If you’re reading Elizabeth A. White’s site, you’re probably, like me, a thriller fiend. Likely you too consider reading a thriller the next best thing to a real-life adventure. So what do you say we dispense with discussion of literature today and plan an adventure?
I’ve essentially had this idea since I was a kid, growing up in a coastal Connecticut town that was whatever the opposite of fun is. But as anyone who’s gazed across wave tops toward the horizon knows, the sea offers boundless possibilities. I hoped to meet the notorious real-life pirate William Thompson—an ancestor of mine, I thought. He spelled Thomson the wrong way (with a p) but pirates weren’t known for their literacy. Also he died in 1825. Regardless, if you’re eight, you can stare out to sea and believe there’s a pretty good chance your pirate ancestor’s masts might appear on the horizon, and that he might row ashore and say to you, “Kid, I need you to go on an adventure to get gold.”
Twenty-some years later, this was pretty much the premise of my first novel, Pirates of Pensacola: A landlubbing accountant’s life is anything but exciting until his estranged pirate father shows up after twenty-some years in jail and says, “Let’s hit the sea, lad, there’s treasure to be got.” And the adventure is underway.
Today I’m hopeful that we can in fact go on an adventure that leads to our getting Thompson’s treasure.
Here are our clues: In 1820, Jose de San Martin was leading his rebel forces toward Lima. The Spanish colonists occupying Lima were worried he’d seize the gold and jewels they’d earlier seized from the natives, including solid gold roof panels worth $12 million—in 1820!—and a life size jewel-studded golden Virgin Mary. So the Spaniards hired a trustworthy British sea captain, William Thompson, to stow the treasure on his brig Mary Dear, sail around for a few months until San Martin had moved on, then return the haul to Lima. The Spaniards sent a few of their men along to make sure Capt. Thompson stayed trustworthy. Thompson and his crew killed them all and turned pirate.
Almost immediately, dozens of Spanish men-o’-war were scouring the Seven Seas for the Mary Dear. The well-known roof panels and the life-size jewel-studded virgin would’ve been tough to fence under the best of circumstances; Thompson and his first mate secured the loot in a cave on an uninhabited island three hundred miles west of Costa Rica. They planned to return for it when things cooled off. Problem was, they died of Yellow Fever. The rest of the crew was caught by a man-o’-war and sent to hang out with Davy Jones. The island is now called Cocos, and it’s still uninhabited. Thompson did draw up a map. Copies of it are around because, over the years, numerous people have tried to find the treasure, including Franklin Roosevelt on two separate expeditions. The cave is clearly marked on the map, but no one ever located it because of severe shoreline erosion. Likely the cave is now covered by ocean floor.
The thing is, none of the previous expeditions had the advantage of the sonar technology commonly found on modern dive ships. If you’ve got that sort of rig, talk to me. Alternatively we can acquire one somehow. Then let’s hit the sea.
Pirates of Pensacola is available at Amazon.