Beale Codes: Solving an Unsolvable Code?

Between 1819 and 1821, Thomas Beale buried a giant treasure in Virginia. It has never been found. The key to its location lies in one of the most mysterious codes in history…the Beale Codes. But how does one go about solving an unsolvable cipher?

Beale Code #1

Beale Code #1
Source: Archive.org

The Mysterious Beale Treasure?

Last Friday, I posted the first story in a short series about the mysterious Beale Treasure. On Monday, I posted the second installment. Yesterday, I discussed whether the Beale Codes are real or a giant hoax. To recap, Thomas Beale and thirty other people excavated a massive treasure between 1819 and 1821. They reburied it in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Then Beale created three ciphers now known as the Beale Codes.

“The Beale Ciphers were three codes which would enable one to locate the treasure and distribute it to the rightful heirs in the event that the group didn’t survive. The first Beale Cipher revealed the location of the vault. The second Beale Cipher described the contents of the vault. And the third Beale Cipher provided names and residences of the group members as well as their heirs.” ~ David Meyer, Beale Ciphers: A Lost Treasure?

Only one of the Beale Codes – the second one – has ever been decoded. It revealed the exact contents of the treasure.

“I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith: The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.” ~ Thomas Jefferson Beale, Decoded Version of Beale Cipher #2

Solving Beale Code #2?

Beale Code #2 is a book code. The “book” is the U.S. Declaration of Independence. In order to solve it, you take each number from the code and compare it to the relevant word in the document. Then you take the first letter from that word. So, the first number is 115. The 115th word in the Declaration of Independence is “instituted.” And the first letter in “instituted” is i. Below, you can see Beale Code #2 for yourself, as presented in The Beale Papers, Containing Authentic Statements Regarding the Treasure Buried in 1819 and 1821, Near Bufords, in Bedford County, Virginia, and which has Never Been Recovered:

Beale Code #2

Beale Code #2
Source: Archive.org

This code was supposedly solved by a “friend” of Robert Morriss. The friend claimed to have stumbled upon the solution. I’ve always considered this one of the hardest parts of the Beale story to swallow. Without the key, a book cipher would’ve been pretty much impossible to solve at the time. Oh yeah, and the Declaration used to encode Beale Cipher #2 contains numerous mistakes. And yet, the friend was still able to figure out those mistakes. So, either the entire thing is a scam or the friend was using a similar version of the Declaration (actually, that second option isn’t impossible to believe…flaws abound in early reprintings of the Declaration).

Solving the Unsolvable Ciphers?

Assuming the Beale Codes are real, it stands to reason the remaining ciphers are encoded like Beale Code #2. That means there are two ways to solve them. First, a budding treasure hunter could search for the right key. This would involve seeking out texts of the time period and comparing them to the ciphers. One interesting idea presented by Tim Haydock in his book, Treasure Trove, plays off the fact that Beale’s full name was Thomas Jefferson Beale. Beale Code #2 was encoded with the Declaration of Independence, which is usually associated with Jefferson. So, Beale Code #1 might correspond to someone named Thomas (perhaps Thomas Paine). Beale Code #3 would then be deciphered with something having to do with the name Beale. An alternative suggestion is that all three documents might link to works published by Thomas Jefferson.

The second approach is to employ computers in a brute force attack. I believe this has been done in the past, but I’d be curious to know what modern computers could do with it.

Regardless, here are the remaining Beale Ciphers for those of you who wish to try your hand with them.

Beale Code #1

Beale Code #1
Source: Archive.org

Beale Code #3

Beale Code #3
Source: Archive.org

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Before you run off searching for old books, there are two things you should know. First, some scholars think the Beale Codes story is nothing more than a Masonic allegory.

Actually, of course, Beale and his treasure are illusory-merely part of an allegory meant to evoke the anticipated Masonic “discovery of the secret vault and the inestimable treasures, with the long-lost word” (as expressed in the Royal Arch degree). The contrast between the futile quest for gold and that for more spiritual wealth are didactically expressed in the allegory.” ~ Joe Nickell, Mysterious Realms: Probing Paranormal, Historical, and Forensic Enigmas

And second, in 1980 Jim Gillogly used the same Declaration of Independence in an attempt to decipher Beale Code #1. This resulted in some curious strings of letters such as AAA, TTTTT, and most interesting, ABFDEFGHIIJKLMMNOHPP. Gillogly concluded that Beale Code #1 was fake, created by randomly selecting words out of the Declaration that, at least in part, formed the alphabet. On the other hand, this could indicate a two-stage code. In other words, the alphabetic sequence might line up with a keystring. Regardless, it seems almost certain at this point that the Declaration of Independence was used in some manner to create Beale Code #1.

