Peter Easton’s hidden treasure
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 email@example.com