What Happened to the Beale Party and Their Treasure?
A nagging question that troubles readers of the Beale treasure story is "What
happened to the Beale Party and their treasure?" Is the treasure still safe and sound in a vault somewhere in Bedford
County, or was it removed long ago?
Three possible answers have been offered by Beale investigators. Each has associated difficulties.
The three explanations or scenarios are these:
Scenario 1: The entire Beale Party perished, most likely at the hands
of Indians, without recovering the treasure. There is a good chance that the treasure is still intact and resting in the original
Besides the unlucky event that the entire Beale Party perished, I see three difficulties with this scenario. It means
that Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. could not be TJB, as Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. (best candidate for being TJB) was
alive in 1835 and 1836. His name is listed in the Fauquier Co. Personal Property Tax records for those years. Neither does
it offer an explanation for the apparent and remarkable coincidence that Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. had a first cousin,
William C. Beale, who later owned the Franklin Gold Mine located in southern Fauquier County. (More is said about the Franklin
Gold Mine below.) Moreover, if the Beale Party had not returned, the key to Beale's ciphers should have been delivered to
Mr. Morriss in 1832. But, according to Mr. Morriss, the key was never received.
Scenario 2: After abandoning
their mine, the Beale Party returned and divided the treasure.
Beale reclaimed the key left with a friend in St. Louis, thus explaining
why Mr. Morriss never received it. The treasure was divided 30 ways. Mr. Morriss did not receive a share of the treasure,
as he had not been called upon to recover and distribute the treasure to the designated heirs. Nor was there a need for Beale
to visit Lynchburg to reclaim the locked box left in Mr. Morriss charge, although this is not entirely in keeping with Beale's
perceived character. In any case, without the key to the ciphers, there was no way for Mr. Morriss to decode and read the
ciphers in the locked box.
The scenario does have two positive features. Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. is not precluded
from being our TJB. Moreover, if the two men were one and the same, then a connection may have existed between Thomas and
his cousin William C. that would explain William C.'s acquisition of gold prospecting and mining rights in Fauquier and Stafford
counties and his subsequent purchase of the Franklin Gold Mine, located in the southeastern tip of Fauquier County.
If Thomas told his
cousin about their gold and silver mine in or near the high Rockies and had described the amounts of metal that had been mined
and brought back to Virginia, this could have given cousin William C. an idea that he too might "strike it rich"
by acquiring a gold mine. As it happened, William C. lived in the town of Falmouth, not far from the area in Fauquier and
Stafford counties where vast amounts of gold were subsequently discovered and mined. He was also a successful merchant, with
several important business connections. Hence, when gold was discovered nearby, William may have viewed this as his opportunity
to prosper just as his cousin Thomas had prospered.
However, there is a serious problem with this scenario. As far as is known, no member of the
Beale Party has ever came forward to announce their discovery of gold and silver made in 1818 somewhere in present-day
Colorado. And, as far as is known, except for Ward's pamphlet, no account of the Beale Party's adventure has ever been documented
If the Beale Party had returned intact with a third and final load of metal in 1823 or 1824, as Beale had intimated
in his letter to Mr. Morriss of May 9th, 1822, one would expect its members to eventually announce their good fortune.
After all, what did they have to hide? Was there a fear that the U.S. government or the Mexican government might attempt to
confiscate their treasure? After all, the gold and silver had been taken from government land. But, as far as I know, that
argument was not applied at the time gold was discovered in the same location more than three decades later. Did some of the
members hold a thought of possibly returning to the mine some day? Surely, there would have been great pressure to "tell
all" to a captive audience eager to read or hear about the Beale Party's adventures, and their discovery of gold and
silver. Theirs was not a fabricated story, as their claim could be easily proven by showing a few handfuls of the metal. Their
announcement would have started a rush of gold seekers to the Rockies years before it actually happened. The Beale Party would
have achieved fame, as well as fortune. And, accounts of thier adventures would have been documented in records and publications
long afterwards. But none of this happened, and for this reason it seems unlikely that the Beale Party returned and divided
their treasure. Some might even say "This sounds like evidence arguing that the treasure story is untrue." But events
didn't necessarily have to unfold this way.
Scenario 3: After abandoning their mine, and upon reaching Virginia
on their final trip home, the Beale Party discovered that their treasure had been looted.
As there was no intention to return to the mine, when
Beale reached St. Louis on the trip home to Virginia, he reclaimed the key left with a friend, which explains
why Mr. Morriss never received it. Nor was there a need for Beale to visit Lynchburg to reclaim the locked box left in Mr.
Morriss' charge, as without the key Mr. Morriss could not decode and read the ciphers in the locked box. There was no
treasure to be had anyway.
Scenario 3 has two positive features, which are the same as scenario 2 (see also the explanation under scenario 2).
Scenario 3 does not preclude Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. from being our TJB. Moreover, if the two men were one and the
same, then (like scenario 2) a connection may have existed between Thomas and his cousin William C. that would explain
William C's acquisition of gold prospecting and mining rights in Fauquier and Stafford counties and his subsequent purchase
of the Franklin Gold Mine, located in the southeastern tip of Fauquier County.
But scenario 3 has two problems. It does
not explain how the likely thief or thieves, who unlike Beale would be satisfied to dispose of the gold and silver
ore in a discreet and measured way, could accomplish this without being found out. In all likelihood, the thief
would reside in the valley or surrounding area, in the vicinity of Buford's, or at least in Bedford Co. He might be a local
farmer who noticed something, which seemed suspicious, at the time Beale and his men visited the vault. But, it is unlikely
that he would be an experienced professional with seasoned connections for disposing of stolen metal. Thus, if he tried to
exchange the gold for specie or some other commodity, the question would eventually be asked "Where
did the gold come from?" One might get away with this for a time, but sooner or later the sheer amount of exchanged gold
would grow, and no phony explanation would suffice. The truth would eventually come out. Likewise, I have never seen or heard
of a case of an unusually large and suspicious amount of gold being traded or spent by anyone living in Bedford County, or
Virginia, or anywhere for that matter. For this reason alone, I doubt that Beale's treasure was looted.
