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History of Pirates in New Jersey



Point Pleasant Pirates, Long Beach Island Pirates, Ocean City Pirates, down through Cape May Pirates

Pirates and pirate activity was not unknown to the Jersey Shore. Famous pirates such as Captain Kidd and Edward Teech, more infamously known as Blackbeard, sailed the waters off the Jersey coast. In addition, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, actually visited the small island in the Manasquan River and was so captivated by it’s likeness to the island in his book that he carved the name Treasure Island on a bulkhead there. Unfortunately, there has never been any real Pirates on that river.


Many people today are unaware of the role New Jersey, and especially the Raritan Bayshore, played in the lives of many pirate legends in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The waters between Sandy Hook and New York City were infested with pirates and French privateers. Many landing parties rowed onto shore or up the creeks and rivers of Central Jersey, including Wales Creek, Matawan Creek, Waycake Creek, and others. Blackbeard attacked farmers and villages near what is today called Middletown, and Captain Morgan often visited the area. The Morgan section of Sayreville is said to have been named after relatives of the infamous pirate. A triad of politicians, businessmen, and ship owners who were either bribed by, or did business with the pirates, protected them. Many wealthy colonial families’ fortunes began by either investing in pirate expeditions, or buying plundered goods at a discount and reselling them at a large profit. Pirates were not only tolerated, but in many cases they were openly encouraged. And the most famous pirate to ever travel the Jersey waters was the notorious Captain Kidd.

(Originally Published in Weird NJ, Volume 14)

a group of people sitting in a boat on a body of water

a small boat in a body of water


Pirate Lore is honored in both the historical record and in works of fiction. One of the most notable works of fiction featuring pirates was the novel Treasure Island, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1883. Although Stevenson’s fictional island was most likely located in the West Indies, history tells us that Stevenson visited central New Jersey five years later and stayed in the Borough of Brielle. During this time, he took a journey up the Manasquan River and visted Osborne Island. He was so captivated by this place and its resemblance to the island in his novel, that he dubbed it ‘Treasure Island’ and wrote the name on a bulkhead. Although today the official name of the island is ‘Nienstendt Island’ (named after the family that donated it to the town for public use), it is commonly known as and referred to as Treasure Island.


Captain Cornelius Mey discovered the Cape when he sailed around it in 1623. His vessel, the Blyde Broodschap (Glad Tidings) was on an exploratory expedition when he made his find.

Settled primarily by New England whaling men, the original village at Cape May was called “Town Bank.” It served as a small port and a base of operations in the Delaware Bay for the whaling industry.

Cape May is centered between the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern coast and the Delaware Bay on its western shoreline. This made the cape extremely popular as a stopping point for many vessels preparing a lengthy eastward journey through the Spanish Main to Europe. Vessels would stop here to take on ammunition, fresh water, food-stores and livestock. As vessel traffic increased to the port, so did the population. Primarily a swampy and marsh area, pirates soon learned the value of its natural hiding places along the bay.

As the Delaware Bay served as the entry point to the ports of Philadelphia, heavily laden and slow moving ships would begin their long journeys into the channel. Pirates who had hidden their sloops and penances in the marshy reeds would wait for the appropriate moment to strike quickly at these vessels and plunder their goods.

Another legendary group of bandits that roamed the shores of cape May were the “Mooncussers.” These crafty rogues would form a line of horses along the beach and hang lanterns from the saddles. On dark and moonless nights, when navigation in the bay was difficult, vessels would see the row of lights upon the shore. Thinking it was another ship; they would attempt to come alongside to assist in navigation. Instead the vessels would run aground; at which the Mooncussers would launch small boats from the shore and row out to plunder the stranded vessels. They were so-called, as their crafty plan could not be successful on moonlit nights.

There is evidence to support that Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Stede Bonnet buried treasure in and around Cape May. One popular site believed to be the resting place of some of Blackbeard’s treasure is Higby’s Beach. However as the shoreline has suffered tremendous erosion, the area is now Federally protected and thus digging is not permitted.

A sight believed to contain Captain Kidd’s treasure is in the area of Del Haven. Recently discovered maps and documents point to a site directly under a commercial professional complex of buildings. The treasure, if there at all, would be located beneath the concrete foundations of the structures.

Stede Bonnet’s treasure is believed to be buried along the Delaware Bay, perhaps as some sources indicate, in the vicinity north of the Cape May – Lewes Ferry Terminal. Though sources indicate it was buried near the original settlement of Town Bank, it could very well lie beneath the waves now as the village has been flooded by natural erosion.

From time to time coins wash up along the beach along with jewelry and occasionally a precious stone. Other items have been found as well that indicate a once strong pirate presence in the area. Cold Springs Village (located in Erma) offers a realistic view of life during these times.

a small boat in a large body of water
a group of people standing next to a body of water