By Sidi Limehouse
Sams was his last name, not his first. Sams was not a possessive man, he never owned any land. Capn is a term of respect. Sams was a capn, not a Captain. He had no “t” in his name. He could have had that “t”, but kept it kept authority at bay. For a brief successful time he was a pirate. In his pirate days, he worked for George Raynor aboard one of the two ships Raynor possessed. Raynor considered Sams his right arm and on patrol Sams commanded one pirate ship, though both ships looked to Raynor as Captain.
Raynor’s two pirate ships worked as a team patrolling from the Stono River inlet toward the southeast as far as provisions allowed. The home anchorage was behind Kiawah Island in a small creek known as Old Dock Creek. Raynor’s boats were fast. Upon Capn Sams advice, sails were big and armaments were light. They could outrun anything the Spaniards had, or anything the English had. Speed was the key; or so Capn Sams believed.
On September 16, 1682, the two ships left Kiawah and headed south. A week earlier there had been a hurricane and they hoped to find a ship or two that had endured the storm intact – ideally, a scattered Spanish convoy. Three weeks later, Raynor stood off the bar of the harbor at Charles Towne a rich man. He was done pirating and he wanted to become a Charles Towne gentleman.
Every ship entering the harbor had to have papers. Every ship had to stand off, have its cargo inspected and the papers stamped with the King’s seal, indicating that all duty and taxes to King Charles were paid. Only then was the ship allowed into the harbor. Raynor had no papers, but a few Spanish gold coins solved that problem. He sailed across the bar, bought his way into society and quashed certain rumors from England and William Penn that he was a pirate by giving monies to benevolent societies. His last act before settling down to insure his acceptance as a gentleman was to purchase from the Lords Proprietors his own hiding place: Keywah Island.
Raynor also looked out for his men, and Capn Sams took his share of gold coin, which at the time was worth plenty (on today’s market worth over $50 million), and announced that he did not want money, that “money is the root of all evil”, though he meant the pursuit of money was the root of all evil. He did not know how right he was.
Soon it became evident to Capn Sams that he had to leave Charles Towne just to be left alone. Raynor was relishing in his fame and fortune as he was the richest man in Charles Towne, but Capn Sams was a private man and hated to be in the spotlight. So Raynor’s solution to help Capn Sams was to send him to Keywah, giving him 200 acres of the island and a spit of land between the fast lands of Keywah and Jones Islands (known today as Seabrook Island). Sams turned down the gift, telling Raynor that “this forbidden place should belong to no man, as the air we breathe shouldn’t belong to anyone.”
Sams knew, however, that this place was perfect. No one would ever go there, no one would hound him and best of all, no ladies would seek favors of him and his gold.
The local Indians who lived at Cassique made friends with Sams. In time, they began to refer to the spit, the inlet and the creek as simply “Capn Sams”. The rest of the pirate crew had scattered and most had drunk and caroused away their portion of the booty. Seven of these scoundrels, however, stayed in Charles Towne and one day, they took it into their heads to seek out Capn Sams lair.
Somehow they had heard that Sams was living on the end of Keywah on a “beach spit of white sand often overrun by the fury of the sea”. These seven ne’er do wells figured that because Sams had no use for the gold, that they should have it. Being familiar with the Keywah River, the pirates rowed to the village of Cassique, the name of which translates to “King”. At the village they inquired about Sams and were soon on their way to the spit, taking with them one Indian, a very talkative Indian, who told them Capn Sams had a special place on the spit where no one could go, indicated by a metal post that stood even with the top of a nearby dune; and the Indian could point it out to the pirates.
Meanwhile, another Indian, unencumbered by a large boat and seven big men, hurried ahead and told Sams about the seven armed men approaching the spit. Sams had feared this would happen. How he hated the Spanish and their damned gold. Sams and the Indian hurried across the inlet and hid the Indian’s canoe; just in time, as the pirates had appeared around the bend of the river and were disembarking as the two tucked the boat away in a thick patch of shrubs.
