My favorite movie pirate is probably the Dread Pirate Roberts, from “The Princess Bride.”

The inspiration for the character was a real pirate named Bartholomew Roberts, who captured, it is claimed, 400 ships and 50 million pounds worth of treasure. He was known for a diamond cross he wore around his neck, which can be seen in old illustrations.

Some believe that this cross, along with some of his gold, wound up buried in Phippsburg or somewhere else along the Kennebec River.

I heard this story recently from author Greg Latimer, who gave a presentation on pirates at the Patten Free Library in Bath. I had read it before, however, in the book “Buried Treasures of New England,” by W.C. Jameson. Like any buried treasure tale, the story probably contains more fiction than fact. But the possibility is intriguing.

Bartholomew Roberts was a strange character. A brutal pirate who killed many people, he also forbid alcohol aboard ship and held Sunday church services for his men. Pirates often received an early death, and Roberts did not want the English to display his body in a gibbet or put his head on a pole as a warning to other pirates. So he asked his crew to throw his body overboard if he was ever killed in battle.

The fateful day came on Feb. 10, 1722, when his ship was attacked by the British warship Swallow. Roberts was wounded in the neck and fell dead. As the story goes, the crew did indeed throw him overboard, but First Mate Richard Kennedy relieved the body of its diamond crucifix.

He hid it among his possessions, and then struck a deal with the British captain after the battle: If Kennedy’s life was spared, he would take the Brits down to the Caribbean and show them where Roberts had buried his treasure. The treasure was found, and Kennedy received 15% of the proceeds. Retiring from the pirating life, Kennedy went north and settled in Boothbay.

Seeking a good place to hide his fortune, including the diamond crucifix, Kennedy sailed around the area. Eventually he found a cove on the Kennebec River that had a large quartz-encrusted rock on the shore. Walking about half a mile inland, he buried four boxes of loot near a pair of trees. Later, bored with Maine, he went back to England and bought a tavern. It became a hotbed of pirates, prostitutes, and bad men. Unhappy government officials eventually hanged him.

Kennedy’s sea chest and treasure map were acquired by another pirate named Booth. One of Booth’s descendents found the map and travelled to Maine in 1879 to find the treasure. Unfamiliar with the area, his search was ineffective and he soon ran out of money. He stashed the chest and map with a lady in Vermont, but never came back to collect it. Her nephew, George Benner, acquired the map around 1900 and went treasure hunting himself.

Sailing up the Kennebec, Benner found the quartz-covered rock. Travelling inland, he found one tree and the stump of another next to it. After probing the ground with a metal rod, he found two boxes of treasure, including the diamond crucifix.

Four boxes had been buried, however, so some believe that two more boxes may still be there waiting to be discovered. Greg Latimer believes that the most likely location is Morse’s Cove in Phippsburg, near the town landing. The big quartz-covered boulder is gone, but he discovered smaller shards of quartz-covered rock at the location. The area has seen a lot of development over the years, however, so it is likely the treasure has been disturbed, discovered, or built over.

In my opinion, if the treasure ever existed, Richard Kennedy probably would have dug it up and taken it to England with him. Why leave it behind? But I would like to believe it is somewhere nearby, just waiting to be found.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected].

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