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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Treasure hunting on Raymond Hill Road

    Capt. William Kidd was either one of history's most notorious pirates or a tragically misunderstood privateer. New Londoners, with a proud heritage of privateering during the Revolution, can appreciate the fuzzy distinction between an officially sanctioned maritime operator and a freelancing rogue.

    Kidd was hanged in 1701 in England for his alleged crimes, leaving behind tales of treasure hidden on Block Island, the Thimble Islands, Gardiners Island, and Fishers Island, among many other locations. People have been fascinated with rumors of gold just waiting to be unearthed; one such story involves an old house on Raymond Hill Road in Montville.

    In the 1670s Joshua Raymond was farming in North Parish, decades before settlement of the area was approved and before the Rev. James Hillhouse was hired to minister to the tiny outpost. It would be 100 more years until the area was incorporated as the Town of Montville.

    Joshua sounds like an enterprising man. Besides farming, he was engaged in the Barbados trade, took part in the Great Swamp Fight against the Narragansetts, and was part of a committee commissioned to survey and lay out a road connecting Norwich and New London. This early road (today's Route 32) was later improved and became the first turnpike in New England. Joshua died at age 37, possibly from battle wounds.

    In 1683 his son, also named Joshua, married Mercy Sands, a woman from Block Island where the couple set up residence. Joshua's business activities required him to spend time in New London, frequently leaving Mercy by herself on their isolated farm.

    One day when Mercy was alone, Capt. Kidd and his wife landed on the island and asked her to put them up. Some later accounts claimed that Mercy lavishly wined and dined them, but she must have felt that she didn't have much choice in offering hospitality. In any case when the couple departed, so the story goes, Kidd told Mercy to hold open her apron which he filled with gold and jewels in gratitude for her kindness. (It became a family saying that any unexpected financial help came from "the apron.")

    Joshua died in 1705, and a few years later Mercy, who may have been something of a free spirit, moved to Montville with her friend, Maj. John Merritt. On a tract of land that became known as Raymond Hill, they built a house reputedly funded by the pirate booty. There may have been loot left over because it was rumored that even more treasure was hidden in Mercy's root cellar across from the house. (The house is 297 years old and still stands on the corner of Raymond Hill Road and Route 163 in a pretty if lonely setting.)

    Rumors of buried treasure in Montville didn't just concern the Raymond family. There were legends among the Mohegans about Capt. Kidd and other pirates coming up the Thames River to evade pursuing authorities. Supposedly they would hang out with the Indians until things cooled off, burying treasure along the river banks for safe keeping. Later these tales inspired many midnight search parties to dig enthusiastically but futilely for ill-gotten gains.

    As a little girl I loved visiting my favorite cousin at her parents' farm on Raymond Hill Road. Of course I didn't know, and wouldn't have cared, that their home was historically important because it was built by William Hillhouse, the son of Montville's first minister. I also had no idea that another house on the same road was connected with a pirate.

    My buddy and I spent barefoot summer days playing in the pastures, picking wild blueberries, and camping out under the stars. I'm sure we'd have explored for buried gold if we'd known about the legends; we were too young to understand that the treasures we already enjoyed were more precious.

    Carol Sommer of Waterford is a self-proclaimed history nut. She writes a monthly history column inspired by local street signs.

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