Lost Treasures In South Carolina

Lost Treasures In South Carolina

South Carolina has many treasure stories, some of which involve pirates who lived along the coast and buried treasure just a short way inland.

Also, there are many underwater sites of sunken treasure along the coastline. During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, there was a lot of military activity in South Carolina. As a result, many money and military caches and relics from those times are all over the state.

This story was printed in a newspaper on July 12, 1905, in Columbia, South Carolina. I quote: “The president, until recently, of the Darlington Trust Company and the Independent Oil Company, Keith Dargan, drank carbolic acid in the presence of his brother-in-law and died soon afterward.

A note was left, written by Dargan, saying he had appropriated company funds. It is reported that the shortage will be $800,000.”

This would be an excellent lead to investigate further by checking court records and newspapers in South Carolina between July and September 1905. There had to be follow-up stories on embezzlement of this size.

Agent Melvin Purvis retired from the FBI in 1936. He had been involved in some sensational gang arrests and the killing of John Dillinger in Chicago. After retirement, Purvis became a newspaper publisher in Florence, South Carolina, and earned a reputation as a big money-making spender. Early in 1960, Purvis died of either an accidental or self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Rumors said he left a fortune buried on a farm he owned in Darlington, South Carolina. Treasure hunters worked over the area, but nothing was known to have been found.

There is little doubt that South Carolina still has many treasures to be found, such as the one Archibald Rutledge found at Hampton House, the ancestral home of the Rutledge family, which is about 40 miles northeast of Charleston.

Rutledge reopened this old house in 1937. While gardening, he found many things, including 36 rare Delft tiles, 2,000 old bottles, an endless amount of cute brasswork, some Spanish silver coins, buttons, medals, and other things.

While restoring the house, he discovered a secret closet that had been papered over. Curious, he sawed into the closet through the basement, finding nothing more than a small box. In the box was a folded piece of paper that proved to be a map, on which there was a shovel drawing, a picture of a cross, and the likeness of a box that appeared to be a treasure chest.

After more than two years of constant searching, Rutledge found a treasure of coins buried in the yard. However, this was concealed in a crock, and Rutledge believed that he had not yet found the main hoard, presumably buried in a chest.

This is what Archibald Rutledge, author of many books and magazine articles, wrote:

“It is not difficult to guess how the crock came to be buried. My grandfather lived here on this plantation, a widower and very much alone throughout the Civil War, as my father was with Lee in Virginia. During the war, my coastal country was full of rumors of raiders; raiders did visit nearby. What would have been more natural than for my grandfather to gather what money was on hand, together with the few gold pieces that may have been family treasures, and bury them in the backyard? Hundreds of similar cases, I believe, occurred. In some instances, the treasure thus concealed was later recovered, but much of it, I believe, remains buried to this day.”

No record of the chest has ever been located.

In the early 1800s, about the same time that gold was discovered in North Carolina, it was also discovered in South Carolina, and this state soon ranked third in the production of gold at that time. The Haile Mine in Lancaster County was still producing gold in 1942.

In 1828, the Haile Mine was soon followed by mines in McCormick, Chesterfield, and York counties. A 27-pound nugget called “Sheepshead” has been found near Smyrna. Gold-bearing rocks and gravels occur along the Saltlick and Goldmine branches near Hickory Grove and Wolf Creek.

A book that lists numerous old gold mines and likely places to search for gold throughout the state was reprinted recently by the South Carolina Geological Survey. It is Bulletin #32, “Gold Resources of South Carolina,” by Cansilla K. McCauley and J. Robert Butler.

Anyone interested in learning more about this book should send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the South Carolina Development Board, Harbison Forest Road, Columbia, SC 29201.

During the early 1800s, John and Lavina Fisher operated a tavern and a stagecoach stop known as the Six Mile House about five miles north of Charleston. During 1805–1820, many travelers were robbed, and others disappeared in the vicinity of the tavern, where a mob raided the place.

The cellar was searched, and two skeletons were found, along with several items identified by members of the mob, as having belonged to travelers who had disappeared.

When the couple refused to admit guilt or tell what had happened to a large amount of money and other valuables taken from different travelers, the mob hanged them. This is almost certainly an overlooked site that could pay a treasure hunter to investigate.

