The Key to Treasure

                Black Caesar's Lost Caches                                 

                              by Howard M. Duffy

One of the most vicious pirates to rove the Spanish Main and coastal waters of Florida in the early 19th century was Henri Caesar. Familiarly known as Black Caesar, he also styled himself Caesar the Great. While he was wise enough to limit his raids to small ships and defenseless villages, Caesar amassed a great amount of plunder, which historians claim to be still hidden at no less than six different Florida coastal sites.

Black Caesar was born in 1767, the son of African slaves owned by Monsieur Arnaut, a wealthy French planter residing in Haiti. At an early age his master saw the lad displayed better than average intelligence and made him a houseboy.

Jack Beater, in Pirates and Buried Treasure, wrote: "Here Caesar ran errands, worked in the kitchens, carried bath water for the French ladies, tugged at their corset strings and during the long and leisurely meals of the master's family, he pulled steadily on a rope that operated the large, cloth-covered frame of the punkah, so that a gentle breeze would be felt in the long dining hall. While the boy labored behind the screen, he observed the ways of his French masters and listened to their private conversations. There was much he would never understand, but he did learn things that were to prove of use in his later years." This experience provided the lad with an education of sorts, something he would never have attained as a field hand. It also gave him a burning desire to rise above his dreary station in life.

By the time the boy had reached age 16, Caesar had grown into a muscular, barrel-chested giant more than six feet tall. His rapid growth caused him to be clumsy and awkward, inducing him to drop delicate porcelains and trip over carpets. Arnaut's children had begun to fear the fierce-looking individual. As a result, the master sent him to work in the plantation's lumberyard, where his strength could be put to better use.

Cutting mahogany logs with a two-man saw was one of the most arduous jobs on the plantation - 12 hours a day, six days per week under the broiling Caribbean sun. There was always a French overseer waiting, whip in hand, ready to draw blood from the back of any slave who dared pause without permission. The reduction in his status irritated Caesar, who recalled the lighter tasks and better food the servants enjoyed in the master's home.

It was not long until seeds of hatred began to fester in the young man's mind. Most of his hatred was directed toward the man with the whip, who shouted orders and demanded greater production of lumber to be shipped to Europe. At night Henri heard the rumblings of unrest among other slaves within the compound, and as time went on the murmurs of revolt spread from one plantation to another. The Papa Loi, or voodoo priest, promised there would come a day when the slaves would discard their yokes and drive the white men into the sea. Henri heard these things but kept his thoughts to himself.

Papa Loi's promise of a slave revolt saw its start 12 years after Caesar began toiling in the lumberyard. Rioting and pillaging suddenly burst upon Haiti under the leadership of Toussaint l'Ouverture, a former slave with the ability for organizing. Not even an army sent from France could quell the disorder.

When rioting struck the Arnaut plantation, every member of the master's family was butchered, and the great mansion was put to the torch. A special treatment was reserved for Jean Folquet, the whip-wielding overseer of the lumberyard. Caesar and another slave cut the man in small pieces with a two-man saw.

Following all this initial rioting and uproar, during the next nine years Caesar and other ex-slaves prowled Haiti's jungle trails, ambushing French patrols and attacking small garrisons in the night. Finally, France decided the island was too devastated to be worth more defense, so the troops were called home. This was a rather hollow victory for the insurrectionists. The slaves were free all right - free to starve, for no one had bothered to raise crops during the turmoil. In 1805, Henri Caesar decided to become a pirate on the Spanish Main. His new career started at Port de Paix on Haiti's north coast, where a Spanish ship was anchored several leagues from shore. That night, under cover of darkness, Caesar and his gang stole a fishing boat to raid the ship. Reaching the side of the ship, the gang silently clambered aboard and murdered all of the sleeping sailors, except for the captain and three seamen, who were needed for piloting the craft, since the ex-slaves had no experience in seafaring matters.