But, on their final return
to Virginia, the Beale party transported their last shipment of metal. That metal would have arrived intact. Thus, while most
of the treasure was lost, part of the treasure was not lost. The amount of gold that survived could be a much as 2,000 pounds,
which was enough to reward each member with as much as $16,800 dollars (figuring that the gold was 750 fine and worth
$21 dollars per ounce)—still a handsome prize despite the fact that most of the treasure had been lost. But no member
of the Beale party announced their good fortune. As far as is known, no member provided details of their western adventure
or their discovery and mining of gold and silver. Even with a loss of most of the treasure, members of the Beale Party could
still have had both fame and fortune.
Ranking the Three Scenarios
The three scenarios can be ranked based on the
unlikely events associated with them.
With scenario 1, the entire Beale Party perished, most likely at the hands of Indians. Plus
there are three additional identified difficulties.
With scenario 2, the Beale Party returned and divided the treasure. However, there is a serious
objection. No member of Beale's party came forward with details of their discovery of gold and silver, to seek fame as well
as fortune. As far as I can determine, there was no compelling reason for keeping the discovery secret.
With scenario 3, the Beale
Party returned only to find that their vault had been looted. However, there are two serious objections. First, it would have
been difficult, perhaps impossible for the likely thief (probably a farmer or person living near Buford's) to remove such
a large quantity of gold and silver without being detected, or to dispose of it without being discovered. We are not talking
about a large group of thieves, but more likely one man. We are not taking about ounces of metal, but rather tons of metal.
Second, no member of Beale's party came forward with details about their discovery of gold and silver. As far as I can determine,
there was no compelling reason for keeping the discovery secret.
Of the three scenarios, scenario 1 is the most likely to have occurred.
Scenario 1 has two unlikely events associated with it, and two additional detractors, but no "show stopper." But
scenario 2 has one improbable event associated with it and scenario 3 has two improbable events associated with it. In
my opinion, the improbable events are "show stoppers." The unlikely events associated with scenario 1 are just that—they
are unlikely. But they are not "show stoppers."
But, keep in mind, scenarios one through three do not exhaust
all possibilities. Other scenarios are possible. One that seems promising is scenario 4. It requires certain
necessary side conditions that could be viewed as detractors, but no "show stoppers"—judge for yourself.
Brief Explanation of Scenario Four
4: A majority of the Beale Party perished at the hands of Indians during the Beale Party's final journey from the
mine to St. Louis. Most or all of the final shipment of metal was lost (I shall assume all the metal was lost). However,
Beale and a few of his men, probably his closest friends or associates, managed to escape.
Beale reclaimed the key
left with a friend in St. Louis, thus explaining why Mr. Morriss never received it. Mr. Morriss would not receive a share
of the treasure, as he had not been called upon to recover and distribute the treasure to the designated heirs whose names
were given in Paper No. 3. There was no need to visit Lynchburg and reclaim the locked box left in Mr. Morriss' charge, as
the ciphers could not be decoded and read without the key.
The surviving members of the Beale Party divided the treasure per the
terms of an agreement made and signed by each member admitted to the party at the time the party was organized. The heirs
of the deceased members would not receive shares. Though comfortable in taking this action, Beale and his men feared
that one or more of the heirs, upon learning about the fabulous treasure of gold and silver accumulated by the Beale
Party, might sue to recover their perceived rightful share of the treasure. To defend against this threat, Beale and his men
decided that it would be wisest to say nothing about the treasure, and to dispose of it in a careful and measured way, possibly
over a period of several years, thus ensuring that knowledge of the treasure remained a secret. After all, there was a lot
of money at stake.
Under scenario 4, it is assumed that Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. and TJB of the treasure story were one and the
same man. And, it is assumed that Thomas sought his cousin's (William C. Beale's) help in disposing of their gold. Records
show that William C. engaged in the gold mining business in Fauquier and Stafford counties and eventually purchased the Franklin
Gold Mine in Fauquier Co. Thus, it is possible that William C.'s entry into the gold mining business was not wholly circumstantial.
Rather it could have been undertaken, at least in part, in response to cousin Thomas' request for help, by providing a "cover"
to permit the Beale Party's gold to be refined and exchanged for specie or paper money, or the equivalent, without
drawing undue attention. In return, William C would have been handsomely paid for this service. In fact, he may have
been made a partner.
Scenario 4 has several positive features. It explains why Beale's key was never delivered to Mr. Morriss, and why
there was no need for Beale to reclaim the locked box left in Mr. Morriss charge. It explains why the surviving members of
the Beale Party decided to keep their discovery of gold and silver a secret. It provides a possible explanation for William
C. Beale's entry into the Virginia gold mining business in Stafford and Fauquier counties, why he acquired
the Franklin Gold Mine in Fauquier Co., and why this could have been part of a much grander plan developed by TJB to dispose
of their gold.
Scenario 4 requires acceptance of three conditions, which could be viewed as detractors.
One must accept that the Beale Party was attacked by Indians on their final return trip to Virginia and that only Beale
and a few members of the party survived (probably Beale's closest friends and associates). One must accept that Thomas
J. Beale of Fauquier Co. and TJB are one and the same man. And, one must accept that the surviving members
of the Beale Party divided the treasure among themselves.
