Peter Eas­ton’s hid­den trea­sure

The Compass - - EDITORIAL OPINION -

Peter Eas­ton needs lit­tle in­tro­duc­tion to readers of The Com­pass. The early sev­en­teenth-cen­tury pi­rate op­er­ated along the New­found­land coast be­tween Har­bour Grace and Fer­ry­land from 1611 to 1614. He was the scourge of John Guy, who es­tab­lished the first English colony in New­found­land at Cupids.

Ac­cord­ing to au­thor Gary Collins: “By 1610, Eas­ton was con­sid­ered the most pow­er­ful pi­rate in the western hemi­sphere.” Eas­ton is also re­puted to have res­cued the leg­endary “Ir­ish Princess,” She­lia Nageira from the Dutch.

There is an in­trigu­ing con­nec­tion be­tween Eas­ton, who is so well known in east­ern New­found­land, and Mat­tie Mitchell, who was of Mi’kmaq/ Mon­tag­nais In­dian de­scent and is per­haps equally well known in western New­found­land.

It was ru­moured that Eas­ton cached some of his ill-got­ten gain in sev­eral places around coastal New­found­land. St. John Is­land, on the New­found­land side of the Strait of Belle Isle, was ev­i­dently one such place. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, Eas­ton and com­pany, in Collins’ words, “scratched an ar­row into a boul­der to mark the lo­ca­tion of the trea­sure, for which they would re­turn. The ar­row and the boul­der were vis­i­ble only at very low tide.”

Mitchell, who is re­mem­bered to­day as New­found­land’s great­est fron­tiers­man, was fa­mil­iar with St. John Is­land, which was part and par­cel of his hunt­ing grounds.

“He had erected a small shel­ter there,” Collins ex­plains. “He had also been there many times at the re­quest of peo­ple hop­ing to re­cover the pi­rate trea­sure.” Even­tu­ally, Mitchell con­cluded the tale of hid­den pi­rate trea­sure was noth­ing more than a myth.

How­ever, one day, near the end of 1910, Mitchell met an el­derly man who had a map, which pointed to Eas­ton’s hid­den pi­rate gold.

“Stand­ing in the dim light of the small cabin,” Collins writes, “the old man pro­duced a faded map. He ex­plained to Mat­tie that if he fol­lowed the map pre­cisely he would find enough gold to pro­vide not only for him, but his en­tire fam­ily for the rest of their lives. The man handed Mat­tie the map, shook hands with him and Webb (a young boy), and wished them a very Merry Christ­mas, be­fore walk­ing out the door and dis­ap­pear­ing down the snowy trail.”

The fol­low­ing year, Mitchell and a friend worked their way up the Great North­ern Penin­sula to their des­ti­na­tion, Ed­dies Cove.

Collins writes: “Tucked safely in­side his pack in a wa­ter­proof satchel was the trea­sure map given to him by the old man of the hills.”

At Ed­dies Cove, Mitchell con­vinced Joe Of­frey to take him and his com­pan­ion to St. John Is­land. “They had enough sup­plies for an ex­tended stay,” Collins says. “This time Mat­tie — armed with the old man’s map — fig­ured he would find the fa­bled pi­rate trea­sure.”

At low tide, Mitchell found a tiny ar­row scraped into a boul­der. “He found other marks,” Collins adds, “but none of them were easy to find. It took a keen and very ob­ser­vant eye to fol­low the aged map.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Mitchell’s plan failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize, for the old woods­man had a stroke. Mitchell and his friend then re­turned home with­out the trea­sure. “He would never re­turn to St. John Is­land again. The is­land with the pi­rate trea­sure is still a leg­end.”

In 1998, the Gov­ern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador rec­og­nized Mitchell’s con­tri­bu­tion to both the growth and pros­per­ity of the prov­ince by open­ing the Mat­tie Mitchell Prospec­tors Re­source Room. In 2001, the His­toric Sites and Mon­u­ments Board of Canada rec­og­nized Mitchell as a per­son of na­tional his­toric sig­nif­i­cance. Four years later, a plaque in Mitchell’s mem­ory was placed in Gros Morne Na­tional Park.

Collins sug­gests that Mitchell “was a revered chief­tain among his peo­ple. He had ‘royal’ blood in his veins. His blood­line reached back into the realms of pre­re­corded his­tory. The tales of his breed had been passed down through long gen­er­a­tions be­side count­less camp­fires in won­der­fully told ac­counts by those who knew and who be­lieved.” He was a leg­end in his own time.

Gary Collins has re­con­structed Mat­tie Mitchell’s life in a bi­og­ra­phy re­cently pub­lished by Flanker Press in St. John’s.

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts. His col­umn ap­pears in The Com­pass ev­ery week. He can be reached at bur­tonj@nfld.net

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