Edgar A. Perry (aka Edgar Allan Poe) arrived in Charleston on November 18, 1827 at the tender age of 18 to serve at Fort Moultrie. Though he was to spend just over a year on Sullivan’s Island, life in the Lowcountry is woven through many of his most famous works.
The Gold Bug, one of his most famous works, is reflective of his time on our neighboring island. What reason did Poe associate pirates, buried treasure, and mysterious insects with the Carolina Lowcountry? Poe obviously found time to explore his new surroundings and learn the history of the area. No doubt he studied court records for information on actual pirate happenings and hangings.
The infamous pirate Blackbeard ran the islands outside of Charleston and stories of buried treasure ran rampant. The “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet was captured and hanged in Charleston. The very makeup of the Carolina coast, with its network of creeks, rivers, and barrier islands, made many a perfect hiding and gathering place for pirate with illegal booty.
In The Gold Bug, a recluse who lives on Sullivan’s Island becomes obsessed with a “golden” bug he has found with skull-like markings on the back. He discovers that the scrap of paper with it is a map to the buried treasure of the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd. He must decipher a peculiar code and follow directions across the islands to find the hidden riches.
The expedition leads him to a tree with a human skull nailed to one of its branches. The golden bug is lowered through the eye of the skull to a point on the ground. A few paces, and it’s time to dig. Guarded still by a skeleton pirate, he finds a chest of jewels and gold coins.
Still standing today on the 14th fairway of the Links Course at Wild Dunes Resort is the stately oak suspected to be the tree. Any remnants of a skull have long since disappeared in the hundred plus years since Poe explored Charleston.
Is this, indeed, the tree where Poe “hid” the fabled treasure? Did Poe look for it and find pirate treasure on the islands? These are questions for which we will never know an answer. For as they say, dead men tell no tales.
Chronology of Edgar Allan Poe:
1809- Edgar is born in Boston, January 19
1811- His mother dies in Richmond, he is taken in by the John Allans and christened Edgar Allan Poe
1815- He goes to England with the Allans
1820- He returns to Richmond with the Allans
1826- He enters the University of Virginia and becomes engaged to Elmira Royster, only to have the engagement interrupted by her parents
1827- He leaves the university, quarrels with John Allan, goes to Boston and enlists in the Army
Publications: Tamerlane and Other Poems
1829- He is discharged from the army following the death of Mrs. Allan
Publications: Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems
1830- He enters West Point but gets himself expelled for want of financial support by John Allan
1831- He beginss a period of obscurity in NYC and Baltimore
1832- His whereabouts remain uncertain
1833- He wins a prize from the Baltimore Saturday Visitor for MS. Found in a Bottle
1834- John Allan dies without mentioning Poe in his will
1835- Poe becomes editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in December
Publications: Berernice, Morella, and Hans Pfaal
1836- He marries his cousin, Virginia Clemm
1837- Forced to leave the Southern Literary Messenger in January, he goes to New York
1838- He publishes Arthur Gordon Pym before leaving for Philadelphia where Ligeia appears
1839- He becomes an editor of Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in June
Publications: William Wilson, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion, and The Haunted Palace
1840- He works with cryptograms, then leaves Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine in June with plans for his own periodical to be called the “Penn Magazine”
Publications: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and The Man of the Crowd
1841- He becomes an editor of Graham’s Magazine in April
Publications: The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and A Descent into the Maelstrom
1842- He leaves Graham’s Magazine in May, still hoping for his own journal, now to be called “Stylus”
Publications: Eleanora, The Oval Portrait, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Mystery of Marie Roget
1843- He wins a prize from the Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper for The Gold Bug
Publications: The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat
1844- He moves to New York, his home for the rest of his life
Publications: The Balloon Hoax, The Premature Burial, and The Oblong Box
1845- He published The Raven, which causes an overnight sensation, and becomes an editor of the Broadway Journal in March
Publications: Tales and The Raven and Other Poems
1846- After presiding over the end of the Broadway Journal in January, he moves to the cottage at Fordham
Publications: The Cask of Amontillado, The Literati, and The Philosophy of Composition
1847- After a harrowing illness, Virginia Poe dies on January 29 leaving Poe despondent
Publications: The Domain of Arnheim and Ulalume
1848- Poe has his romance with Mrs. Whitman and delivers The Poetic Principle as a lecture
1849- Poe has his romances with Mrs. Richmond and Mrs. Shelton-Royster, he dies in Baltimore on October 7, presumably from alcohol poisoning
Publications: For Annie, Annabel Lee, Eldorado, and The Bells
Visit this famous tree during your next visit to Wild Dunes, Charleston’s Island Resort!
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