Scenario Four in Greater Detail
Beale tells us that in the early spring of 1817,
he and several friends determined to visit the great western plains to hunt buffalo, grizzly bears, and other game. On account
of Indians and other dangers, they "determined to raise a party of not less than thirty individuals, of good character
and standing, who would be pleasant companions, and financially able to encounter the expense" (Beale Papers,
pp. 13-14). Before being admitted to the party, each man was required to sign a set of "conditions" (Beale Papers,
The "conditions" very likely required each man to provide a horse and saddle, arms, and enough powder and
shot to last two years—the anticipated period of their absence. Each man was probably required to procure an outfit
consisting of a blanket, a knife, and other ancillary items. It is presumed that Beale also anticipated that the party
would encounter certain additional expenses, such as procurement of a guide and a few servants, and perhaps other supplemental articles.
These expenses would be shared by all members of the party. And, if any profit should result from their enterprise, said
profit would be used first to reimburse each member a share equivalent to or proportional to the amount of
money he had contributed to the enterprise. Any additional profit would be divided equally by the then existing
members of the party.
At the time the "conditions" were drafted and signed, Beale anticipated that
the party might, and probably would return with skins or furs obtained by hunting or barter, and thus the party would realize a
profit. The conditions for dividing the profit were based on this single expectation. And because
of inherent dangers, Beale knew that not every member would necessarily survive. There was no hint that the Beale
Party would eventually accumulate a vast fortune in gold, silver and jewels.
Thus, the set of "conditions" likely contained statements
saying something like this:
If at the end of the expedition the Party has made a profit, each man signing these conditions shall be reimbursed
an amount equal to the amount he contributed to the enterprise, or if insufficient, then an amount proportional
to the amount contributed. If there be any remaining profit, then it shall be divided equally by the members of the
also tells us that after arriving at the location of the gold discovery "an agreement was entered into to work in common
as joint partners" (Beale Papers, p. 15). Each man was entitled to an equal share. Note that the second agreement
would not necessarily change the first agreement, which had been signed by all members of the party. And, if the first agreement
had indeed contained a clause stating that any extra profit be divided by the then existing members of the party, then said
division of the gold, silver and jewels would have been made in accordance with this stated condition, by and among the surviving
members of the Beale Party (Beale and a few of his friends or associates). Thus, the heirs of the deceased members of
the Beale Party would not receive a share of the treasure.
But if the signed set of conditions contained no clause defining how said profit should be
divided, the survivors could have agreed unilaterally to divide and share the treasure themselves. They might ask themselves
"Would our compatriots do differently, if things had been reversed?" After all, it was those in the Party who
had suffered hardships extending over a period of several years, mined the metal, transported it, buried it, and suffered
the constant threat of attack by hostile Indians. The heirs of the missing members had contributed little or nothing. Thus,
it is easy to see how the surviving members may have justified a decision to claim the treasure for themselves.
However, Beale and his men were probably
justified in fearing that the relatives of the deceased members might bring suit against them, to claim their perceived
rightful share of the treasure. And, regardless of the fact that Beale may have had a signed set of "conditions"
specifying that the treasure was to be divided by the "members of the Party," i.e., the surviving members,
such a signed set of "conditions" might not be upheld by a court of law. There may have been a good chance,
possibly a very good chance that most of the treasure would have been confiscated by the court. There was a
lot of money at stake. And, this could have pressured and caused the surviving members to keep a low profile
and keep any knowledge of their treasure secret.
It is supposed that Beale and ten of his men made a third deposit of metal in the fall
of 1823. For our purpose, it is assumed that the amount of gold deposited was 2,000 pounds (about equal to the 1,912 pounds
deposited in 1821). Recall that in the fall of 1821, Beale exchanged roughly three tons of silver ore for jewels worth
$13,000 dollars. In order for that transaction to have been made, it would have been necessary for Beale to have the silver
ore assayed. Hence, he learned that the silver ore was low grade, and that the value of the silver ore was only a fraction
of the value of the gold. Hence, the Beale Party may have discontinued their mining of silver ore. Of course, by the time
Beale returned to the mine in the summer of 1822, an amount of silver ore had already been accumulated, which I shall
assume amounted to 3,000 pounds, and from that point onward the mining of silver ore was discontinued. Thus, the amount of
silver ore deposited in the fall of 1823 was 3,000 pounds.
In Beale's letter of May 9th, 1822, to Mr. Morriss, Beale said that his key, which was left
with a friend in St. Louis, had been endorsed "not to be delivered until June, 1832" (Beale Papers, p.
11). Some readers of Ward's pamphlet are puzzled as to why Beale would wait ten years to have the key to his ciphers
delivered to Mr. Morriss, as this seems like an unusually long time. But, this can be turned around to say: If Beale specified
a waiting period of ten years, there must have been a reason for doing so. It is pretty clear, if one thinks on it, that
the waiting period was selected because Beale knew, or had a strong feeling that the men in the party wanted to continue the
mining operation. They were not ready to abandon a gold mine that was producing a fortune for them, and would have been disappointed
if the waiting period caused the mining operation to be ended prematurely.
Beale and his
men returned to the mine in the summer of 1824. But, as the mining of silver ore had been discontinued, a greater amount
of gold could be carried on their final trip home. Thus, it was decided to concentrate their efforts on the mining of
gold and postpone the return trip to Virginia from the fall of 1825 to the spring or summer of 1826, at which time mining
operations would cease and the entire party would accompany Beale back to Virginia. The desired quantity of gold had
been obtained or most of the gold that could be mined had been mined or a combination of both.
But once leaving
the mine and entering upon the open plains, they were attacked by a band of Indians, who killed most of the Party
and ran off their pack animals, resulting in the loss of most or all of their gold. Beale and four of his associates
managed to escape. However, whether it was Beale and three, four, five or six associates who escaped doesn't matter.
The point is that most of the members in the party were killed.
