Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost Loyalist Gold In The Thousand Islands

By : Dennis Stein

  If you haven't heard of William 'Billa' Larue, the witch of Plum Hollow, or the 'Legend of the Black Cattle', you don't know what you're missing in local Ontario lore. A great treasure legend, with a ghost story to boot. I first was told the story over 25 years ago, by a man in Mallorytown, and it has captivated me ever since.
  William Larue, or 'Billa' as he came to be known, was a United Empire Loyalist who came to this country before 1800, and was given a crown land grant of 200 acres on the west side of Larue Mills Creek. All of the 'loyalists who had remained loyal to Britian after the American Revolutionary War had been rewarded for their service with land in the original nine Royal Towships. He erected a mill on the creek, and amassed quite a fortune. He ran the mill at night to grind flour for bread and during the day to cut wood for British defenses when England requisitioned his mill during the war of 1812. As time went on, he bought up land around him, eventually owning about 1000 acres in the area around Larue Mills. Billa and his wife Abigail had nine children, but at least six of them died while still very young, the times being as hard as they were. Some of the daughters in particular lived little more than a few months or years. It was well known that Billa kept his fortune concealed somewhere on his property, and several attempts at locating it by fortune seekers have occured over the years. Supposedly, on his death bed, Billa uttered what may have been the only clue to the gold's location. "My treasure lies there..." He was in one of the upstairs bedrooms, overlooking the small family cemetery to the west of the original house, which still stands today. Did Larue mean his fortune? Or was he refering to his children? Whatever the case, William larue died in November of 1832, taking his secret with him to the grave. He left everything to his daughter Sarah Larue, not to his wife, instead offering her a measly sum of forty pounds if she agreed to live somewhere else. She died two years later...
  One famous attempt at recovering Larue's fortune happened around 1855, when a small group of men, after consulting the witch of Plum Hollow ( a local fortune-teller named Elizabeth Barnes ), set out for the property in hopes of unearthing Billa's prize. They began to dig at a certain spot on the west side of the old house, under cover of darkness. They excavated a considerable hole, and suddenly one of the men hit what he thought was a large round stone, with the sound of coins beneath it. It was then, as legend has it that all at once, a cold wind blew through, and the men were suddenly surrounded by dark silhouettes which they thought were black cattle. They became so afraid, that the dig was quickly abandoned, and the group ran off, fleeing the frightening scene. It was decided that they would return the next morning in daylight. The following morning, the men found their picks and shovels, but no sign of the stone or any gold within the hole... The concensus was that a spirit of some kind had whisked away the gold, and re-hidden it so as to protect it from being found. One of the gentlemen amoung this group later detailed the story exactly, a man by the name of Haskin, who lived in New York state, who claims he was the young man in the hole when the stone was struck. He was nine years old at the time. All of this interesting story can be pieced together, and at least partially proven to be true. T.W.H. Leavitt's History of Leeds and Grenville devotes space to the story, and the local Service Ontario office has copies of his original land grant information, as well as a copy which I have read of his Last Will and Testament.
  Did some of the men return to the hole in the night and take the fortune? Did Sarah Larue get the location from her dying father? Perhaps. Or just maybe, the gold is still buried out there somewhere, awaiting discovery. Definitely an interesting piece of local history and folklore from the earliest days of settlement here in Ontario...

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