Beale Treasure: Real…or a Giant Hoax?

Between 1819 and 1821, Thomas Beale buried a giant treasure in Virginia. The Beale Treasure has never been found. The key to its location lies in one of the most mysterious codes in history…the Beale Ciphers. But is the Beale Treasure even real? Or is it a giant hoax?

Is the Beale Treasure real...or a giant hoax?

Is the Beale Treasure real…or a giant hoax?
Description: Cover of the Beale Papers (published 1885)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Beale Treasure?

Last Friday, I posted the first story in a short series about the mysterious Beale Treasure. Yesterday, I posted the second installment. To recap, Thomas Beale and thirty other people excavated a massive treasure between 1819 and 1821. They reburied it in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Then Beale created three ciphers now known as the Beale Ciphers.

“The Beale Ciphers were three codes which would enable one to locate the treasure and distribute it to the rightful heirs in the event that the group didn’t survive. The first Beale Cipher revealed the location of the vault. The second Beale Cipher described the contents of the vault. And the third Beale Cipher provided names and residences of the group members as well as their heirs.” ~ David Meyer, Beale Ciphers: A Lost Treasure?

Only one of the ciphers – the second one – has ever been decoded. It revealed the exact contents of the treasure.

“I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith: The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.” ~ Thomas Jefferson Beale, Decoded Version of Beale Cipher #2

Is the Beale Treasure Real…or a Giant Hoax?

The remaining ciphers constitute two of the most famous unsolved codes in history. Many people find this suspicious. After all, high-speed computers and advances in code-breaking have enabled easy decryption of once unsolvable codes. That being said, numerous cryptographers have studied the remaining ciphers and concluded that the sequences of numbers appear non-random.

The story behind the Beale Treasure is problematic. Why would Beale and his companions dig up a giant treasure only to hide it somewhere else? Why didn’t they split it up and go on spending sprees instead? Why would they haul it out to Virginia if they intended to stay out west? And why would they entrust the secret to a man they barely knew – and thus further divide the Beale Treasure – rather than to one (or all) of the heirs?

Other problems abound. The second cipher – a description of the Beale Treasure – seems entirely unnecessary. And the third cipher – which provides the names and addresses of the heirs – seems entirely too short. It’s 618 characters long. Assuming it’s encoded like Beale Cipher #2 (one number is equivalent to one letter), each heir gets about twenty characters. That doesn’t leave much room for a full-blown address. For example, “Thomas Beale, Lynchburg,” runs twenty characters by itself. On the other hand, it is possible some of the heirs shared an address.

Also, some of the words used in Beale’s letters don’t seem to make sense. According to Joe Nickell, the words, “stampeding,” “improvised,” and “appliances” did not appear in print until decades after Beale’s letters were supposedly written. This would seem to indicate the letters were written at a later date or someone edited them along the way. There is also some evidence to suggest that the person who wrote Beale Cipher #2 also wrote the pamphlet that revealed the story to the public (The Beale Papers, Containing Authentic Statements Regarding the Treasure Buried in 1819 and 1821, Near Bufords, in Bedford County, Virginia, and which has Never Been Recovered).

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Beale Treasure suffer from the same problem as so many other legendary lost treasures…lack of falsifiability. There is simply no way to disprove the story. And there is no way to prove it either. Undoubtedly, Beale researchers will continue to study the codes, searching for a breakthrough. It may come someday. Or it may not.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some possible ways to approach the Beale Ciphers from a treasure hunting perspective. See you then!

Beale Ciphers #2: A Massive Treasure Revealed?

Between 1819 and 1821, Thomas Beale buried a gigantic treasure in Virginia. It’s never been found. In order to locate it, one must first decipher one of the most mysterious codes in history…the Beale Ciphers.

What are the Beale Ciphers?

What are the Beale Ciphers?
Description: Cover of the Beale Papers (published 1885)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Mysterious Beale Ciphers?

On Friday, I posted the first story in a short series about the mysterious Beale Ciphers. To recap, Thomas Beale and thirty other people excavated a massive treasure between 1819 and 1821. They reburied this treasure in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Then Beale created a series of ciphers to make sure the treasure could be located in the event he and his group were killed.