Beale and the four others were unsure whether any others in
the Party managed to escape. Once at a safe distance, they waited a day or two, but failed to reconnect with any of the
missing men. Upon reaching St. Louis, Beale determined to remain there in hopes that some of the missing men would eventually make
an appearance. The five surviving men posted letters to their relatives informing them of the misfortune and assuring
them that they were safe and sound. They also conveyed their intention to remain at St. Louis for the winter—hoping
that some word of the missing men would be received. But no such word was received. Beale and his men waited until
the spring of 1827 before posting letters to the relatives of those missing, informing them of the terrible misfortune
that had befallen them and that altogether 25 of their Party was presumed dead. Thereupon, Beale and his men returned
to Virginia, arriving there a couple of months later.
During their layover at St. Louis, and on the trail back to Virginia, Beale worked out a plan
for disposing of their treasure. There was no possible way for the five surviving members to assemble at the vault in Bedford
County, open it and divide the treasure, with each man riding off with a 1/5 share of the metal. Adding together the amounts
of gold and silver deposited in 1819, 1821, and 1823, the vault would have contained 4,912 pounds of gold and 8,100 pounds
of silver ore. Thus, each man would receive 982 pounds of gold and 1,620 pounds of silver ore. Based on the trade of
approximately three tons of silver ore for jewels worth $13,000 dollars made at St. Louis in the fall of 1821, the estimated
value of the 8,100 pounds of silver ore in the vault would have been valued at $17,333 dollars.
The gold mined
by the Beale Party was likely placer gold. Gold is almost always alloyed with a certain amount of silver. Fineness
is based on a scale of 0 to 1,000. 24 karat or pure gold is said to be 1000 fine. While there is no way to know exactly
what the fineness of Beale's gold was, it is posible to make an objective estimate. Consider the following: Take a large gold
nugget that has just be liberated from its host rock source. At this point the nugget is probably 80% gold and 20% silver,
i.e., 800 fine. But the same nugget subject to thousands of years of additional weathering might eventually become 820 fine,
and after much further weathering 850 fine. Pieces that break off the nugget and weathered still further might become
875 fine. Finally, after thousands of additional years of weathering, the small pieces or particles of gold might become 930
Beale Party's gold was probably better then 800 fine. But for sake of argument, it is assumed here that Beale's placer gold
was 750 fine, i.e., 75% gold and 25% some other alloy (most likely silver). In 1828, gold was worth almost $21 dollars per
ounce—see Southern Gold at http://cvgp.net/_files/History/SouthernGold_200612.pdf Thus, the estimated value of the 4,912 pounds of placer gold
is calculated to be $1,237,824 dollars, with each man's share of the refined or pure gold at $247,564 dollars and each man's
share of the silver ore at $3,466 dollars and each man's share of the jewels at $2,600 dollars, less the expense of transporting
the ore, refining the ore, and disposing of the refined metals.
A Plan for Disposing of the Treasure
The plan for dividing and disposing of the treasure is one that I developed by putting myself
in Beale's "shoes." One thing is for sure, the plan would be as intricate and well-thought-out
as his plan was for ensuring that the treasure would be divided and distributed to the heirs identified in Paper
No. 3, in the event that the entire Party met with some misfortune that resulted in the death of all members.
Beale was a methodical man; that we can be sure of. His plan for disposing of the gold, silver,
and jewels would be measured, one that might take several years to conclude, and one that would
be certain to protect the secrecy and integrity of their accumulated wealth.
Part of Beale's plan involved convincing the other members that hurrying things, or attempting to dispose
of the ore in one fell swoop, was entirely the wrong approach. Beale would argue that the task was not
to dispose of the metal hurriedly so that each man could get on with his life, but rather to dispose of it
in a methodical way, refining as much of the metal as could safely be done without drawing undue attention, and
converting the refined metal into specie, or paper money, or the like, while keeping the remaining metal safe
and sound until being removed from the vault. Beale argued that each man's portion of the accumulated wealth (1/5 of
the treasure) was potentially so large that it now defined each man's life; it now was their life.
The plan required agreement by all members. But because the remaining Beale Party consisted of just a few members,
an agreement of this sort could be reached. In a group of 30 men, such an agreement could probably never be reached.
The jewels and silver ore, worth much less than the gold, could be more easily disposed of
without drawing undue attention than could the gold. The jewels would be disposed of first. That would provide each man
with enough money to pay personal expenses and enough money to fund the enterprise. Thus, Beale and his men visited the vault
in the fall of 1827 and removed the jewels. In the spring of 1828, Beale in company with one or two of the party journeyed
to New York City (NYC), where there was the greatest opportunity to sell the jewels at a good price. It is supposed that
after a thorough survey of the market, and after sufficient negotiation, a satisfactory deal was struck for the sale of the
jewels. However, because of the great value of the jewels, Beale may have found it necessary to strike separate deals with
several jewelers or silversmiths in NYC. In fact, he may have found it necessary to visit Philadelphia or Baltimore, which
were also cities of considerable size along the route from Virginia to NYC.
purpose for contacting a number of different jewelers and silversmiths was to determine where their silver ore could
be refined, and the identity of parties that would be interested in purchasing the refined silver. That objective was also
accomplished. Beale obtained the names and addresses of firms located between Baltimore and NYC that could refine their
silver ore. Beale visited one or more of these firms during the course of his trip. He made arrangements to transport a shipment
of silver ore to one of these firms sometime in the spring of 1829. He may also have made tentative arrangements to transport
subsequent shipments of ore to one or more of the firms. Beale's idea was to spread the shipments out over a number of
years to avoid undue notice of their activity. The sale of the jewels would give each man an estimated $2,600 dollars—more
than enough to provide each man with a comfortable income and pay their share of the business expenses to recover and
refine their silver and gold.
Upon returning to Virginia, Beale may have
considered visiting the heirs of the deceased men. Each family could be reassured that all had been done that
could be reasonably expected to locate the missing men, and that by this time each man must be presumed to be dead.
Also, Beale could have said that he had an agent in St. Louis who would instantly write to him if
they received any word of the missing men, and that such information would be communicated at once to each family. However,
a face-to-face meeting with relatives could have been seen as unwise, as the remaining Beale Party had no intention
to share the treasure with the heirs of the deceased members. Communication with relatives of the deceased members was probably
handled via posted letters.
