Around Pine Island Florida....
of us who are fortunate enough to live among the islands of
Florida's Southwest Coast know that hidden deep within the murky
roots of mangroves, and buried far below the sand and shells, are3
the legends of the saltwater bandits.
Pirating was among the
hardest and most dangerous of the early colonial occupations but it
often paid extremely well. To this day, pirates and hidden treasure
live on in the lore of Pine Island, Captiva, Sanibel, Boca Grande,
Cayo Costa and Useppa.
Gaspar, self-proclaimed King of Pirates, established a small kingdom
on Gasparilla Island or Boca Grande. A member of an old Spanish
family, he had entered the Spanish navy at age twelve and had risen
rapidly until the day he was entrusted with some of the crown
jewels. He absconded with them and turned pirate. His method was to
kill all the men on captured ships and then install their ladies as
members of his harem. In 1821 he planned to retire but went after
one more vessel. It turned out to be an armed American ship.
Trapped, he tied a cable chain about his wrist and leaped overboard
to his death. Although most of his crew were either drowned or hung
by the Americans, some escaped into Pine Island Sound in a yawl. His
chief gunner, Black Augustus, remained on Black Island in Estero
Bay, Juan Gomez stayed at Panther Key for a time, one managed to
make his way back to Cuba and nothing is know of the rest who had
been left on Boca Grande to guard the treasure.
Bru Baker, an old friend of Jose Gaspar, at one time berthed his
ship at Boca Grande but this was a short-lived arrangement. Baker's
crew had a bloody war with Gasparilla and ended up building a small
encampment at Bojelia, or Bokeelia, at the head of Pine Island. In
1819 he got wind that the United States wanted to purchase Florida
from Spain. Gathering his hidden treasures and dividing some of the
sp09nls with Gasparilla, Bur Baker and crew left our waters. Heading
for Cartagena, he was killed by the poisoned arrow of one of the
native Indians on the Gulf of Darien. Whether or not some of his
treasure was forgotten here on our little island is purely
conjecture...but who knows?