At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
Everyone loves the idea of buried treasure. The sense of adventure, mystery, deciphering secret codes, and unearthing vast wealth appeals to the inner child in all of us. One of the most unusual and enduring legends about buried treasure suggests that Bedford County, Virginia, could be the unlikely location of an immensely valuable fortune.
In the middle of the 19th century, a man named Thomas Beale is said to have composed three ciphertexts allegedly describing the location of a buried treasure trove, the content of that treasure, and the owners and their family members. These ciphers were printed in an 1885 pamphlet called The Beale Papers, and have fascinated treasure hunters for over a hundred years. If the treasure actually exists, it could be worth over $40 million USD today.
As the story goes, Thomas Beale supposedly came across the treasure in a mine in New Mexico while traveling with a group of men from Virginia. Beale was in charge of transporting the treasure back to Virginia, where he encrypted three messages regarding it. Placing these ciphers into a box, he eventually entrusted their care to an innkeeper in Lynchburg, Virginia named Robert Morriss. It was 23 years later that Morriss opened that box, and a friend was able to decipher the second code, describing the content of the treasure, by using a specific edition of the Declaration of Independence. When the other two codes could not be deciphered, they were made public in The Beale Papers pamphlet.
The question of whether these ciphertexts are authentic or whether they are hoaxes has been debated by many researchers over the years. Countless individuals have tried to break the remaining codes, but no one has been successful, not even the most skilled cryptographers. After more than a century, the codes still fascinate people, and amateur treasure hunters still head for Virginia in hopes of striking gold.
Searching for buried treasure:
- The Magna Carta, the Bible, the Virginia Royal Charter, and various other historical texts have all been used in an attempt to decipher The Beale Papers.
- Because of his profound interest in cryptography, there was suspicion that Edgar Allan Poe was the actual author of The Beale Papers, but this has been debunked. Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849, well before The Beale Papers were published.
- In 2015, Josh Gates went to Bedford, Virginia for an episode of Expedition Unknown, where he investigated the Beale Ciphers and searched for the treasure.