In the spring of 1829, Beale and his men again visited the vault and removed roughly 2,000 pounds of silver ore. Each man was responsible
for transporting 400 pounds of ore, using work horses or pack animals. Or, the men could work together and transport part
or all of the ore using carts or wagons. This ore was carried to the refinery. Afterwards, the pure silver was taken
to a number of silversmiths along the corridor stretching from Baltimore to NYC and traded for coin or paper money, which
upon their return to Virginia was deposited in a bank (probably the Farmer's Bank of Virginia). Arrangements were also made
for a subsequent shipment the following year, perhaps with a different firm. People at the refinery would naturally be
curious about the source of the silver ore. But perhaps it was not all that uncommon for clients to be a bit secretive
about the source of their ore, and so this would likely not have drawn attention to things.
The remaining Beale Party, made subsequent visits to the vault in 1830, 1831, and 1832, thus
removing ore each year until the ore was exhausted, each time removing roughly 2,000 pounds of ore, transporting
it to a refinery where it was processed, and then selling the refined silver to a number of different silversmiths contacted
previously and who had expressed an interest in purchasing silver. Each year each man received about $700 dollars
from the sale of the refined silver—not bad for a spring and summer's work.
"Gold was discovered in Virginia in 1831, and was confined for a considerable period to surface mining, corresponding
to the placer mining of California, and the gulch mining of Colorado (See Thomas Pollard "The Gold Belt of Virginia"
reprinted in Alfred G. Lock's, Gold: Its Occurrence and Extraction, London, 1882, p. 187)." The Beale Party's
gold would certainly fit that description. According to Pollard, "The Great Gold Belt of Virginia extends from Fairfax
County, on the north, to Halifax County on the south, a distance of about 200 miles in length by 15 to 25 miles in width,"
and includes both Fauquier and Stafford counties, Virginia.
activity in Fauquier and Stafford counties, must have taken off quickly once gold had been discovered. In 1834, a brief
article on "The Gold Mines of Virginia" contained a statement saying that "of the mines in the [Virginia]
gold region, several deserve to be held in estimation." Those highlighted included the United States Gold Mining
Company, the Mill Bank Mining Company, the Rattlesnake Mine in Stafford Co., the Rappahannock Mining Company in Stafford Co.,
and the Union Gold Mining Company in Fauquier County (The Farmers' Register, Shellbanks, Va., 1834, p. 503). A later
source says that the Rappahannock gold mines are in Stafford Co. ten miles from the town of Falmouth (James Dwight Dana, A
System fo Mineralogy, New Haven, 1837, p. 390). Another source says that "The famous Rappahannock gold mine...is
situated about nine miles above Fredericksburg, in Stafford County" (H. S. Tanner, A Geographical, Historical and
Statistical View of the Central or Middle United States, Philadelphia, 1841, p. 382). These mines were all relatively
close to the Town of Falmouth in Stafford County.
It is remarkable just
how many gold mining companies were incorporated in the state of Virginia. I have wondered if the remaining Beale Party may
have gotten into the Virginia gold mining business. After all, they had plenty of experience. But, we don't
know the names of TJB's associates, and so it would take a major effort to either confirm or rule out this possibility.
I can say that the name Thomas Beale does not appear anywhere in the Acts of the General Assembly of the state of Virginia
with respect to the incorporation of gold mining companies. But an act incorporating a company allows for other
persons, whose names are not listed in the act itself, to later become partners in the company. Thus, an incorporated
company could have a silent partner. Perhaps, TJB's name was too widely known by the relatives of the members of the Beale
company. Thus, it would be difficult for researchers to connect TJB to one of these incorporated companies.
Likewise, it would have been equally difficult for those who may possibly wish to bring suit against TJB, or against
the Beale Party, to track and locate TJB.
In 1834, by act of
the Virginia General Assembly 13 different mining companies were incorporated for the purpose of mining in various specified
counties in Virginia. Fauquier and Stafford counties were generally included in each list of counties. Whereas the acts themselves
do not specify that the intended purpose was mining for gold, this was indeed the intended purpose.
In 1835 and 1836, 13 additional companies were incorporated, declaring their purpose to be "mining" in select Virginia
counties. Again, mining was actually gold mining. In 1836 and 1837, 31 additional mining companies were incorporated, this
time specifying their intended purpose to be mining for gold in select counties in Virginia. Many of these incorporated companies
were composed of Falmouth and/or Fredericksburg business men, sometimes in combination with the land owners.
Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier County
Based on my own research, I found 22 different Thomas Beales who lived in Virginia, at least
for a time, who could be called Virginians, and who might possibly be our TJB. But further investigation showed that most
of these men could be eliminated, for one reason or the other, although a certain few coud not. The most promising candidate
was Thomas J. Beale, born in Fauquier County, Virginia, circa 1790–1800. He was the only Thomas Beale with a middle
initial "J," and he signed his name using his middle initial, just like TJB. Not only that, he fits the storyline,
as genealogical records show that he "went to Missouri." Yet, no evidence has so far been found to absolutely link
Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier County to the treasure story.
On a discouraging
note, only a few Virginia records could be found that mention Thomas J. Beale. His name does not appear in any Virginia census
record. Nor does his name appear in the Fauquier County Personal Property Tax Records, except for the years 1835 and 1836,
following the death of his father, Richard E. Beale of Fauquier County. His name does appear in a few deed and court records
connected with the settlement of his deceased father's estate, but there is no deed that shows he purchased land in Virginia.
Yet, Thomas must have lived in Fauquier County or nearby, at least for a time, as the Militia Records for Fauquier County
show that he served in the War of 1812. His service was for a period of about one and a half months, during the fall of 1814
in a company raised in Fauquier County commanded by Edward Digges, Jr. Diggs was also a resident of Fauquier County.
