that Edward Rowe Snow gave him for the purposes of telling the story) was visited by his friend, Arthur Doane, a local fisherman. Doane asked Eldridge if he could change foreign coins for him into American money. Eldridge replied that he could in fact do this, as there were coin shops in both Boston and Philadelphia, cities where he purchased cloth for his tailoring business. Doane then pulled out a large gold coin of Spanish origin. Eldridge examined it and agreed to get it exchanged. Assured it could be done, Doane then immediately pulled out five more coins to be traded in and left Eldridge perplexed, but willing to do as his friend asked. After one of his trips to the city, Eldridge returned with the American money and gave it to Doane. Doane, leaving Eldridge some money for his troubles, left the tailor’s store quite pleased. Soon the two men struck a long-time partnership with the coins slowly traded by Eldridge for his friend Doane for a small fee.
After much time had passed, Doane became ill and was bedridden. When Eldridge went to visit his friend, Doane explained that he had come by the coins after seeing a group a pirates burying them on the beaches of Chatham. After the pirates had left the treasure, a chest full of gold coins, Doane dug it up and moved it to a different location at the bottom of an easily identifiable sand dune on the beach that only he knew about. Over the years he went back and retrieved more coins to be traded in by Eldridge, but now he was too sick to get the coins himself. So, Eldridge went to the sacred location and retrieved bags of coins and had them exchanged. Not too long after this exchange, Arthur Doane died, with Eldridge being the only person alive knowing the whereabouts of the remaining coins. Following Doane’s passing, Eldridge intended on going to retrieve the remaining bags of coins from the chest, which he estimated were worth around $25,000. Unfortunately for him, there was a storm that distorted the entire layout of the beach, and as such Eldridge could no longer find the location of the coins, and they were lost to him forever.
This story, for all intents and purposes, is just that, a story. There is no proof or verified evidence to support the truth of this story in any form that can be found today. But does that make it any less valuable than the other stories with evidence? I would argue that this story is valuable in its own way. Particularly from the perspective of tourism. I can attest from personal experience that residents of Chatham, Massachusetts still tell this story. You may be asking yourself why, but I think the answer is rather obvious, it attracts people to the area. Even though this theoretical story happened probably two hundred years ago there are people that would take the time to search the beaches of Chatham for the lost treasure, and there are people who might just like the story and decide to make a day trip to the beautiful Cape Cod resort town.
It is important to remember that Chatham is not the only place in history to ever profit off of a story that it couldn’t prove. One of the most famous instances is Glastonbury Abbey in Glastonbury, England. The Abbey has long been said to be the burial place of the world-famous King Arthur. However, an archeological study was conducted that refutes those claims and goes so far as to argue that after the Abbey burned to the ground in 1184 the monks made up the story in order to coax people into giving money to rebuild the Abbey.
Another instance occurs farther east on Bulbul Mountain in Ephesus, Turkey where the supposed ‘House of the Virgin Mary’ resides. St. Virgin Mary’s House is a pilgrimage site for believers and a tourist attraction for both believers and non-believers alike. The site claims to be the final home of the Virgin Mary before her passing. As you can probably imagine there is absolutely no proof whatsoever that the Virgin Mary ever lived in this place, but the people and city of Ephesus have made a great deal of money promoting the possibility for a house that appears too new to actually be “the one”.
I’ve given you these examples not to dash your hopes and dreams of King Arthur or the Virgin Mary, but to express that just because a story does not have proof, does not mean that it is not important or historically relevant. Thousands of people visit these sites each year. And because they do, each of the three stories mentioned have had a great impact on the communities surrounding them; the latter two on a worldwide scale. History and historical validity are much broader and more malleable subjects than they are often given credit for. Just ask King Arthur, I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it while you enjoy a goblet of mead while sitting at his round table!
“Glastonbury Abbey: the archeological story.” University of Reading, last modified https://www.reading.ac.uk/archaeology/research/Projects/arch-RG-Glastonbury.aspx.
“History and Custom.” St. Virgin Mary’s House. https://www.hzmeryemanaevi.com/en/history-and-tradition/
Kennedy, Maev. “Glastonbury myths ‘made up by 12th century monks’.” The Guardian, last modified November 23, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/nov/23/glastonbury-myths-made-up-by-12th-century-monks
“Myths & Legends: King Arthur & Avalon.” Glastonbury Abbey. https://www.glastonburyabbey.com/king-arthur-avalon.php.
Newitz, Annalee. “Medieval monks invented King Arthur’s grave as an attraction to raise money.” Arstechnica, last modified March 25, 2016. https://arstechnica.com/science/2016/03/medieval-monks-used-king-arthurs-grave-as-an-attraction-to-raise-money/.
Snow, Edward Rowe. Pirates and Buccaneers of the Atlantic Coast. 1944. Reprint, London: Forgotten Books, 2018.