The Virgin Islands have a colorful history, filled with pirate lore, but one of the most famous and well documented stories of pirates and their booty is that of Captain Lloyd and his crew, who buried stolen treasure in the islands; specifically, Norman Island and Tortola. The story is very interesting.
In 1750, the crew of the Spanish treasure galleon, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, dropped anchor at Okracore, North Carolina to seek refuge from a terrible storm. The Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe was loaded with tons of silver bars when she was badly damaged during the storm. Her captain, Bonilla, was forced to hire two English bi-landers to take his precious cargo and finish the voyage to Spain. The treasure was transferred to the bi-landers, and while Bonilla was dealing with taxation issues in Cape Fear, the crews of the bi-landers absconded with the silver and sailed away. One of the ships never made it out of the harbor in North Carolina, but the other was successful in the escape, and that double-ended brigantine ship was captained by Owen Lloyd.
Captain Lloyd was very familiar with the Virgin Islands and considered Norman Island to be the perfect place to divide the ill-gotten gains among his crew and himself. After three uneventful weeks at sea, Captain Lloyd and crew arrived at Norman Island. On board, their cargo manifest included 55 chests filled with silver dollars, 3 large chests full of silver plates and wrought silver, indigo, tobacco and animal hides and furs. The cargo was worth $200,000 at the time; tens of millions today.
Captain Lloyd and his crew buried the treasure on Norman Island, and possibly Tortola before sailing to St. Thomas to clear customs. They left very few pieces on board–mostly conchineal (dried bodies of Mexican insects that produce a bright red dye) and a few animal hides, which they claimed at customs. However, Captain Lloyd made a fatal mistake–he left three crew members behind on Norman Island to finish burying and guard the treasure. The crew members weren’t secretive about what they were doing, and soon the residents of Tortola were swarming Norman Island, digging up buried treasure. The pirates were all captured and jailed and when the frenzy subsided, only a small portion of the treasure had been recovered.
Since then, many have attempted to recover the remaining treasure and there has been limited success. In the 1900’s, a group of English treasure hunters formed “Norman Island Treasure Company” and began blasting holes in the island with large charges of gunpowder to find the lost treasure, but they had no luck. Their activity is believed to be the inspiration for the story “Treasure Island” written by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Part of the booty was discovered by Gilbert Fleming, the acting Lieutenant General of the Leeward Islands, who commissioned two companies of soldiers to travel to Tortola in search of the loot. A proclamation was issued whereby the treasure would be returned to Spain and the finder would receive a 1/3 share as a finders fee. Treasure was found, but only a portion of that listed on the cargo manifest.
Soon after, it is rumored that a descendant of a poor, local family named Creque found one of the treasure chests in a cave on Norman Island while stranded during a storm. The Creque family later became significant land owners on St. Thomas and St. John. Creque’s Alley is a well known shopping area in downtown Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas today.
The Virgin Islands still holds millions in buried treasure, just waiting to be discovered. Book a day with Pirate’s Paradise Adventures and visit Tortola and Norman Island. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some pieces of eight for yourself!