On finding only an abandoned shack with only one small window, the seven pirates asked the Indian about the whereabouts of Capn Sams. The Indian, realizing now that perhaps these men wanted to do Capn Sams harm, told them that Sams had died the week before of yellow fever, a common curse in the Lowcountry. But the Indian still showed them the site of the post from the one window in the shack and the pirates quickly went to work. Using the four shovels they brought with them, the pirates dug into the sand and at two feet, they ran into palmetto logs which had been used to shore up the loose sand. The palmettos were about eight feet long and were laid out in a square, giving the pirates enough room so that two men could dig while the others rested, kept watch or carried away the excess sand. At eight feet, it became impossible to toss the sand clear of the hole, so the pirates decided to go into the village of Cassique and secure baskets and rope to help them proceed.
Riding the tide the half mile from the spit to the village, the pirates noticed that it was unusually warm for the 30th of October. Even stranger was that when they arrived at the formerly bustling village of Cassique, they found it completely abandoned, all 400 residents gone in the span of a day. The men didn’t stop to think about it, though, and quickly grabbed the supplies they needed, helping themselves to food which was still sitting out in pots, as though the Indians had left in a great hurry.
When they returned to the site, the pirates rigged the baskets and continued digging. The work was slow, and as daylight approached the next day, they noticed that the surf seemed angry, and the seasoned sailors thought how lucky they were to be on land. Perhaps a nor’easter was pushing through, they thought, but they set any concern aside and continued to dig steadily throughout the day.
At fourteen feet, they knew they were close. The sand was becoming soggy, so they knew they were at sea level. But this night, the sea wasn’t normal, not normal at all. Those dumping the baskets heard the pounding of the surf, but could see nothing through the stinging rain. The wind screamed across the open pit, but just as the storm was reaching a torrential fury, the light of the oil lamp revealed the Spanish gold. In their eagerness to see the treasure, all seven pirates crammed themselves into the hole, causing the oil lamp to extinguish, but they had all seen the treasure.
The first wave to break over the hole was, as a surfer would put it, a good one. Somewhere on Capn Sams spit lies the remains of seven pirates in a grave they dug for themselves. When the good Capn returned to the spit, he could not find a shred of evidence of his shack, his metal rod of where anything had been; not even a bush. It was like God had washed it clean, but Sams was happy. No more would the gold coins of the Spanish haunt him.
A hurricane on the last day of October. How strange; and stranger yet that Capn Sams and the Indians of Cassique swore that on the anniversary of the storm, October 31 at midnight, they could hear the surf sound unusually loud and the sound of cries from the spit; the cries of seven dying men.
After the hurricane, Capn Sams never returned to the spit, though he lived to be 91, a ripe old age in those days. Instead, he lived at Saw Pit, which is about 100 yards from the bridge to nowhere located on the golf course at Cassique. From there he could look out on the spit and reminisce about his good fortune and the $50 million in gold coins that lay somewhere under the white sands of the spit.
Oftentimes, Capn Sams would take the river down to Charles Towne to sell lumber and to visit his old friend Captain Raynor. In the late 1600s, the rivers were the roads, and as soon as Capn Sams’ boat hit the water, seven dolphins began cavorting around his boat, and when he passed a certain place on the spit, these seven beasts slid up onto the beach. Sams knew the beasts were trying to show him where the Spanish coins lay, but Sams wasn’t interested. For Sams’ life was now all sevens. Today, the descendants of these seven dolphins still propel themselves onto the beach, and to them, the mullet are gold. This stranding passed down through the generations as a lesson from their seven ancestors, an attempt to right a wrong.
Editor’s note: This story was originally written in Sidi’s hand on seven sheets of paper, though that was not his intention. The legend of sevens lives on even in the telling of the tale.
Trip to Capn Sams!
This Saturday, November 1, Sidi Limehouse will be hosting a free kayaking trip to Capn Sams Inlet. To register, sign up at www.kiawahriver.org. The group will meet at Mingo Point at 10:30am and the kayaks will launch with the tide at 11am. A free lunch of barbeque and fresh vegetables will be served afterwards at Rosebank Farms. Donations are encouraged to help fund the efforts to protect Capn Sams Spit.