Legend holds that this little island connected to Milford by a sandbar has been placed under a curse, not once, but thrice—and may still be holding a long-lost pirate treasure. The unassuming 14-acre island, now home to nesting birds, is steeped in local legend and lore which blames the lack of permanent settlement on the island on old curses still in effect.
The first curse laid upon the land was by the local Paugusset chief in 1639, when he traded the land to European settlers, apparently not without some ill will. Others say that the chief was upset over the kidnapping of his daughter or some other grievance. Sometimes curse details are fuzzy.
In 1699, the island’s most famous visitor stopped by and allegedly buried treasure and then cursed the ground in which it sat. Scottish pirate Captain William Kidd was on the last voyage of his career when he visited the area, just before being lured into a trap leading to his trial and execution. It is known that he buried treasure on Gardiner Island in New York, but it was thought that the canny pirate may have thought to divide his loot, with a portion stashed here.
If the first two curses are a bit far-fetched, it’s the third that really stretches the imagination: it also involved treasure—this time, belonging to an Aztec Emperor. This treasure had supposedly once belonged to Cuauhtémoc, the 16th-century emperor who succeeded Moctezuma II. During the ongoing conquest of Mexico, Cuauhtémoc was captured and tortured by the Spanish conquistadors under Hernán Cortés, who demanded to know where the treasures of the Aztec were hidden. Cuauhtémoc was executed in 1525 without ever having given up his secrets.
According to the story, in 1721 a group of Connecticut sailors stumbled across this treasure, stashed in a cave in Mexico, and returned home with it. A series of disasters befell the men, leading to the death of four out of the five discoverers. In a panic, the last man standing took his loot to Charles Island, where he buried it and thus transferred its curse to the island.
Despite generations of treasure seekers attempting to find the hidden booty, thus far no treasure has been found.
Over the years Charles Island has been considered as a site for a yacht club, an amusement park, military installations in World War I, and a nuclear power plant, but today, it is part of Silver Sands State Park and acts as a Natural Area Preserve, home to Connecticut’s largest breeding colonies of herons and egrets. Visitors seeking treasure are warned to be wary of the strength of the tides which rush in to separate the island from the mainland.
Know Before You Go
You are not allowed on the Island from May-August due to endangered bird nesting.