“The Beale Ciphers were three codes which would enable one to locate the treasure and distribute it to the rightful heirs in the event that the group didn’t survive. The first Beale Cipher revealed the location of the vault. The second Beale Cipher described the contents of the vault. And the third Beale Cipher provided names and residences of the group members as well as their heirs.” ~ David Meyer, Beale Ciphers: A Lost Treasure?

In 1822, Beale locked the Beale Ciphers, along with two letters, in an iron box. He gave the box to Robert Morriss, a Virginia-based innkeeper, for safekeeping. Morriss placed it in a safe and proceeded to forget about it.

A few months later, Morriss received a letter from Beale. It was dated May 9, 1822. Beale claimed to be en route to the Great Plains on a two-year hunting trip. He told Morriss that the box contained papers that would “be unintelligible without the aid of a key…” He asked Morriss to keep the box for ten years. If no one came for it by then, Morriss was to assume Beale and the rest of his party was dead. He was then supposed to open the box and use a key (which would somehow be mailed in June 1832) to decipher the papers.

Morriss never heard from Beale again.

The Beale Ciphers…Deciphered?

June 1832 came and went. Morriss continued to wait and didn’t open the box until 1845. Inside, he found two letters, detailing the story of the Beale treasure. He also found three papers, covered with seemingly random numbers. In his letters, Beale asked Morriss to find the treasure and distribute it to thirty beneficiaries. For his efforts, Morriss would be entitled to an equal share of the treasure. Unfortunately, Morriss had never received the promised key. He was unable to decipher the codes and thus, the treasure remained lost.

In 1862, Morriss passed the Beale Ciphers to a friend (possibly James B. Ward). If he was able to locate the treasure, the friend would receive one-half of Morriss’ share. The friend believed the code was a standard key-code, with each number standing for a separate letter or word. For the next twenty years, the friend worked on the Beale Ciphers, comparing them to various documents. Eventually, he came upon a solution.

The friend compared the second Beale Cipher to the Declaration of Independence. Each number corresponded to a word in the document. The friend took the first letter of each word and came up with the following:

“I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith: The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.” ~ Thomas Jefferson Beale, Decoded Version of Beale Cipher #2

In a cruel twist of fate, the friend now knew the sheer size of the treasure but not the exact location. He returned to the remaining codes with a renewed spirit. Unfortunately, he never managed to decode either of the other two Beale Ciphers. In 1885, the friend finally gave up. He proceeded to publish the whole story as a pamphlet entitled, The Beale Papers, Containing Authentic Statements Regarding the Treasure Buried in 1819 and 1821, Near Bufords, in Bedford County, Virginia, and which has Never Been Recovered.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll take a closer look at the Beale Ciphers themselves. See you then!

Beale Ciphers: A Lost Treasure?

Between 1819 and 1821, Thomas Beale buried a whopping 2,921 pounds of gold and 5,100 pounds of silver in Virginia. It’s still there, waiting for someone to dig up. But there’s a catch. In order to find it, one must first decipher one of the most mysterious codes in history…the Beale Ciphers.

What are the Beale Ciphers?

What are the Beale Ciphers?
Description: Cover of the Beale Papers (published 1885)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Treasure Trove of Thomas Beale

In 1817, a man named Thomas Beale led thirty Virginians on a western hunting trip. They left St. Louis in May and arrived at Santa Fe in December. After several months of little activity, a few members of the group embarked on an excursion. Several weeks later, they sent word that they had discovered gold in a ravine, 250 to 300 miles north of Santa Fe. Immediately, Beale set forth to examine the site and found a large cache of gold and silver.

The group worked the ravine for 18 months, gathering a large quantity of gold and silver in the process. Afterward, they decided to transport the treasure to a cave “near Buford’s tavern in the county of Bedford.” After a long journey, part of Beale’s group arrived in Bedford. Unfortunately, the cave in question was being used by others. So, Beale’s group dug a vault in the Blue Ridge Mountains and buried the treasure. Beale later returned to the ravine, gathered more treasure, and proceeded to deposit it in the vault.

The Beale Ciphers?

The treasure was to be split into thirty shares, one for each member of the group. However, the group faced a problem. They didn’t want anyone to know about the treasure. At the same time, members were still actively hunting and prospecting at the ravine. As such, they were worried about Indian attacks and outlaws. If they were killed in a raid, no one would ever know about the treasure or who had rightful claim to it.

