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?

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:

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.

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.

Recent Comments

  • Arvid Jr. Backman
    April 15, 2013 - 2:06 pm · Reply

    I have worked on this code off and on for the past 30yr’s. And feel confident now that i have solved this coding puzzle. It will take some time to explain the deciphering, but it is all logic, and after you know the way Beale hid his numbering in the tin box. All will then become clear.

    If interested, i will give you my coding of these sheets 1 and 3.

    I do need to understand where you fit into the picture and why you would be the one that i should give this information too. Bye for now Arvid Jr. Backman

      • Arvid jr. Backman
        May 27, 2013 - 5:22 pm · Reply

        It’s on forest service land. And is now underwater via a dam placed in the 50’s. I was unable to get a clam on this spot from the forest service. (after many try’s via email, I’m sure the government figured that they are just getting crack pot email’s) And because i live in the state of Washington, it would be very expensive trip (WITH ME LIVING ON S.S ONLY) for me to try and verify that my decoding is actually correct. And that’s why i don’t just go and dig it up. But would, sure love to verify that spot.

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