© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

September 19: Whitney's Fortune

Ways To Subscribe

Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Being a landlocked state, North Dakota does not have an extensive pirate history. However, many years ago, there were rumors of pirate treasure.

It began in Nova Scotia, in a small harbor that would one day be named for Samuel Hall. He was a privateer during the Revolutionary War. A privateer is someone who owns a private ship, but is paid by the government to carry out maritime warfare, especially against merchant ships. While not a pirate in the traditional sense, Hall conducted pirate-type raids. In 1779, the privateer made raids along the Bay of Fundy, making several expeditions into the valley, taking cattle and robbing houses and stores. The legend goes that he was docked in present-day Hall’s Harbour when nearby settlers heard of the raiders’ presence. A militia force of 40 men led by Abraham Newcomb made their way to the harbor and found only three of Hall’s men guarding the ship. The militia fired on the men, shattering the leg of one, wounding another, with the third escaping. The story goes that the escapee had been warned of the impending attach by his native lover. Together they escaped to shore and buried a treasure. It is said the seaman and his lover were later killed in an encounter with the militia, with the location of the treasure lost forever.

46 years later, the area began to see settlement. The Bucknam’s and the Parker’s were the first families to arrive. They built a mill, and the area became more developed. In 1830, Sylvanus Whitney opened the first store, a building that still stands as the old post office. Whitney lived most of his life in Hall’s Harbour. He was active in the communities small Baptist Church and 1843 became a deacon. Towards the end of his life, he moved to Jamestown, North Dakota, where he died February 13, 1888.

While some say the treasure is still somewhere around Hall’s Harbour, others believe that Whitney had found the treasure because he left $60,000 in gold coins when he died. It is hard to imagine how a church deacon came into such a prize. Whether true or a legend, it is fun to imagine that pirate treasure had found its way to North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content