In his new book “Pirates and Lost Treasure of Coastal Maine,” Greg Latimer points to Morse Cove in Phippsburg as the likely location of an 18th-century pirate treasure stash. Photos courtesy Greg Latimer

PHIPPSBURG — The year was 1901, and George Benner and a friend had traced an 18th-century pirate’s map in order to unearth two small treasure chests in a cove along the Kennebec River.

The fast-paced and action-packed tale of how that booty made its way from a sea battle between pirates and British forces off the coast of West Africa to being secreted north to Phippsburg, is one of several slices of history researched and written by Waldoboro author Greg Latimer in his newly released book, “Pirates and Lost Treasure of Coastal Maine.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that saga: Benner may have unknowingly left two other wooden chests behind, still yet to see the light of day.

“Pirates and Lost Treasure of Coastal Maine” was released June 15.

In continuing his research, Latimer – a former investigative journalist who’s published “Haunted Damariscotta” and “Ghosts of the Boothbay Region” through The History Press – is hoping to track down descendants of Benner and his aunt, Emeline Benner Lewis, who also plays a key role in the story.

Latimer, who is marketing director for Maine’s Red Cloak history tours and dresses as the pirate “Scribe” for speaking engagements, pointed out that contrary to the lore spread by classics like “Treasure Island,” most pirates didn’t bury their booty. They rather “shared out their haul at the end of the voyage,” he said.

But Capt. Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts, who roved the seas between Nova Scotia and West Africa from 1719-1722, was an exception to the rule. That Welsh-born, sailor-turned-pirate who held church services and forbade his crew from cursing and drinking aboard ship “was a pretty busy guy,” Latimer said. “There wasn’t any share-out with the crew; their voyage seemed to be never ending.”

That was, until a cannon from the HMS Swallow fired small lead balls into his neck in a 1722 battle off the coast of Nigeria, ending Roberts’ life. He’d told a nearby crew member, Richard Kennedy, to throw his riches into the sea should the captain fall, but Kennedy managed to conceal a golden cross with glimmering gemstones that Roberts had worn around his neck.

Voyage to Maine

Arranging with the British to show them Roberts’ various hidden treasure troves – as Latimer cites from W.C. Jameson’s “Buried Treasures of New England” – Kennedy ended up with enough valuables to ultimately fill four small wooden boxes, which he took with him north to Boothbay. Seeking to protect his treasures, he found what he called a “bay” on the lower Kennebec River, buried the boxes and drew a map of the treasure site.

Kennedy had taken enough coins to live off and, bored with Maine life, he returned to England, only to be executed when authorities got wind of his past piracy. He’d left a friend with a small sea chest that contained the map, which was passed down to Terrence Booth, who traveled to America in search of treasure in 1879. The hunt for the river on the map proved fruitless and the chest ended up with Lewis, a Vermont woman born in Waldoboro, a few years later.

When she gave Benner, her Boston-area nephew, the chest around 1900, he was able to identify the Kennebec and upon an expedition to Maine the following year succeeded in following Kennedy’s clues. Latimer details those clues and the excitement of the search in his book and upon his own research is confident that Morse Cove, off the coast of Phippsburg, is where the boxes were stashed.

Greg Latimer, a former investigative journalist, spent about four years researching and writing his book.

The men found a gold cross that could have been worn by Roberts and received $20,000 from a bank upon delivering their findings there. The cross disappears into history at that point.

Fact vs. fiction

Latimer began research for the book around 2016 and completed it about a year later than expected “because so much pirate history is essentially untrue,” he said. “And I had to sort through what wasn’t true, and sometimes I’d be four hours into a chapter and I’d realize my source was bunk.”

Although he seriously questions most pirate treasure stories, Latimer said this chapter of his book offers “a fairly strong point-to-point description of how this particular treasure stash … made it from West Africa to Phippsburg.”

Much has been written about Roberts and several people have covered Benner and the treasure, he noted, “but this is the first time that ‘the dots have been connected’ to lead us to Morse Cove.”

Those wanting to follow in Benner’s footsteps may be disappointed. Latimer pointed out that upon grading of the town landing at Morse Cove, any left-behind treasure had “certainly been bulldozed into the ground when the town landing was graded and is probably lost forever.”

Still, the Maine country radio station Q106.5 in 2017 offered several sites in Maine – all couched in lore and to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt – where treasure could be found. Although it didn’t mention Phippsburg, the website pointed to places like Chebeague Island, where a cursed cache is rumored to sit, and Jewell Island, where a wooden chest was said to have been found in the 1850s.

“It’s crazy to think there may be actual buried treasure just a few miles from home,” the website states. “Treasure that has been lost for hundreds of years, and most likely doubled in worth. While we can’t confirm there is buried treasure in these places, we can at least point you in a promising direction. Finding the treasure is up to you!”

Comments are not available on this story.