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Beale Treasure Story: a Bedford County, Virginia, treasure

The Beale Papers 

The Beale Treasure Story is described in a 23-page pamphlet published by James B. Ward, Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1885. The pamphlet is 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," Lynchburg: Virginian Book and Job Print, 1885.

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The Beale Ciphers

The Beale Papers pamphlet describes three encoded messages (codes, ciphers or cyphers). One of the ciphers specifies the location of a buried treasure of gold and silver estimated to be worth more than $30 million dollars. The other two codes allegedly describe the contents of the treasure, and a list of names of the treasures' owners and their next of kin who were to receive the treasure in case of accident. The code describing the contents of the treasure was decoded using the Declaration of Independence. This was accomplished by consecutively numbering the words in the Declaration of Independence. Each number in the code was then replaced by the first letter of the corresponding numbered word in the Declaration of Independence.

Decoding the Beale Ciphers

There is a chance that all three of the Beale ciphers were enciphered using keytexts taken from the same key book.  If so, then a pre-1823 book printing the text of the Declaration of Independence could contain the keytexts needed to decipher the remaining two Beale ciphers. The (just published ) book: Declaration of Independence — A Checklist of Books, Pamphlets, and Periodicals, Printing the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776-1825, may provide the missing piece to the puzzle.
A free PDF copy of the checklist can be downloaded from the Home Page. You can read more about the checklist, as well. You can also purchase a hardbound copy of the checklist at a most reasonable price. See the Home Page for additional details and offerings. 

The Beale Treasure Story

In early 1817, one Thomas J. Beale raised a company of 30 men for the purpose of visiting the great Western plains to hunt buffalo and other game. Having been chosen leader of the group, Thomas Beale and company left St. Louis on May 19th, 1817, the objective point being Santa Fe, which they intended to reach by that fall, and establish winter quarters. Early in March the following year, some of the party took a short excursion to examine the cocuntry around them. When they left Ssanta Fe, they pursued a northerly course for some days, finding an abundance of game. They then followed an immense herd of buffalo northward for two weeks, securing many and stampeding the rest. One day, while following them, the party encamped in a small ravine, some 250 to300 miles north of Santa Fe. One of the men discovered in a cleft of rocks something that appeared to be gold. Upon showing it to the others, it was pronounced to be gold. Messengers were sent to inform their leader, Thomas Beale, and request additional supplies. The mine was worked for eighteen months or more, and a great deal of gold was accumulated, as well as silver, which had likewise been found. In the summer of 1819, it was decided to send the gold and silver to Virginia under Beale's charge, and securely bury it in a cave near Buford's tavern, in Bedford County, which all of the party had visited. The entire party accompanied Beale for the first 500 miles, whereupon all but 10 returned to the mine, the latter remaining with Beale until the end of the journey. But, when stopping at Buford's tavern, it was discovered that the cave was too frequently visited by the neighboring farmers, who used it to store their vegetables. Thus, a better place was selected, and the treasure safely transferred to it.

Before leaving his companions on the plains, it was suggested that, in case of accident to the party, the treasure would be lost to the rightful heirs unless some step was taken to present this. Thomas Beale was instructed to select some person who could be confided in to carry out the wishes of the party in this regard. Subsequently Beale took up winter quarters at the house of Mr. Robert Morriss, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert Morriss was the trusted person that Thomas J. Beale selected to be his confidential agent. Thomas Beale returned to the mine in the spring of 1820. Upon his return, he found the work still progressing favorably. By the fall of 1821, Beale was ready to return with an increased supply of gold and silver, which came through safely together with $13,000 in jewels purchased in St. Louis with silver to same transportation, and was deposited with the other in the same Virginia treasure site. Before returning to the mine in 1822, Thomas Beale prepared three encoded messages or papers (known as the three Beale codes or three Beale ciphers) and two letters explaining his enterprise, which he placed in a locked box. The locked box was left in the charge of Robert Morriss of Lynchburg, Virginia.

The three papers (known as the Beale ciphers or Beale codes) contain the following information:

  • Paper number one (Beale cipher no. 1 or Beale code no. 1) provides directions to the Beale treasure site.
  • Paper number two (Beale cipher no. 2 or Beale code no. 2) describes the contents of the Beale treasure.
  • Paper number three (Beale cipher no. 3 or Beale code no. 3) gives the names in the Thomas J. Beale party, and the names and addresses of the heirs, who were to receive respective shares of the Beale treasure should Thomas J. Beale or an authorized person never return too claim the locked box.

A key and directions for decoding the three Beale codes, or Beale ciphers, was left by Thomas Beale with a trusted person in St. Louis. The key and decoding directions were to be mailed to Robert Morriss after a period of ten years. But, the key and directions were never received by Robert Morriss, and Thomas J. Beale never returned to claim the locked box. Robert Morriss eventually opened the locked box, but was unable to decipher the three Beale codes, or Beale ciphers. In 1862, Robert Morriss turned the papers over to a trusted friend (name unknown, but some speculate that it was James B. Ward, agent, who published The Beale Papers, in 1885), who was eventually able to decipher Beale cipher no. 2. This was accomplished by consecutively numbering the words in the Declaration of Independence and substituting the first letter of each word for the corresponding number in Beale cipher no. 2. However, the key to Beale cipher no. 2 was not the key to Beale ciphers no. 1 or no. 3. To this date, all attempts to decipher the remaining two Beale codes have met with failure.

 Thomas Beale, Thomas J. Beale, Thomas Jefferson Beale

Thomas J. Beale is often erronously called Thomas Jefferson Beale. The name Thomas Jefferson Beale appears to have been concocted by the Hart brothers, George L. Hart and borther Clayton I. Hart, of Roanoke, Virginia. For many years, the Hart brothers avidly investigated and searched for the Beale treasure. in 1952, George L. Hart published an altered version of The Beale Papers pamphlet published by James B. Ward, in 1885. It bears the same title as the 1885 pamphlet, but has many changes in the wording of the text and has significant changes to the code numbers in Beale cipher no. 2. Most noteworthy, the name Thomas J. Beale was changed to Thomas Jefferson Beale, apparently to make it appear to the reader that there was some rationale, beyond mere hit-and-miss, for selecting the Declaration of Independence as a trial candidate to decipher Beale cipher no. 2. Many numbers in Beale cipher no. 2 were changed and a different copy of the Declaration of Independence was included in order to eliminate the many apparent errors in the decipherment of no. 2 using the copy of the Declaration of Independence given in The Beale Papers pamphlet published by James B. Ward. The Hart version of The Beale Papers is profiled in the book "Gold in the Blue Ridge, the true story of the Beale Treasure," P. B. Innis & W. D. Innis, 1973.

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