During the Revolutionary War, a Tory bandit known as Bloody Bill Bates terrorized the Colonists around Greenville. Bates had a hideout near Travelers Rest in the mountains near Greenville, Green County. He operated for several years in the area before he was captured.

Bates was taken to a jail in Greenville, where he was shot while trying to escape. None of his loot was ever found. This is a good spot where local research could pay off.

Numerous stories have been written concerning what happened to the Confederate treasury when the Civil War ended in 1865. The following information has been derived from letters written by Colonel W. J. Palmer to his commanding officer, Major General A. Thomas, of the Federal Army, which I will quote:

“Headquarters Cavalry Division, District of East Tennessee, Athens, GA., May 6, 1865. Major General: I reached the vicinity of Cowpens Battlefield, South Carolina, on April 29, when I received the order to endeavor to intercept Jefferson Davis, his cabinet, and the Confederate specie. I have ascertained that Davis and the money, with an escort of four brigades of cavalry, under Duke, Ferguson, and Dribbrill, and scattered detachments of Vaughn’s, Hanie’s, and Butler’s commands, are moving toward Unionville and Abbeville, South Carolina. One of my regiments, the Twelfth Ohio, ran into the rear guard of his escort at the Ford and captured ten prisoners, from whom definite information was obtained. The specie was in wagons and contained about one hundred boxes of gold and six kegs of silver. Prisoners estimated that there were about ten million in total. The cavalry escort, about three to four thousand men, have been promised their back pay from this species. Davis and about 35 men have pushed on to Washington, Georgia. Before disbanding, $35.00 was given to each private soldier and more to officers. I have not yet been able to ascertain what has become of the balance of the specie. Still, I presume it has either been concealed or shipped by railroad westward, in which case even it will be stopped either by my party or the railroad at Madison, or by Col. Eggleston of Wilson’s Cavalry, who reached Atlanta on the morning of the 4th.”

A second letter to the same commanding officer is more specific regarding the outcome of the situation:
“Headquarters Cavalry Division District, East Tennessee, Howell’s Ford, near Warsaw, on the Chattahoochee, May 12th, 5 p.m., Major General. Colonel Betts of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry found seven wagons hidden in the woods while looking for Davis near where the Apalachee and Oconee Rivers meet.

He was looking for Davis near the point where the two rivers meet. The wagons contained $177,000 in coins, $1,480.00 in bank notes, bonds, etc., of various Southern States, and about $4,000,000 in Confederate money, besides considerable species, plates, and other valuables belonging to private citizens of Macon. Most of the property mentioned above put the assets of the Georgia Central Railroad and Banking Company at risk, which had left Macon because General Wilson was coming.

“The wagons also contained the private baggage, maps, and official papers of General Beauregard and the same of General Pillow. Nothing was disturbed, and I sent the whole thing in by railroad to Augusta, in charge of Captain Patterson, to be delivered to the commanding officer of the U.S. forces to await the government’s action.

Regarding the Confederate species, I am satisfied that Davis does not have any considerable amount with him, as Breckenridge stated that the government had no more than sixty thousand dollars belonging to it. It is thought that the Confederate Government may have taken about $32,000,000 out of the country at different times to avoid being caught.

It is said that Davis left the funds from North Carolina banks in Charlotte at the insistence of Governor Vance. South Carolina bank funds were almost certainly left near Abbeyville, while Georgia and New Orleans funds were either left and concealed in Washington, Georgia, or shipped by railroad.

We believe that the payment of Dribbrells Cavalry, the only troops not formally surrendered or disbanded, probably took most of the public funds. It seems probable that little specie crossed the Savannah River, which means that the rest could be hidden in South Carolina, for if Davis felt it necessary to have a division of cavalry to guard his train, he would not be apt to move the train without a guard when he found it impossible to take his cavalry escort across the Savannah River.”

General Bragg states, “no specie came to this side of Washington, Georgia.”
The letters above, official documents of the Federal Army, would indicate that some Confederate species were buried or concealed in South Carolina, and the Ford mentioned it should be closely checked over with a good metal detector.

According to a U.S. Department of Commerce news release dated September 14, 1969, the Coast and Geodetic Survey has located the wrecks of Charleston Harbor, South Carolina vessels, believed to be Confederate blockade runners of the Civil War.