So, Beale created the Beale Ciphers. The Beale Ciphers were three codes which would enable one to locate the treasure and distribute it to the rightful heirs in the event that the group didn’t survive. The first Beale Cipher revealed the location of the vault. The second Beale Cipher described the contents of the vault. And the third Beale Cipher provided names and residences of the group members as well as their heirs. In a letter, Beale stated that the Beale Ciphers would “be unintelligible without the key…”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The full story of the Beale Ciphers is long and complicated. So, it’ll take me a few days to go through it. Tomorrow, we’ll look into what Beale did with those ciphers and how they became public knowledge. Stay tuned…the best is yet to come!

The Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

Apollo 11 Launch

“At 9:32 a.m. EDT, the swing arms move away and a plume of flame signals the liftoff of the Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle and astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A.”
Source: NASA

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on a date with destiny. In the process, two massive F-1 engines were jettisoned into the ocean, seemingly lost for all time. Now, after a year-long expedition, billionaire Jeff Bezos has salvaged this history-making technology.

Salvaging the Apollo 11 Engines?

We first reported on this story in March 2012, calling it one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” The cost of the recovery and restoration remains unknown but according to NASA, the engines will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum as well as Seattle’s Museum of Flight, respectively.

Who owns the Apollo 11 Engines?

The exact ownership of the engines remains unclear to me. I’m sure the U.S. government claims ownership. However, this would appear to fall under the Homesteading Principle. In essence, governments cannot legitimately own private property, since everything they have (including tax dollars) has been, in effect, taken with force. Even if you disagree with that assessment, NASA abandoned the engines, making no plans to ever recover them. Thus, I would argue no one owned the engines prior to discovery. Bezos Expeditions, on the other hand, is the rightful owner of its own labor. By salvaging the engines, it added its labor to the engines and thus, became the rightful owner.

Here’s more on the discovery of the lost Apollo 11 engines from Jeff Bezos at Bezos Expeditions:

What an incredible adventure. We are right now onboard the Seabed Worker headed back to Cape Canaveral after finishing three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface. We found so much. We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous…

(See the rest at Bezos Expeditions)

How much is the Oldest Baseball Card Worth?

A "baseball card" from 1865 showing the members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.

A “baseball card” from 1865 showing the members of the Brooklyn Atlantics.
Attribution: Hotographic print by Charles H. Williamson (1865)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’m amazed this only went for $92,000. It’s not a real baseball card, at least in the traditional sense. It’s more like a team photograph. But since it was handed out by the team, its often considered a predecessor to later cards like the Old Judge sets. Here’s more from Daniel Lovering at Yahoo News:

A rare 1865 photograph of the Brooklyn Atlantics baseball team, discovered at a Maine yard sale and considered one of the first baseball cards ever, sold for $92,000 at an auction on Wednesday.

A Massachusetts man offered the winning sum in cash after a brief round of bidding at Saco River Auction Co., said Troy Thibodeau, manager and auctioneer at the company in Biddeford, Maine.Thibodeau declined to name the buyer.

The photograph mounted on a card, known as a carte de viste, is the only one of its kind known to exist, though the Library of Congress has a similar image made from a different negative, Thibodeau said before the auction.

(See the rest at Yahoo News)

The Lost Treasure of Machu Picchu?

A secret treasure trove of gold, silver, and ancient knowledge buried beneath the ancient city of Machu Picchu? Yes, please. Here’s more from Heritage Daily:

Is there a Secret Treasure Trove buried beneath Machu Picchu? Description: Hiram Bingham III standing on ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru Attribution: Harry Ward Foote (1911-1923) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Is there a Secret Treasure Trove buried beneath Machu Picchu?
Description: Hiram Bingham III standing on ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru
Attribution: Harry Ward Foote (1911-1923)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Thierry Jamin and his team think they have realized an extraordinary archaeological discovery in the Inca city discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. This discovery was made possible thanks to the testimony of a French engineer who lives in Barcelona-Spain, David Crespy. In 2010, while he was visiting the lost city, David Crespy noticed the presence of a strange “shelter” located in the heart of the city, at the bottom of one of the main buildings…

In order to confirm the existence of cavities in the basement of the building, in December 2011 Thierry and his team submit an official request to the Ministry of Culture in Lima, to perform a geophysical survey with the help of electromagnetic (EM) conductivity instruments. This license was granted a few months later.