After a few weeks at sea, Caesar became confident enough to believe his men could handle the ship, so he ordered the four Spaniards to be stabbed and their bodies tossed into the sea. The former slave was now captain of the ship and styled himself as Caesar the Great. He was intelligent enough to avoid attacking heavily armed merchantmen, instead limiting his sorties to smaller ships and lonely coastal villages. The Cuban coast and Bahama Channel proved to be lucrative targets for his raids, but when the War of 1812 ended, British warships returned to this area. This caused the pirate captain to move his operations northward into the Gulf of Mexico to avoid possible capture. Venturing into the waters of southwest Florida, Caesar was known to have established camps from time to time on various coastal islands, where his crew could rest between raids and also repair their ship. These islands also offered excellent sites for concealing loot. One of these camps was Marco Island.

Another is White Horse Key. The pirate captain was said to have buried a load of silver bars captured from a Spanish ship enroute from Vera Cruz, Mexico to Spain. According to an old tale, Caesar forced the Spanish crew to excavate a massive pit for the silver, whereupon he slaughtered the captives and buried them with the treasure.

Caesar also built another ramshackle headquarters on Elliott Key. He was said to have stashed as much as $6 million in plunder on the west coast of Florida. A number of chests were encased in concrete and dumped them into Caesar's Creek, the pass between Elliott and Old Rhodes keys. Pine Island is also the site of another of Caesar's caches. Some of the very old trees on this island bear mysterious pirate markings identical to markings discovered by the hermit Juan Gomez on islands south of Marco Island but no one seems able to decipher them. Some believe the markings identify Round Key as the treasure island.  Other sources contend that Gasparilla and Blackbeard also used this same island to stash treasure. 

During his time in Florida's coastal waters, Caesar became acquainted with Jose Gaspar, familiarly known as Gasparilla. In fact, Caesar proposed they become partners in piracy, but Gaspar, who considered himself a gentleman, treated this proposal with haughty contempt. Nevertheless, Gaspar eventually compromised to the extent that he permitted Caesar to build a camp on Sanibel Island, near San Carlos Bay. Gaspar's headquarters at Boca Grande was well-fortified with cannon, but he calculated that additional protection on Sanibel would provide him with more safety to the south. Caesar's grubby camp consisted of palm-thatched huts guarded by a pack of mangy dogs - a marked contrast with Gaspar's mansion, staffed with many servants. However, Caesar was alleged to have concealed some $2 million in loot on Sanibel - gold and silver coins, plus jewels. Some historians have estimated this plunder worth as much as $6 million, but this is difficult to substantiate. In any event, the huge trove has never been recovered.

Relations between the two pirate captains proceeded amicably for a time until Caesar committed a grave blunder. During his attacks upon Spanish ships, Gaspar created a practice of holding captured women, particularly the wealthy or those of royal blood, for ransom. They were held in a stockade on Captiva Island until relatives produced funds for their freedom.

Caesar was aware of this, and in 1817 during a drunken revelry, he and his crew raided Captiva, abducting several of the younger women and killing a guard. Gaspar was furious over this brutal transgression. Consequently, he invaded Sanibel with a superior force and demanded Caesar to surrender the women captives and vacate the island immediately. This demand gave Caesar no opportunity to dig up his treasure.

Faced with this predicament, Caesar transferred his piracy to Florida's east coast. An old tale, perhaps legend, claims the pirate captain stashed more plunder from somewhere south of Captiva to a site known as Black Caesar's Rock in Dade County. To the best of our knowledge, there are no reports of any of his caches being discovered. 

There are no records of Caesar's being captured or executed. How and when he died is an unsolved mystery. Perhaps he just withered away, leaving his caches to anyone clever enough to discover the loot. Black Caesar's Lost Caches

The treasure:

Slave-turned-pirate Henri Caesar stole a ship in Haiti to seek his fortune on the Spanish Main and Florida waters. Lacking experience in seamanship, he and his crew of escaped slaves limited their raids to smaller ships and coastal villages but managed to amass a large amount of treasure, which was hidden in several caches on the shores of southwest Florida.

How to find it:

Your first step is to secure a map indicating the southwest coast of Florida. Also obtain a map of Dade County showing Black Caesar's Rock. All of these sites are said to hold caches attributed to the old pirate(s). Also look for old trees bearing pirate markings in Goodland on Marco Island, White Horse Key, Pine Island and Round Key.