The absence of Virginia records for Thomas would seem to indicate the following: He was living
with a relative or friend, or in a boarding house, or possibly outside the state of Virginia, which would explain why his
name cannot be found in the Virginia Personal Property Tax Records. The tax records list the name of the head of household,
and sometimes the names of white male tithes above the age of 16 living in the household or on the property, but
not always. Sometimes the tax records list only the name of the head of household and the number of white tithes above
the age of 16 living in the household or on the property, but not their names, and
this too was not always the case.
Records show that in 1809, Thomas J. Beale's
brothers, Richard T. and John, were located in Mason County (present-day West Virginia). By 1820, brothers Charles and Edward
had joined them, and the four siblings were living in Kanawha County (also present-day West Virginia). Apparently, Thomas
did not join his brothers, as his name is not found in any of the Virginia records for Mason and Kanawha Counties. Thomas
also had younger half-brothers, James M., William, and Henry, and a younger half-sister Susan W.
Thomas also had an uncle, William Beale, familiarly known as "Buck-Legged Billy," who lived on a large
farm or plantation in Fauquier Co., west of Warrenton. His children were John G., Charles W., William C., Edward, Lucy, Marion
S., James A., and Richard. His son John G. Beale had a son William C. Thus, the brothers William and Richard E. Beale had
sons John, Charles, William, Edward, and Richard, which makes identification difficult.
Also, let me remind you that Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. had a half-brother William, a first cousin William
C. and a first cousin once removed named William C. His half-brother William lived in Fauquier Co. His first cousin William
C. lived in the Town of Falmouth (later in Fredericksburg). Falmouth is on the north bank of the Rappahannock River in Stafford
County. Fredericksburg is adjacent to Falmouth on the south bank of the Rappahannock River in Spotsylvania County. Falmouth
might be loosely termed a suburb of Fredericksburg.
There is an
odd coincidence between Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. and TJB of the Beale treasure story. Each man was either
directly or indirectly associated with a gold mine. The Beale Party led by TJB discovered and mined gold in or near the high
Rockies in present-day Colorado. Later, Thomas J. Beale's first cousin William C. Beale became an investor in the Virginia
gold prospecting and gold mining "community." Eventually, he purchased the Franklin Gold Mine located
in the southeastern corner of Fauquier County, near present-day Goldvein, Va. What a coincidence (or was it).
William C. Beale (Son of William)
Thomas J. Beale's first cousin William C. Beale (1791-1850) was born in Fauquier County. He
moved to the Town of Falmouth, Stafford County, probably around 1815, as he is first listed in the personal property tax records
for Stafford County that year (Stafford County PP Tax Records, Virginia State Library, 1814-1838, Reel 328). The tax records
confirm that he lived in Stafford Co. from 1815 through 1838, and presumably beyond, although the tax records were not searched
beyond 1838. William C. was also listed in the 1820 federal census, in Stafford County, under the name "William C. Beal."
The records confirm that William C. Beale could not have been a member of the Beale Party.
However, one record shows that a Thomas Beale may have been living in or near Fredericksburg, Va. early in 1817.
On March 31, 1817, and then again on April 2, 9, and 12, the postmaster at Fredericksburg, Va. advertised in The Virginia
Herald that a letter was being held at the post office for "Thomas Beal." The dates could fit with the treasure
story. Moreover, this happens to be the only unclaimed letter for a Thomas Beale (Beal or Beall) printed in a Virginia newspaper
during the period in question (1817-1823), at least that I am aware of. Falmouth and Fredericksburg each had post
offices, but as the two towns are so close to each other, someone writing to a Thomas Beale in Falmouth might mistakenly post
the letter to Fredericksburg, or vice versa.
Exactly who this Thomas Beal
was is an open question. One possibility is that the letter wasn't meant for Thomas Beal at all, but rather Thomas Bell. The
sometimes florid handwriting could have caused the name Bell to be confused for the name Beal. As it happens, there was a
Thomas Bell listed in the personal property tax records for Spotsylvania County for the years 1816 and 1817, but in no other
years. Fredericksburg is in Spotsylvania County. It seems unlikely that the personal property tax records themselves are in
error, and that the name Thomas Bell should have been recorded as Thomas Beal. In any case, the 1817 entry for Thomas Bell
was dated May 1, 1817, which rules him out as being a member of the Beale Party.
Another possibility is that the Thomas Beal whose name appeared on the unclaimed letter was TJB of the treasure story,
as the dates fit very well with the Beale Party organization period. And the proximity of Fredericksburg to Fauquier Co. could
also be an indication that TJB and Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co. are one and the same man. Another bit of circumstantial
evidence linking Thomas J. Beale to Fredericksburg is the fact that his first cousin William C. Beale was living in Falmouth
at this time (practically "next door"). Thus, if Thomas Beal lived in or near Fredericksburg at this time, he may
have been living with a relative. But the only Beale listed in the Stafford or Spotsylvania County tax records before, during,
and after this period in time was William C. Beale. There was no other Beale who resided in either of these two counties.
Thus, if Thomas Beal lived with a relative, that relative had to be William C. Beale, in which case Thomas Beal, whose name
was on the letter, would be William C.'s first cousin Thomas J. Beale.
Stafford County personal property tax records admit the possibility that Thomas J. Beale may have been living with his cousin
William C. in 1816 and possibly early 1817. The tax records for 1816 (recorded May 10th) show two white male tithes above
the age of 16 living in William C.'s household or on his property. These white male tithes were not his children, as he married
first Susan Vowles of Fredericksburg circa 1822 and married second Jane Briggs Howison of Fredericksburg, February 20,
In any case, the unclaimed letter for Thomas Beal may indicate that
the Beale Party was organized in the vicinity of Fredericksburg.
be no doubt that William C. was a successful merchant and business man. One indication that he was a wealthy man can be inferred
on the basis of a house he once occupied in Falmouth, known as the Conway House. According to the National Register of
Historic Places, the Conway House was constructed in 1807 for wealthy merchant and mill owner James Vass in the Rappahannock
River port town of Falmouth. William C. Beale, a close friend of Vass and wealthy fellow merchant, next purchased the home
(circa 1834) and lived there with his newlywed second wife Jane Howison for five years. In 1838, Walker Peyton Conway purchased
the property for his family. He was a presiding justice of the Stafford County Court for over thirty years.