Realized between April 9th and April 12th 2012, the electromagnetic survey not only confirmed the presence of an underground room but several! Just Behind the famous entrance, a staircase was also discovered. The two main paths seem to lead to specific chambers, including to the main squared one. The different techniques used by the French researcher(s), (Molecular Frequencies Discriminator) allowed them to highlight the presence of important archaeological material, including deposits of metal and a large quantity of gold and silver!

Thierry Jamin is now preparing the next step: the opening of the entrance sealed by the Incas more than five centuries ago. On May 22nd 2012, he officially submitted a request for authorization to the Peruvian authorities which would allow his team to proceed with the opening of the burial chambers.

The Lost Treasure of the S.S. Gairsoppa?

In February 1941, a Nazi U-boat torpedoed the SS Gairsoppa, sending it to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Its holds contained a treasure…one of the largest treasures in maritime history. And now, that treasure has been recovered. What is the lost treasure of the Silver Shipwreck?

What is the Lost Treasure of the Silver Shipwreck?

What is the Lost Treasure of the Silver Shipwreck?
“Shipwreck”
Drawn by Harry Chase sometime between 1870 and 1889
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

What is the Silver Shipwreck?

The SS Gairsoppa was a massive cargo ship. In 1941, it left India with silver ingots, pig iron, and tea which it intended to bring back to Britain.  Initially, it traveled with a convoy. However, with coal running low and winds running high, the vessel split off on its own and headed for Ireland’s Galway Harbor. On February 17, the Nazi U-boat U-101 spotted the Gairsoppa and subsequently torpedoed her. She sank in less than twenty minutes, leaving only a handful of survivors.

The vessel sank in 15,400 feet of water, taking with it nearly 80 crewmen…and a priceless treasure. Back in September, the famed treasure hunting / salvage firm Odyssey Marine Exploration announced it had discovered the so-called Silver Shipwreck.

A Massive Treasure Salvage?

On July 18, Odyssey reported the recovery of 1,203 silver bars, or 48 total tons of silver, from the Silver Shipwreck. At the current rate of $31.46 per ounce, the treasure is worth roughly $48 million. And this only represented 43% of the total haul. At the time, Odyssey had plans to salvage the rest of the shipwreck.

Working backward, it appears the Gairsoppa was carrying roughly 112 tons of silver at the time of its sinking. Thus, the entire treasure could be worth about $113 million. Thus, it’s probably accurate this is being called “the deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history.”

“With the shipwreck lying approximately three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, this was a complex operation. Our capacity to conduct precision cuts and successfully complete the surgical removal of bullion from secure areas on the ship demonstrates our capabilities to undertake complicated tasks in the very deep ocean.” ~ Greg Stemm, Odyssey Chief Executive Officer

Technically, the UK government owns the treasure. It had insured the cargo and paid off the silver’s owners after the Gairsoppa sank. Under the terms of the salvage agreement, the government will keep 20% of the treasure, net costs. Odyssey will keep the rest.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Our congratulations go out to Odyssey. This is an excellent haul. And it appears this story will end far better than the controversial “Black Swan” debacle.

Back in 2007, Odyssey secretly salvaged 17 tons of gold and silver coins from a mysterious shipwreck codenamed the “Black Swan.” The Spanish government cried foul and demanded that the wreck be handed over to it. The Spanish government’s ownership of the wreck was questionable at best and it spent none of its own time, money, or effort to recover it. Yet, numerous U.S. courts sided with the Spanish government and ruled Odyssey had to relinquish the Black Swan’s treasure.

At the time the time, we predicted that particular outcome, which was possibly influenced by secret back room bureaucratic dealings, would have extremely negative effects on the field of shipwreck salvage.

“Going forward, treasure hunters will have little to no incentive to report their findings to the world. The black market for antiquities will grow. The treasure hunting field will attract a greater number of reckless and unskilled individuals. Thus, salvage work will be done with more haste and less care.” ~ David Meyer, The Black Swan Heist

We still think that will be the case in the long-run. However, we’re pleased to see this particular salvage operation end on a happy note. Once again, congratulations to Odyssey!

Captain Henry Morgan & the Lost Inca Treasure?

