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.

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!

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