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British Coin Hoard Found on Richmond Island, ME

Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (5/1/1855)


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[Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, First Series Vol. 3, page 182-188]

The President read the following interesting communication from Hon. William Willis, President of the Maine Historical Society, accompanying two coins, which were discovered on Richmond Island, May 11, 1855:-

Hon. ROBERT C. WINTHROP, PORTLAND, May 2, 1857. President of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

DEAR SIR,- I send you with this a silver coin of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and a gold coin of the reign of Charles I., a donation to the Massachusetts Historical Society from Dr. John M. Cummings, of this city. These coins, with others of the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and Charlies I., were found on Richmond Island, May 11, 1855. Richmond Island, now owned by Dr. Cummings, lies off the southern shore of Cape Elizabeth, half a mile distant from the main-land, and nine miles distant from Portland. It contains about two hundred acres, and has been occupied by but a single family for many years.

The first settlement upon it, of which we have any account, was by Walter Bagnall in 1628, who carried on a profitable trade with the Indians, and was killed by them for his extortion, Oct. 3, 1631. Winthrop, in his "Journal," says he accumulated a large property by his traffic.

Dec. 1, 1631, the island, with the southern part of Cape Elizabeth, was granted by the Council of Plymouth to Robert Trelawny and Moses Goodyear, merchants in Plymouth, England. They appointed John Winter, who then resided on the territory, and was interested in the patent, as their agent. Winter soon after built a ship there, which was probably the first regular trader between the two worlds; established a Colony; and carried on at that place a larger commercial business than was then done upon the New England coast. Lumber, fish, furs, oil, &c., were sent to Europe; and there were received, in return, wines, liquors, guns, ammunition, and such merchandise as was suited to the Indian trade and to sustain the Colony. Several ships were employed in this business. In 1635, a ship of eighty tons, and a pinnace of ten tons, arrived at the island. In 1638, Winter had sixty men employed there in the fisheries; and, the same year, Trelawny sent a ship of three hundred tons, laden with wine and spirits, to the island. Jocelyn, the voyager, speaking of the trade there at that time, says, "The merchant comes in with a walking tavern,- a bark laden with the legitimate blood of the rich grape, which they bring from Phial, Madera, and Canaries."

In 1639, Winter sent home, in the bark "Richmond," six thousand pipe-staves, valued at 8.6 a thousand. An Episcopal church was established there, in which Robert Gibson, whom Winthrop calls a scholar, officiated from 1637 to 1640, and was the first Episcopal church established in New England. Gibson was succeeded by Rev. Robert Jordon, who married Winter's only daughter, and inherited his estate. He fought long and bravely for Episcopacy; and, at much peril and personal inconvenience, sternly resisted the persevering assaults upon it by the magistracy of Massachusetts.

Trelawny died in 1644, and Winter in 1645. From that period, the Colony, its quickening spirits being done, declined; and commercial operations on the island were soon after abandoned.

The coins referred to were found in a stone pot of common ware, but of a beautiful shape, resembling a globe lantern. It would probably hold a quart, and was found about a foot below the surface of the earth, on a slope of land descending north westerly to the shore, and about four rods from it. There were traces of the foundation of buildings near the spot, the remains of a chimney, and a cavity used as a cellar. The particular place had not been ploughed nor cultivated within the memory of the present generation, until the year previous to the discovery. The next year the ploughing was deeper; and as the ploughman was holding his plough, and his son driving, the pot was turned up from its hiding-place. When the boy picked it up, and showed it to his father, he exclaimed, "It is a rum jug of the old settlers: throw it over the bank." On second thought, he told him to lay it one side on a pile of stones. The pot was apparently filled with caked earth; nothing more could be seen. A younger son of the ploughman, sitting upon the rocks, began to pick the earth from the pot, and soon came to the coin. Their surprise may well be conceived. On examination, the coin appeared to be regularly arranged in the bottom of the pot,- the silver on one side, the gold on the other,- and a fine gold signet ring in the center.

On the next day, being notified by Dr. Cummings of the discovery, I went with him, accompanied by the Hon. Mr. Davies, and his son Dr. Davies, to the island, and carefully examined the coin, and explored the locality. We found the silver considerably discolored; the gold very little. There were thirty-one pieces of silver, of which twenty-three were shillings, sixpences, and groats, of the reign of Elizabeth; four shilling pieces and one sixpence of the reign of James I.; and one shilling and one sixpence of the reign of Charles I. The gold consisted of ten sovereigns of the reign of James I., which were generally called units, from their being the first issued under the united crowns, and three half sovereigns of the same reign; seven sovereigns of Charles I., and one curious and beautiful Scottish coin, half sovereign size, bearing date 1602,- the last year of James as King of Scotland. All the coins are hammered, and are thinner and broader than modern coins of the same value. Milling was not generally used until the time of Charles II.; although some experiments of it were tried in Elizabeth's reign, but proved too expensive and imperfect for general use. The impressions on the gold coins are clear and distinct: they are less worn than the silver, and nearly as bright as when issued.

