Did the Cranston man have a treasure map or was he a crook?
James Brown of Cranston sat down and wrote a letter to John C. Newbury, the collector of customs. “I hope you will forgive me for taking the liberty of writing to you, but I thought you were the best to write to. I know that several expeditions have been organized from your home for the famous treasure of Cocos Island. The last, I believe, was the brig Blakely, which failed to find him,” he wrote. “The reason it cannot be found is because it is no longer on Cocos Island. It was there once, but then it was removed at the end of 1849 and planted on a another island in the South Pacific and I was one of the men who moved him and the only one alive who now knows where he is Would you be kind enough to show this letter to anyone you think might be I want to start another treasure expedition and would be happy to contact anyone about it.”
John Brown was born in 1834 and went to sea as a teenager. Eventually, he became a captain of a ship after gaining enough experience. In 1849, when he was just 16 years old, he took the post of mate to Captain Henry Smith who was taking his schooner Sea Foam on a pearl fishing expedition. After being on the high seas, Smith reportedly confessed to Brown that it wasn’t really pearls he was looking for; it was a buried treasure.
According to the story Brown would later tell for the rest of his life, Smith’s father had loaded a large amount of treasure onto the schooner Black Witch in 1822, after helping to rob Spanish ships off the coast of Peru. The ships are said to have carried diamonds, gold, rubies and valuables from Peruvian churches. For various reasons, he and his co-conspirators never returned for the loot and he was ultimately the only party member left alive. Before his death, he told the story to his son.
John Brown would forever swear that he and Smith located the treasure on this faux pearl trip, dug it up, and moved it to another tropical island. Brown reportedly made a detailed map at that time so Smith could one day go back and claim the goods. But, before that can happen, Smith is dead, leaving Brown with a treasure map. The map documented the treasure reburied in the Thousand Islands. He needed a crew to physically and financially help him go and claim the goods and, knowing that most people wouldn’t believe the story, he started exposing the parts he had taken from the secret stash. in 1849. He also began to write letters. to anyone who could help him make the right connections.
It wasn’t until he left Cranston for a visit to San Francisco that the ball rolling began. At the hotel in San Francisco, he met a man named George Luce, a doctor so fascinated by the idea of treasure hunting that he took the reins and assembled a team of investors. Many people were very interested in partnering with Brown on this once-in-a-lifetime pursuit of wealth. Wealthy and successful men freely invested their money in the expedition in hopes of bringing in even more. Over fifty men invested between $10 and $2,000, bringing the total investment to $25,000. An assemblage of 15 treasure hunters set sail from San Francisco aboard the schooner Herman on July 20, 1902 without a shadow of a doubt. Brown’s account was so detailed and his yellowed map of the South Seas, with exciting markings indicating where the fifty million dollar treasure was, seemed to promise an easy windfall.
But nothing was easy. As they set off, Brown decided it wasn’t safe to go to the island at that time and that they would all winter in Sydney, Australia and head back to their journey in the spring. There they saw their trusty captain drain their hopes. One of the investors, GW Sutton, later said that Brown was constantly buying liquor and was almost always drunk. He and the others later recalled how Brown even tried to sell the schooner and leave them all stranded there. Very worried about the state of affairs, the men contacted the American consul and asked him for help. With their help, Sutton replaced Brown as captain and they left Sydney for their original goal. Quite upset by the turn of events, Brown reportedly became violent and began beating investors and threatening to kill them. They even found poison on board which they were sure he would try to end their lives.
In reality, Brown was the only person who could lead them to the treasure, if there was one, so they begged him to please honor his agreement to take them there. Brown reportedly laughed in response and told them it was all a joke. There was no other option, at that time, but to go ashore, sell the schooner, and return to the now financially strained America. There was a public outcry that Brown was a fraudster and he was arrested. His defense was that the spirits of the dead pirates had warned him that now was just not the right time to dig up the treasure.
Brown’s failed expedition would not be the first or the last time that a lot of money was spent searching for the spoils of Cocos Island. After the Blakely expedition came to nothing, the stock company that financed the voyage fell into financial ruin and the owners were forced to sell the boat just so they could pay the salaries of the crew they had. hiring.
Sir Henry Palliser, Admiral of the British Navy, organized his own expensive expedition, using several hundred servicemen to help him aboard the cruiser Amphion. The crew located a huge iron-hinged trap door on Cocos Island, matching perfectly the description of a trap door leading to the treasure that Palliser had read about in an old Spanish document. Before they could pass through the tunnel entrance, a huge tropical storm began to rage and buried the entrance over 100 feet deep. The public was so angry at Palliser using the military for such nonsense that he promptly retired from his post.
In February 1909, John Brown decided to try his luck again. He set out to retrieve the treasure aboard the steamer Mariposa. The 75-year-old was determined to finally claim the spoils before he died. It does not appear that he succeeded. He died penniless in Maine in the winter of 1921.
Until it was officially named a national park in 1978, hundreds of people continued to sail to Cocos Island in search of pirate booty. Over 300 known expeditions have failed. Located in the Pacific Ocean about 300 miles southwest of the Costa Rican mainland, the island’s legendary treasures apparently rest safely in the land. And there may be yet another horde of riches in the Thousand Islands, allegedly transferred there by a Cranston man who was either a believable crook or a determined sea captain with an authentic treasure map pointing to a financial windfall. which has never been claimed.
Kelly Sullivan is a columnist, speaker and author from Rhode Island.