Other references establish the fact that William C. was indeed a prominent and respected Falmouth
According to an act enacted by the Maryland General Assembly, William
C. Beale and numerous others were made a corporation and body by the name, style and title of The Baltimore, and Rappahannock
Steam-Packet Company. In an election held August 7, 1829, William C. and 11 others were elected as Directors of the company
by the shareholders (see Laws made and passed by the General Assembly of the state of Maryland, at a session held on the
last Monday of December, 1828, Annapolis, 1819, chapter 42). Bear in mind that at this time William C. was not yet 30
years of age.
According to an act enacted by the Virginia General Assembly
to revive and amend "an act to incorporate a manufacturing company at the falls of the Rappahannock River under the name
and style of the Rappahannock manufacturing company," William C. Beale and two others (Bazil Gordon and Murray
Forbes) were authorized to open the "books of subscription of said company" at Falmouth, in Stafford County (see
Acts passed at a General Assembly by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Richmond, 1833, p.243). The act permitted the
company to "engage in the manufacture of other articles besides those of cotton, wool and flax."
Another source states that William C. Beale and other Falmouth industrialists assumed enormous
debts in order to finance the construction of their mills.
an act incorporating the stockholders of the Rappahannock and Blue Ridge rail-road company, William C. Beale and
13 others, or any majority of them, were authorized to open the books of subscription of said company at Fredericksburg (see
Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed at the session of 1835-36, Richmond, 1836, p. 179).
In October, 1839, William C. and business partner Duff Green are listed as directors of the
Fredericksburg branch of the Farmers Bank (see Journal of the House of Delegates of Virginia. Session 1839-40. Richmond,
1839, Doc. No. 21, pp. 15, 16, 18, 20).
According to an act enacted by the
Virginia General Assembly, William C. Beale and eight other men (Alexander K. Phillips, John E. Tenkett, C. H. Hunt, John
F. Scott, Thomas A. Ball, Franklin Slaughter, Warren Slaughter, and John J. Berry) constituted a "body politic and corporate,
by the name of The Fredericksburg Steamboat Company, for the purpose of conveying freight and passengers between
points on the Rappahannock River, or between points on said river and points on the Chesapeake Bay...." for a period
of 30 years (see Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed at the session commencing December 4, 1848, and ending
March 19, 1849. Richmond, 1849, p. 162).
William C. Beale's Participation in the Virginia Gold
William C. Beale's entry into the gold mining industry
could be just circumstantial—but maybe not, or maybe not entirely.
1831, gold was discovered in Virginia. Thomas may have seen this development as providing a way for their gold to be disposed
of without drawing undue attention to it. It might afford a way to "launder' the gold, by allowing it to be refined
and disposed of without revealing the gold's true source.
TJB, who we assume
was Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier Co., knew that his cousin William C. was a successful business man living in the Town of Falmouth.
Falmouth was near the center of much gold prospecting activity. In 1832, it is presumed that Thomas visited William C.
to seek his help and advice. William C. agreed to help, although I assume he was well paid for this help. Based on his
business connections, William C. was able to provide the names of firms that could be engaged to refine gold—quantities
large enough to be worthwhile but small enough to avoid raising questions or concern. In fact, William C. may have agreed
to act as their agent, i.e., acting on behalf of a client who wished to remain anonymous. There must have been a
certain amount of secrecy associated with the gold prospecting and gold mining activity underway in the Virginia gold belt
at this time. And so, confidential business arrangements should not have been viewed as all that unusual.
Eventually, it must have become clear to both TJB and William C. that the amount of gold (nearly
3,000 pounds at the start) would take several years to "launder." To better position himself to act on their behalf,
William C. incorporated his activity under the framework of a mining company. Thus, by an act enacted by the Virginia
General Assembly, passed December 22, 1835, "William C. Beale and such other persons as may be associated hereafter with
him for the purpose of mining, and separating mineral substances, shall be and are hereby incorporated and made a body politic,
under the name and style of "The Falmouth Mining Company," for the purpose of mining in the counties of
Stafford, Culpeper, Spotsylvania, Fauquier and Prince William (Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed at the
session of 1835-36, Richmond, 1836, pp. 310-311). The clause "and such other persons as may be associated hereafter
with him" was a standard clause that appeared in all acts of this kind. The particular words "separating mineral
substances," although appearing in every act of this kind, would have given William C. a more formal way to act
on the Beale Party's behalf in order to have their gold refined.
of years later, William C. joined with three others to form a second gold mining company. By an act enacted by the Virginia
General Assembly, passed March 24, 1837, "William C. Beale, Duff Green, William Brooke, Thomas Smith, and such other
persons as may be hereafter associated with them, shall be and they are hereby incorporated and made a body politic and corporate,
by the name and style of "The Green Mountain Mining Company," for the purpose of mining for and working
gold and other minerals in the county of Stafford" (Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed at the session
of 1836-37, Richmond, 1837, pp. 230-231). Off hand, I don't see how this action would have helped the Beale Party. It
may be that by this time, William C. thought that he too might "strike it rich" in the gold mining business. A number
of deed records show a pattern of investment by William C. Beale in lands located in the gold region.
By a deed dated November 15, 1834 (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 35, pp. 271-272), William C.