Part of the fracture of the pot was fresh, as if occasioned by the recent ploughing: the other was of an earlier date, and made, as is conjectured, by the ploughing of the previous year. It is probable, from appearances and from the absence of pieces, that it was a broken vessel when the coin was put in it. We found, in the vicinity of the place, broken pottery, pipes, an iron spoon of ancient form, part of a large glass bottle, nails, spikes, &c., turned up and scattered about by the plough. No further coin, after a careful search, was found.

The question now arises, How came this treasure there? No certain answer can be given. I have no doubt that the deposit is a solitary one, and can afford no encouragement to the idle rumors which have long prevailed, that large sums of money were many years ago concealed by pirates on this and other islands in our bay. The probability is that the deposit was made by some inhabitant of the island, or transient person, for security; and that he suddenly died, or was driven away or killed by the Indians, without disclosing the fact.

My conjecture is that the deposit was made as early as the death of Winter, in 1645; and I go farther, and express the belief that the money is connected with the fate of Walter Bagnall, who was killed by Sagamore Squidraket and his party, Oct. 3, 1631; that it was, in fact, a part of his unjustly earned estate. Bagnall had one companion with him, whom Winthrop calls John P. Bagnall had acquired a large property, 400 pounds, it is said. Winthrop says he was a wicked fellow, and exasperated the Indians by his hard usage. The latest of the coinage was of the time of the first Charles; and, of the fifty-two pieces, nine only were of his reign, and these must have been coined before the breaking out of the civil war in 1642; for the king's coinage after that event was of different, and generally of much coarser, execution than that issued before. That the deposit must have had an early date- before the commencement of the civil war- is evident from the fact that there is no piece of a later period than 1642; and there is nothing to show that any of it is of a later date than 1631.

In 1632, the expedition fitted out in Boston and "Piscataqua" to pursue Dixey Bull, a buccaneer,- who had ravaged Pemaquid and plundered vessels,- stopped, on their return, at Richmond Island, and hung Black Will, an Indian, who had been concerned in the murder of Bagnall. My solution is that this coin was concealed by Bagnall's servant, or by some of the Indians, perhaps Black Will, and that it had lain in its concealment until its recent discovery. That the treasure can have no connection with the Indian war of 1675 seems clear from the fact, that the collection contains no coin of a date within thirty years of that event.

The silver coin I now transmit to you is a hammered shilling, without date, and bears the same effigy, title, and motto that were placed on all the silver coin of that reign. They are as follows: On the face is the profile head of the queen, crowned; the rose, an old emblem introduced by the early sovereigns, behind it; around it her title, ELIZABETH D. G. ANG: FR: ET: HI: REGINA. On some of the coins the title is more abridged. On the reverse are the arms of England, which embrace the emblems of France and Ireland, traversed by the cross, with the motto, POSUI. DEV. ADJVTOREM. MEV.: that is, Posui Deum Adjutorem Meum, "I have made God my helper." This motto was first adopted by Edward III., and continued to the time of Charles I. The sixpences, and some of the smaller pieces, were dated for the first time in this reign, but not the shillings nor the gold coin. The accompanying gold coin is a hammered sovereign, or unit, of the early part of the reign of Charles I. It represents the head of the king, crowned and youthful, with a double ruff around his neck, and a robe over his shoulders. The figures XX behind his head denote the value of the coin, which is twenty shillings. His title on the margin is "Carolus D.G. Mag. Brit. Fra. Et. Hi. Rex.;" on the reverse, a new motto is introduced, not used by any former sovereign, Florent Concordia Regna, "Nations flourish by peace;" in the center are the national arms, quartered, as usual, on a shield, which, in the present case, is garnished: it is sometimes plain.

I hope these interesting relics of the past, so happily brought forth to instruct, and gratify the curiosity of the present age, will be acceptable to your venerable Society; and that the historical sketch I have added of a noted spot in our early annals, of which your renowned ancestor has given us the first notice, will not be tedious or unwelcome to yourself.

I am the Society's ever-faithful friend,

And your obedient servant,

WM. WILLIS.

The communication of Mr. Willis was referred to the Publishing Committee, and the President was requested to present the thanks of the Society to Dr. Cummings for his valuable gift.

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