On January 28, 1671, Captain Henry Morgan led a daring raid on Panama City, which at that time was the richest city in the Americas. In the process, he escaped with one of the greatest hauls in history. What happened to the lost treasure of the Incas? And what does a recently-discovered shipwreck have to do with it?

Is this shipwreck from the Lost Fleet of Captain Henry Morgan?

Was this vessel used by Captain Henry Morgan to help sack Panama?
Source: Diageo (Captain Morgan Rum), Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project

Captain Morgan: Pirate…or Privateer?

Today is the 324-year anniversary of Captain Morgan’s death. But while much is known of his later life, the early years of Henry Morgan are shrouded in mystery. He was born in Wales, probably in 1635. No records of his life exist before 1655. However, we do know he took his first command in late 1665, under the guidance of privateer Edward Mansvelt. After Mansvelt was captured and executed by Spanish forces, the remaining crew elected Captain Henry Morgan to take his place.

In this role, Captain Morgan was a privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan sets his sights on Panama

By 1670, Spanish forces were starting to threaten Jamaica, which was under English control. The legendary Captain Morgan was given extensive authority to wage war on Spain. Since the commission was unpaid, Captain Henry Morgan had extra incentive to attack high-value targets. He assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men. Then he set out to pick a target. He considered several cities before finally settling on the infamous Panama City.

At that time, Panama City was the richest place in the Americas, thanks to endless loads of Inca gold taken by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible. It sat on the Pacific Ocean, which was defended with heavy fortifications. On the other side was the Chagres River and miles of nearly impenetrable jungle. In addition, the entrance to the Chagres River was guarded by the Spanish fortress, Castillo de San Lorenzo. To make matters worse, the Spanish government had become aware of his large fleet. So, Captain Morgan was forced to act quickly.

Captain Morgan decided on a land attack. While he waited for the rest of his fleet, he sent Colonel Bradley along the Chagres River with orders to seize Castillo de San Lorenzo. Colonel Bradley took 3 ships and 470 men. They landed in secret and on January 6, 1671, launched an attack on the fortress. They set it on fire using firebombs and grenades and then killed the survivors. However, the cost was steep. Colonel Bradley, along with about 100 other men, died in the battle.

Castillo de San Lorenzo & Lajas Reef - The Lost Fleet of Captain Henry Morgan sank near this Fort

Castillo de San Lorenzo & Lajas Reef (The Lost Fleet of Captain Henry Morgan sank on the Lajas Reef)
Source: Diageo (Captain Morgan Rum), Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project

The Lost Fleet of Captain Henry Morgan?

Five days later, Captain Morgan and his fleet arrived at Castillo de San Lorenzo. However, their excitement was short-lived as four to five ships, including Captain Morgan’s flagship Satisfaction, met an untimely end.

“The cheers from those on the cliff and those on board the ships soon turned to horror as Satisfaction ran head on into Lajas Reef, which lay in the path of the river covered by a mere few feet of water. Three to four more ships followed the Morgan onto the reef. The ships were shattered and none was recovered.” ~ Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project Press Release

Amazingly enough, a team of archaeologists led by Frederick “Fritz” Hanselmann and funded by Captain Morgan Rum may have recently discovered one of these lost ships.

Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Dive Team

Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Dive Team (From left to right: Ben Ford, Jason Nunn, Frederick Hanselmann, Christopher Morris)
Source: Diageo (Captain Morgan Rum), Lost Ships of Henry Morgan Project

In September 2010, the team discovered six iron cannons at the mouth of the Chagres River. In 2011, they located a 17th century wooden shipwreck. This year, they discovered other artifacts, including a sword, several chests, wooden barrels, and cargo seals. The team’s next step is to confirm the identity of these artifacts and hopefully, determine whether or not they came from Captain Morgan’s lost fleet. Check out the video below for more on this amazing project.

Captain Morgan reaches Panama

After arriving with reinforcements five days later, Captain Morgan and his men repaired Castillo de San Lorenzo. He left 300 men behind to guard it. Then he paddled up the Chagres River with the rest of his fleet and about 1,400 men. On the way, they passed four small forts, which were guarded by a total of 400 men. The Spanish hoped to use these forts to drain Captain Morgan’s forces. However, the Spanish soldiers fled instead and Captain Henry Morgan passed through without a single shot fired. On January 28, 1671 Captain Morgan reached Panama. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city.

The Lost Treasure of the Incas?

Captain Henry Morgan spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. Still, many of the privateers were suspicious that Captain Morgan had cheated them.

