Is there a sunken treasure in the East River?

There is according to a legend dating back to November 1780.

That’s when the HMS Hussar, a 28-gun British warship, sailed up the East River, reportedly on its way to Rhode Island.

With a crew of about 100, and up to 70 American prisoners of war, the Husser sank in the treacherous waters of Hell Gate—the tidal strait between Astoria and Wards Island that felled hundreds of vessels before being dynamited in the 19th century.

“Hampered by the violent currents, the Hussar’s captain, Maurice Pole, struggled to steer toward shore, but the ship sank somewhere between Port Morris and Montressor’s Island (today North Brother Island),” writes Tom Vanderbilt in a 2002 New York Times piece.

“Most of the crew survived, and the masts, it was said, jutted above water for days before being swept away.”

Immediately, rumors hit that the Hussar, carrying payroll for British troops stationed in New York, went down with 2 to 4 million dollars in gold on board.

Was it true? On one hand, surviving sailors claimed the payroll had been dropped off before the frigate sank.

Still, the British launched three serious expeditions to find the Hussar’s remains after the Revolutionary War, supporting suspicions that something very valuable had gone down with the ship.

Over the centuries, treasure hunters have gone into the murky East River waters to uncover what would be worth about a billion dollars today.

Aside from some pottery and other artifacts, no treasure has been found.

The Hussar’s remains haven’t been located either; they’re thought to have become landfill in the Bronx.

[Top: USGS topographical map; middle, a frigate the Hussar may have resembled; bottom, a 1904 etching of Hell Gate in 1774, from the NYPL Digital Collection]

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12 Responses to “Is there a sunken treasure in the East River?”

  1. nycedges Says:

    Who doesn’t love a sunken treasure story? but I’d like to add one minor detail…to make Hells Gate channel less dangerous a number of small islands and outcroppings around Hallets Point (Astoria) were dynamited in 1869 and in 1885 Flood Rock in the East River was blown up (considered to be the largest man-made explosion before the atomic bomb)…so if anyone’s dreaming that this treasure may still be down there, forget it!

  2. Captain Clumsy Says:

    Actually, if it was ever there, it’s still there, waiting to be revovered. It would be a difficult salvage job and the chests, etc have probable been broken down by the conditions prevailing as well as the explosions.

  3. Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in « Rambler's Central Says:

    […] fossero pattugliate da una canoa condotta da un indiano irochese? L’East River nasconde un tesoro sommerso? Sapevate che il Ponte di Brooklyn fu attraversato dagli elefanti? A Hell’s Kitchen è sempre […]

  4. An Upper East Side enclave called Hellgate Hill « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Here, a confluence of rocks and rough currents once made it a graveyard of ships. […]

  5. BOBBY Says:

    I’ve been through Hells gate numerous times and never exeprience any trouble. Perhaps it was becasue we always went through with a Power Boat and not sail~

    • Captain Clumsy Says:

      I have rowed, sailed and powered through Hell Gate on many occasions. It can be treacherous and, if Hussar had caught a bad spot of wind as the tide changed or if there was a navigational error, it would have been quite easy to get into trouble. There used to be more than a few submerged rocks near the channel. While many have been blasted out, the area is still quite hazardous. Bear in mind that bouyage in that era was either rudimentary or nonexistence.

      • BOBBY Says:

        I’m not talking about rowing through “Hells Gate”. The Sound could be treacherous as well. I am talking about powering through Hells Gate with a boat that is of significent size. (Not a row boat!)

  6. Joseph Governali Says:

    the search for the Hussar is more than the pursue of riches, it’s the treasure in each and everyone of us a release from our daily grind. But the Hussar has a lot more than just treasure within it’s hull, somewhere on board are 8 sealed cannons acting as “safety deposit boxes” in one of these cannons I hope to find the manifest or list of names of colaborators. You see friends a certain General Benedict Arnold send dispatches to New York City to await the arrival of the Hussar and upon hearing the news that she was in port, he turned on his troops and joined forces with the British.
    The Hussar may just have the answer to this mysterious question of why he did what he did, perhaps he was one in a number of military leaders waiting to be paid.
    The Hussar was docked in NY Harbor when she was boarded by 12 British Royal Marines with orders to set sail to Gardners Island where a secret meeting was taking place…..ahh the answer will come soon enough

    • Jeffrey Tew Says:

      Mr Governali,

      My name is Jeffrey Tew. I am the Daughter’s of the American Revolution outstanding teacher of history award winner for 2006. I am a reenactor and actor having worked on John Adams as well as the History Channel’s American Revolution series.

      Very interested in speaking with you regarding a project involving the Hussar I am working on.

      Please call me at 518 705 6343 or e-mail me at

      Thank you

  7. Bobby Costa Says:

    Where is RObert Ballard?

  8. The two vintage cannons on a Central Park bluff | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] used to defend New York. They were artifacts salvaged from the wreckage of the H.M.S. Hussar, which sank in Hell Gate in the East River, reportedly laden with gold, in 1780, writes Sam Roberts at the New York […]

  9. The most famous summer house in Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] to the treacherous section of the East River between Astoria and Randall’s Island that claimed hundreds of ships by the late 19th […]

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