A Brief History of the Beale Papers, by Jerry Watt
In the spring of 1817, a band of thirty Virginians headed by Thomas J. Beale left
St. Louis for the great western plains to hunt buffalo, grizzly bears, and other wild game. In the spring of 1818, quite unexpectedly,
the party discovered gold and silver somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. They worked the mine for several years. In 1819 and
1821, shipments were brought back to Virginia and secretly buried in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Because of the dangers they
faced, Beale's men wanted to ensure that the treasure would be divided among their next-of-kin should they all be killed.
An elaborate scheme was
devised to arrange legacies for their families while still maintaining the secrecy of their operation. Beale wrote three ciphers:
The first described the exact location of the treasure; the second described the treasure's contents; and, the third
listed the names of Beale's men and their next-of-kin. He locked the ciphers in an iron box along with an explanation of how
the treasure came to be. Beale's three ciphers are commonly referred to as B1, B2, and B3.
Beale then selected Robert Morriss, a citizen
of Lynchburg, Virginia, and a man of tremendous integrity, to act on their behalf should he and his men never be heard from
again. Morriss was given the box and was told only that there were important papers inside and that he should keep the box
for ten years. If neither Beale nor some one with authority from him contacted him in that time, Beale and his associates
were to be presumed dead. Morriss was then to open the box. Beale had arranged for a letter from St. Louis to be delivered
at this time, a letter containing the "key" to the ciphers and without which the treasure could not be found. For
unknown reasons, this letter was never delivered and Morriss was never able to learn what the ciphers said.
In 1862, Morriss, for the
first time, told someone else the story of the ciphers and the treasure they guarded. Who this person was is unknown. It is
known only that he was a friend. Morriss turned over all of the documents to his friend and made him promise to carry out
Beale's instructions should he succeed in deciphering the papers.
Morriss' friend did succeed in deciphering paper number two which described
the treasure; but, even twenty years of effort did not help him solve the other two. Morriss' friend had been reasonably affluent
but his preoccupation with the ciphers led him to neglect business concerns. His prosperity became penury and, in 1885, he
resolved to abandon his work on the ciphers and publish a pamphlet revealing this story to the world.
Morriss' friend wrote the
pamphlet and give it the full title: 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.
Along with a narrative
to outline the story of the Beale Papers, the pamphlet contained the ciphers and Beale's letters of explanation to
Morriss. It was published anonymously to protect the author from correspondents asking all manner of questions. The author
explained, "I anticipate for these papers a large circulation, and, to avoid the multitude of letters with which I should
be assailed from all sections of the Union, propounding all sorts of questions, and requiring answers which, if attended to,
would absorb my entire time, and only change the character of my work, I have decided upon withdrawing my name from the publication
James B. Ward was chosen to handle the business of publication. In a letter dated March 26, 1884, he applied to the
Library of Congress for a copyright. He asked that he be listed as "agent for the author." The copyright was issued
on March 31, 1885.
One story has it that before the pamphlet went on sale a fire destroyed all but a few copies along with the original
documents in Beale's handwriting. However, Beale investigators have shown this allegation to be completely erroneous. Copies
of the pamphlet were circulated in Lynchburg and in the surrounding area, without difficulty.
The full story of the Beale
Papers can be had by reading a copy of Ward's pamphlet.