“However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.” ~ David Meyer, The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Did Captain Henry Morgan abscond with the lion’s share of the Lost Inca treasure? If so, where did he hide it? In the jungles of Panama? Somewhere else? These questions, at least for now, remain unanswered.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Captain Henry Morgan left behind a fascinating legacy, including the recently-discovered shipwreck as well as the possibility of lost treasure. However, his raid on Panama City and other Spanish targets had a much larger impact. Captain Morgan changed the course of history by helping to bring an end to the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, rose in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign

The Lost Declaration of Independence?

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence. It declared the 13 original colonies were no longer part of the British Empire. The original Declaration is probably the most important document in U.S. history. And amazingly enough, no one knows where it is.

The Composition Draft: This is the first only surviving fragment of the earliest composition draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Written by Thomas Jefferson (mid-June 1776)
Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

The Declaration of Independence: The Official Story

On April 19, 1775, British troops stormed Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. Colonial minutemen, warned by Paul Revere, Williams Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, lay in wait for them. The Battles of Lexington and Concord broke out and thus, the Revolutionary War began.

A little over a year later, in June 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The document went through numerous changes. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from the British Empire. Two days later, the Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Today, the Declaration of Independence is one of the most famous documents in history. It resides at the National Archives. Its encased in titanium and aluminum and surrounded by inert argon gas.

Or is it?

The Declaration of Independence: The Real Story

The copy of the Declaration that sits at the National Archives is known as the Engrossed Copy. It’s basically a final version, crafted several weeks after the debate concluded. It was then postdated to July 4, 1776. Most scholars think it was penned by Timothy Matlack, who served as clerk to the Secretary of the Continental Congress.

But if that’s the case, then what did the Congress ratify on July 4? Well, in 1823, Thomas Jefferson penned a letter to James Madison in which he described writing the original Declaration of Independence. He said that the Committee of Five ”unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.”

So, it appears this “Fair Copy” was the version used by the Continental Congress. It was probably edited during the debate by Charles Thomson, who served as Secretary to the Congress. And it was most likely the document which was considered during the vote. In other words, the marked-up Fair Copy is, for all intents and purposes, the original Declaration of Independence.

Where’s the original Declaration of Independence?

The Fair Copy has been missing for over two hundred years. But what happened to it? Some researchers think it was accidentally destroyed by John Dunlap. Earlier in 1776, Dunlap had secured a printing contract with the Continental Congress. On the evening of July 4, John Hancock asked him to produce the first official “broadsides,” or printed copies, of the Declaration. These Dunlap broadsides were then distributed throughout the 13 colonies. So, it seems possible the Fair Copy was destroyed in the process.

Another theory is the Fair Copy was intentionally destroyed. Many delegates were in favor of keeping their deliberations a secret. This was a contentious issue at the time and was opposed by both Jefferson and Ben Franklin. Nevertheless, the Congress eventually decided to invoke a secrecy rule. So, perhaps the Fair Copy was destroyed so no one could see the changes made to it.

However, this is slightly problematic. Several draft versions of the Declaration exist, at least two of which were kept by Thomas Jefferson. Why would delegates keep those versions and yet order the destruction of the Fair Copy?

There is another possibility. Perhaps the Fair Copy survived July 4. Perhaps it’s still out there somewhere, waiting to be found. It could be lost in the National Archives. Or maybe it was kept by Thomas Jefferson or Charles Thomson. We should note that Jefferson’s “Rough Draft” wasn’t located until 1947.

One more thing. Remember those broadsides printed by John Dunlap? Well, one of them fetched $8.14 million at auction in 2000. If a printed copy of the Declaration generated that much money, just imagine what the Fair Copy would be worth. For all you fellow treasure hunters out there, happy hunting!

“The Declaration originated as a spoken thought, expressed on June 7, 1776, by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, who moved that ‘these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.’ A written version was produced on June 28, primarily the work of Thomas Jefferson, who left at least seven rough drafts, one found as recently as 1947. On July 2, Congress approved the first paragraph of the Declaration, officially separating from England.

Then, on July 4, the rest of the text was approved. Jefferson claimed that a ‘fair copy’ of the document was in the room that day, and John Hancock possibly signed something, making it legal. If this manuscript still exists, it is the holy grail of American freedom.” ~ Ted Widmer, Looking for Liberty, New York Times, July 4, 2008