I wonder how many motorists crossing the Triborough Bridge (renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) are oblivious to the fact that a lost treasure estimated today to be worth around twenty-five million dollars lies beneath them in the murky waters.
The bridge spans a narrow water channel called Hell’s Gate, located in New York’s East River separating Astoria, Queens, Randall’s island and Ward’s island now joined by landfill. The name is a corruption of the Dutch word Hellegat and attributed to the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block, who was the first person to navigate the channel in 1614.
Although hundreds of vessels have gone down in the strait, the event described in this blog post took place in 1780 when a British frigate the H.M.S. Hussar sank in the channel.
The Hussar was a British Royal Navy vessel accommodating two hundred sailors and ten American prisoners from a camp in England, who were to be bartered for the release of ten captured British soldiers. In addition to carrying essential supplies and ammunition, the frigate was also carrying several chests containing gold and silver coins to pay British troops stationed in New York.
While anchored in New York’s Manhattan, the ship’s captain got wind of news that a fleet of French warships, located about one hundred and fifty miles away in the Rhode Island area, was intent on capturing the Hussar and lay claim to the gold and silver on board.
The captain decided to move the ship to a more secure location in Connecticut a few miles up the coast to the north east. The best route was to sail parallel to Long Island’s south shore, but southerly winds often caused grounding problems forcing the ships further out to sea and exposure to attack, so the captain decided to navigate the long avoided East River.
In spite of the warnings from his newly hired New York pilot that the draft of the Hussar would cause the frigate to strike any number of the rocks submerged just below the surface, the captain felt he had no choice but to proceed.
As the ship entered Hell’s Gate, where the waters of the Long Island Sound mixed with those of the East River, the strong swirling currents forced the frigate into a granite ledge just below the surface that was made invisible by the churning silt-laden water. The panicked captain took over the ship’s wheel in an attempt to steer the ship to Stony Point Beach in the South Bronx without success. Thankfully, everyone on board was able to escape. In fact, as the last lifeboat left the Hussar, the vessel went straight down seventy-five feet to the bottom of the river along with the payroll.
It’s a pity the captain was unaware that at certain points in the tide cycle the waters briefly go slack, making the area as calm as a lake. High tide in the Long Island Sound is over three hours behind that of Lower Manhattan.
Many attempts have been made since 1780 to recover the treasure, but it has never been found. And, according to many, there are numerous factors leaving no doubt that the treasure is still in the river near Astoria Park. I’m surprised, with the up-to-date recovery efforts used today, that there has been no attempt to recover the lost treasure.