Beale and Duff Green of Stafford County and John S. Wellford of Fredericksburg purchased from Thomas Brooks 208 acres of land
in Fauquier County, subject however to the exclusive rights and privileges secured by a deed conveyed to Brooks by Thomas
Embry dated October 16, 1830, and also by a deed from Brooks to Richard C. L. Moncure dated October 16, 1830, for mining,
searching and washing for gold and other metal, which may be in, under or upon the said land (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 31, pp.
439-442). The deed from Brooks to Moncure shows that searching for gold in Fauquier Co. was underway in at least by 1830,
prior to the recorded date of 1831, which is given as the date of discovery of gold in Virginia. It is unclear
what Beale, Green and Wellford hoped to gain from this acquisition, as the deed to Moncure gave Moncure the sole right to
mine, search for, and wash gold and other minerals on the said 208 acres of land, unless Beale, Green and Wellford either
believed or knew that they could purchase these rights from Moncure.
a deed dated March 1, 1836, William C. Beale and Duff Green purchased 10 acres of land (2/3 to Beale and 1/3 to Green) in
Fauquier County from William Brooks for $312.50, it being land adjoining the land of Beale, Green & Kelly and the land
on which Wm. Brooks now resides (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 36, pp. 135-136).
a deed dated May 1, 1838, Joseph C. Wilson, William C. Beale, Duff Green & John S. Wellford purchased 150 acres plus an
additional 3 acres of land in Fauquier County (1/10 to Wilson and 3/10 each to Beale, Green and Wellford) from Joseph Shumate
of Fauquier County (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 40, pp. 391-392). While the deed doesn't indicate that the purchase was for the
purpose of searching for or mining gold, this can be inferred from Beale and Green's other purchases of land.
Searching the courthouse records in Stafford County is complicated by the fact that a
large number of the records have been destroyed—many were burned during the Civil War. The deed records from 1664
to 1837 are lacking. Thus, gold-mine-related land purchases in Stafford Co. from 1831 to 1837, involving William C. Beale,
are missing. But, a little luck never hurts. As it happens, a deed of release dated September 3, 1836 from William W. L. Benson
to Absolom and Thomas Smith, was not recorded by the County Clerk's Office until April 26, 1838, and hence is not missing.
It contains several references to earlier deeds recorded in deed books that today are missing. The deed of release states
that Benson released his interest in a tract of 400 acres in Stafford Co. and his interest in the mines, metals, and
minerals thereon, previously sold to Absolom and Thomas Smith by deed dated Nov. 30, 1833. I think that Benson claimed
that he had taken the "short end of the stick" so to speak as a result of an estate settlement, but his palm having
been duly "greased" he was now willing to give up a claim to the said land and said mineral rights. In any case, the deed of release then mentions several deeds in which Absolom and Thomas Smith sell to others the rights to mines,
metals and minerals upon their land, but without selling the land itself, and in another case that of selling land without
rights to mines, metals and minerals. As a result of this complicated set of transactions, which extended from April 17 to
August 7, 1835, William C. Beale ended up with an undivided interest in roughly 83 acres in a tract of 200 acres, it being
part of the original 400 acres belong to Absolom and Thomas Smith, and a 41.7% share of the mines, metals and minerals on
said land. Absolom and Thomas Smith retained 200 of the 400 acres for themselves. The deed of release clearly shows that William
C. Beale was in the gold mining business in Stafford County. In fact, of the various parties involved in these transactions,
William C.'s share was the largest. Thus he had a controlling interest, which I suppose could have been influenced in part
by his commitment to help "launder" the Beale Party's gold (assuming that events unfolded this way).
The Franklin Gold Mine
"The [Franklin] mine was opened in 1837 and worked until 1877 when it caved and was flooded (Palmer C. Sweet,
"Gold Mines and Prospects in Virginia," Virginia Minerals, v. 17, n. 3, pp. 25-36). During this period
100,000 tons of ore, said to have been valued at $12 per ton, was removed from the mine (J. T. Lonsdale, "Geology of
the gold-pyrite belt of the northeastern Piedmont, Virginia," Virginia Geological Survey Bulletin 30, 164 pages).
In 1839, by virtue of a decree of the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery of Fauquier
County in the case of William Crump and others against the Franklin Mining Company, William C. Beale became the purchaser
of a tract of land lying in Fauquier County containing about 112 acres known as the Franklin mine tract (a.k.a. The Franklin
Gold Mine) at a price of $570 dollars. He also became the purchaser of a steam engine used for mining purposes, for a price
of $875 dollars (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 43, pp. 247-248). William C. appears to be the
second party to own the Franklin Gold Mine. As sole owner, he would have had the best possible advantage and opportunity to
act as agent on behalf of the Beale Party. He owned the mine for eight years, which should have been more than enough time
to "launder" the remainder of the Beale Party's gold.
William C. Beale sold his interest in the Franklin Gold Mine in 1846. By deed dated May 5, 1846, John S. Wellford
purchased from William C. Beale and wife Jane B. the 112 acres known as the Franklin mine tract, the steam engine, the engine
house, the machinery, and old iron fixtures (Fauquier Co. Deed Book 45, pp. 435-436).
Yes, William C. Beale's acquisition of the Franklin Gold Mine could have been circumstantial.
There can be no doubt that he was in the right place at the right time, with the right Falmouth connections to become a gold
mine speculator. But if TJB and Thomas J. Beale of Fauquier County were one and the same person, then William C.'s entry into
the gold mining business might be more than circumstantial. After taking William C. into his confidence, Thomas could have
told his cousin about the Beale Party's discovery of gold, and that alone might have given William C. the incentive
to enter the gold mining business himself. But, William C. may have been part of a larger and grander plan, in which he provided
the cover for laundering the Beale Party's gold. His purchase of the Franklin Gold Mine could have been part of
that plan: It may have been the necessary final step that would permit the remainder of
the Beale Party's gold to be conveniently and more rapidly disposed of.
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