I’ve long been fascinated by the threads of history which connect seemingly opposite places. In this case, the thread which connects Incan gold to the shores of Newfoundland.
In 1533 the Spanish, led by Pizarro, sacked the Incan capital of Cuzco, ending the Incan empire. What followed was a Spanish nation rapidly increasing in wealth. The English, fearing a shift of power, grant commissions to attack any Spanish ship afloat. Privately owned vessels were quickly armed and civilians hungered for Spanish gold. The privateers were born.
In response, Spain declares war in 1585 and launches an invasion of England in 1588. The Spanish Armada is successfully repelled at sea by 40 English naval ships and 163 privateers.
When in 1603, a peace treaty is signed, the newly minted King James I revokes the government commissions to the privateers. The catalyst of events to come. The same privateers who defended England from the Spanish Armada were now being told to return home with most having struggled to recoup losses. The new king had broken faith and at a gathering of ships at sea, new possibilities were glimpsed.
A powerful and charismatic leader by the name of Peter Easton makes the privateers realize that they don’t need the permission of an ungrateful nation. Easton leads a private navy of more than 40 ships and sets sail across the Atlantic for a new life.
They make landfall at a little known harbour, now called Harbour Grace, of Newfoundland. Once there they build a fortress and establish a rogue capital for a pirate nation. After attacking shipping around Newfoundland and having taken protection money in the form of fresh meats from the fledgling Livyer colonies, Easton looks south to the prize of Castle Morro, Puerto Rico.
Around 1612, Easton set sail. After nearly a decade as pirates, Easton and his men were as battle trained as any alive. They moved together with deadly purpose. The Spanish had no idea of what approached.
On a moonless night with black sails, they stole to the Spanish Gates rushing the defences with overpowering speed and precision, holding their fire until the last possible moment. A thunderous downpour of lead and fire provided cover while shock troops of terror were landed. Easton had his prize.
So much gold that it wouldn’t all fit in their ships, they had to take the largest Spanish Galleon in port, the “San Sebastian” and fill every seam with unimaginable riches. Together with their treasure ship they set sail for Newfoundland. It would be their turn to be surprised.
Upon arrival at Harbour Grace, Easton found his fortress occupied by Basque soldiers. Easton landed his men to fight what would be one of the single bloodiest days ever recorded on Newfoundland soil.
Easton would lose 57 of his men but would emerge victorious. Every Basque soldier was killed. History doesn’t record their number, but 200 would be a reasonable estimate given the complement of one Spanish ship. Easton’s men were buried in what is still known today as the Pirates Graveyard at Harbour Grace. It’s unknown what was done with the Basque remains.
Easton decided to keep the fort at Harbour Grace, but to move his personal residence to Ferryland, where he could see a naval attack coming. It is thought that this move also provided cover to hide the treasure.
Under increasing pressure to keep the peace, the English appoint a man named Mainwaring to hunt down and kill Peter Easton. Easton’s move to Ferryland was a stroke of genius. As Mainwaring’s fleet approached from the north, Easton was able to slip away to the south, and on to The Azores to wait out the English fleet. Easton would not regret his decision.
Fortune smiled as Easton’s crew stumbled headlong into an entire flotilla of Spanish treasure ships ripe for the plucking. Easton now had more gold than he could ever spend and knowing that a return to Newfoundland to recover his first fortune would mean facing the English navy he decides to head for France.
Once in France, Easton buys enormous tracts of land and even a title of nobility from the King. Easton would live out the remainder of his days on the French Riviera as the Marquis of Savoy.
Which leaves us with the very real possibility that somewhere under the earth of Avalon, a vast treasure of Incan gold has slumbered for the last 400 years. Happy hunting.
(Re-imagined based on real events. Source: As Near To Heaven By Sea, by Kevin Major)