Sunday, October 09, 2011

Spanish Treasure Ship

On page one of his small book, Pieces of Eight, Coins, and Ocracoke, Paul Mosher relates the story of the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe a "Spanish treasure ship laden with a million pieces of eight [that] limped into Ocracoke [on September 3, 1750] as the result of storm damage."

Mosher continues, "As if by a miracle, two empty sloops suddenly appeared and offered to take for a modest fee some of the chests of pieces of eight to the Spanish consulate in Norfolk for Commander [Don Juan Manuel de] Bonilla. He agreed and the two sloops were loaded. That evening they cut their anchor lines and slipped silently toward the inlet and were never seen again."

John Amrhein of Kitty Hawk, NC has devoted a new 396 page book to unraveling the mystery of this story. In the introduction to his book, Treasure Island, the Untold Story, Amrhein writes, "It happened in 1750...that a wealthy Spanish captain named Juan Manuel Bonilla and two Englishmen, Owen Lloyd and his one-legged brother, John, would chance to meet at sea... A huge treasure would soon change hands [at Ocracoke] -- involuntarily.

"The incredible chain of events that began to unfold in the aftermath of this fateful encounter would lead to the burial of Spanish treasure on an uninhabited Caribbean island, and...the most famous treasure map in the world, dated August 1750, would become the inspiration for a tale that would entertain millions of youngsters and adults alike for the next century. The map would also propel a struggling unknown writer to the limelight, making his name one of the most recognized in literary history: Robert Louis Stevenson."

Amrhein's book is divided into two parts. Part I traces the story of the treasure from the time it was loaded onto Bonilla's ship. He recounts the days when the crippled Spanish galleon wallowed helplessly near Ocracoke Inlet, during which time the Lloyd brothers absconded with the treasure. Amrhein then follows the stories of Bonilla's efforts to recover his chests of gold and the Lloyd brothers' flight, burial of the treasure in the Caribbean, capture, imprisonment, escape, and disappearance.

Part II connects the Guadalupe, Ocracoke, and the Caribbean with Robert Louis Stevenson, his classic book, Treasure Island, and the author's search for Owen Lloyd. Amrhein, with the help of various researchers, has pieced together a fascinating story with a remarkable snippet of history in which Ocracoke was a key player.

I was most interested in Part I because of the pivotal role that Ocracoke played in this often complicated drama. Although I sometimes had trouble keeping track of all the characters (ship captains, crew members, colonial governors, various officials, and others), I consider Treasure Island, the Untold Story a valuable addition to my Ocracoke Island library.

Amrhein has clearly done his homework (he has 44 pages of endnotes, many referencing original documents) and made numerous trips to the Virgin Islands for first-hand investigations. Some of his speculations (particularly regarding Owen Lloyd's last days), however, are suspect as the result of relying on visions from a psychic investigator. I could have done without that. Nevertheless, I know of no more comprehensive account of this amazing story. You can order a copy of the book at Ocracoke's Books to be Red.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of slavery on Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Aarrggh . . . them that die be the lucky ones! --Long John Silver

  2. Anonymous12:50 PM

    Never thought there could be a connection between "Treasure Island" and Ocracoke. Thanks for another great week of OI history and news. You always find ways to keep the blog new and interesting. Speaking of new & addition to your nicknames of UNOFFICIAL MAYOR OF OI & THE TOWN CRIER, on Wed. you acquired a new title THE GODFATHER OF OCRACOKE. Anon.3:12--I love it!

  3. Thanks for the post. Like Anonymous 12:50 said, you always keep this blog interesting.

  4. Anonymous3:43 PM

    Buried treasure what accounts if any exist of someone actually digging up such booty? I dare say that off shore banking started back then. Gold brought to off shore islands ...most people that want to win the jackpot would go off to an island to live in luxury ... what say this thought not so original but for an 18th century pirate who did so

  5. You will have to read John Amrhein's book to learn about digging up the treasure!

  6. Anonymous9:50 AM

    While I, too, would consider Philip to be Ocracoke's "unofficial mayor," or arguably one of its leading ambassadors, the point raises an interesting question:

    Is there, in fact, a town poobah? A mayor? A top elected representative? I believe that Ocracoke falls under the governance of a county that extends to the mainland. (Hyde, or Dare)

    When it comes to island politics, who is the top dog?

  7. Ocracoke is part of Hyde County. We are the only part of the Outer Banks in Hyde County. Ocracoke is not an incorporated town, so we are governed by the county. We have five commissioners, one who represents Ocracoke. Darlene Styron is our current county commissioner.

    I am no politician, so I am not Ocracoke's mayor...official or unofficial. I might be an unofficial ambassador though.

  8. Anonymous7:56 AM

    And, I mighty fine one, too!