The Treasure of the Magnifique and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Tale

In 1820, when harbor pilot-turned-church-sexton David Darling was buried, the story of the French ship Magnifique might well have been buried with him. But it wasn’t.

The French government had sent the Magnifique to Boston in 1782 to take part in celebrations over the U.S.-French victory over the British in the American Revolution.  The Magnifique was a 74-gun, 170-foot man-o-war arriving in Boston from the Caribbean. Darling, a harbor pilot from Boston, travelled out to meet Captain Macteigne and the Magnifique and guide her safely to shore

magnifique lighthouse

Minot’s Ledge Light in a Storm (Harper’s Magazine)

As she sailed past Lovell’s Island in Boston Harbor, an unexpected wind shift pushed the ship on to a shoal. Over the years, historians have suggested that when she went to the bottom a small fortune in gold that the crew had recovered in the Caribbean was submerged with her.

For his part in the wreck, Darling lost harbor piloting privileges, and was given the job of a church sexton in the North Church where he was occasionally teased about wrecking the French vessel.

Though it seems likely the French would have removed any gold from the ship during the hours that seamen spent trying to refloat her, the story of the treasure persisted.

In his 1944 book, The Romance of Boston Bay, Edward Rose Snow offers one possible solution to the mystery of the treasure. The Magnifique was remembered by old salts, who spread the tale of her demise. In 1840, 1859, 1868 and 1869 attempts were made to locate the shipwreck and her treasure.

The wreck site, which was visible at low tide on Lovell’s Island (and still is, according to the Natinal Park Service), was searched. Timbers, cannon balls and other artifacts were found, but no gold. Until the 1920s. Charles H. Jennings, lighthouse keeper, was digging on the island when he discovered some coins in the sand, according to Snow. He washed them off and set them aside. His temporary replacement soon arrived on the island to cover for the lighthouse keeper’s scheduled leave. Jennings told the man about his find and headed off to his vacation.

Upon his return, Snow notes, the temporary keeper hurriedly departed, and Jennings soon discovered a large hole in the sand where he had found the coins. “A few months later the assistant retired from the Lighthouse service and lived in comfort for the rest of his life,” Snow wrote. “The reader may draw his own conclusions.”

To Top