The location of the more-than-a-century-old hulls was determined by the USC and GS ships RUDE and HECK during recent wire drag operations.

Lieutenant Commander Christian Andreasen, commanding officer of the RUDE and the HECK, said the wrecks were located off the Isle of Palms, about four miles east of the Charleston Harbor entrance. He estimated that one was about a mile and the other was about a mile off the beach. Andreasen added that there was some question about how many wrecks were embedded in the mud, perhaps as many as five ships.

Dr. Robert L. Stephenson, the state archeologist, said historical records indicated there were five, identified as the GEORGIANNA, MARY BOWERS, CONSTANCE, STONEWALL JACKSON, and the NORSEMAN. Union forces sucked it all as they sought to slip into blockaded Charleston Harbor. It might pay a treasure-hunting scuba diver to check these out.

For over one hundred and eighty years, a valuable cargo of art treasures has lain undisturbed on the bottom of the sea, just ten miles from Bull Bay, South Carolina. The treasure went down with the ex-U.S. Navy gunboat Beaufort, built-in 1799 for river patrol and coastal defense.

The small sailing galley, Beaufort, was only 50 feet long, proved impractical for the latter use, and was sold into private ownership.

The Beaufort, now led by longtime mercenary and privateer Allen Winslow, fit right into the smuggling business between the United States and the West Indies. Windslow considered himself a man with good taste and style, so he made smuggling stolen art treasures his specialty.

The trail of this illicit trafficking began in Europe. In England, France, and Italy, rare antiques, porcelains, statues, heirloom jewelry, and other valuables were stolen from private collections and museums. These treasures were then shipped to various British-owned islands in the West Indies. From there, men like Winslow ferried them to the United States and arranged for their sale on the black cultural market in New York City.

On such a voyage, Winslow and his ship met with disaster. On a bright August afternoon, the Beaufort left Grand Bahama Island, sailing for New York. In her open hold were crates full of small antiques and works of art. There were alabaster eggs from France, many sets of ornate silverware, silver candelabra, jewelry boxes, mirrors made of silvered Venetian glass, and other delicate but very valuable works of art.

Winslow intended to sail straight to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, then west on a direct course to New York. Instead, he chose to follow the southern coastline at sea to avoid the beginnings of a storm gathering along his former course. Clinging safely to the shoreline, Winslow made good time sailing without incident past Florida, Georgia, and well along the coast of South Carolina.

Just off Charleston Harbor, Beaufort was confronted by a federal revenue cutter. Winslow was gripped with uncertainty as the cutter drew alongside. The captain of the Federal ship shouted a challenge, but it was not what Winslow expected.

The carefree but bored government crew wanted to stage an impromptu race!
A confused, still-nervous, but greatly relieved Winslow readily agreed. Separated by only a few yards, both ships headed north under full sail for twenty-five miles, neither gaining an advantage over the other.

The wind gusted crazily, and the cutter abruptly veered hard to the right, shearing off the entire bow section of the Beaufort. The ocean surged into the open galley, swamping her instantly. The broken boat sank into the murky water within seconds, taking the treasure boxes with it.

The cutter was brought under control, and the crew had to manage to rescue Winslow and his entire crew. The Federal captain remained unaware of Winslow’s occupation or Beaufort’s illegal cargo. Winslow and his crew were deposited in Charleston, along with profuse government apologies. There are signs that Winslow was given money to make up for what he did and that the government paid for him to buy a schooner.

Winslow is thought to have returned to his dubious career. At the same time, Beaufort and its incredible fortune in art were abandoned ten miles off the South Carolina coast.

Since so much has been written about Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, the pirate, I will touch briefly on the possible location of some of his ill-gotten gains in South Carolina. Blackbeard often went to Charleston, South Carolina, after robbing a ship of its valuables.

This is something that has been written down.

He had two reasons for doing this: first, the wealthy merchants and plantation owners welcomed the luxuries that they could buy from the pirates at a low price, plus the pirates could spend days on drunken sprees in Charleston with comparative safety from the authorities searching the high seas for them.

Second, the city was built near a swamp, which made a perfect hiding place for the more valuable items that Blackbeard wanted to cache for a later date.

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