Treasure, a mysterious-looking box filled with gold ornaments, coins, jewelry and precious stones and rubies, is something that has intrigued all of us at one point of time. Fascinated by the mischievous stories of Pirates, Explorers and Emperors hiding their priciest possessions somewhere which no being could have imagined of looking at with zero expectations of finding something far away would be the thought of finding something as precious as a hidden treasure. 

Maps that were made to find the exact location to identify where the treasure was buried contained scripts that were a corpus of symbols. The inscriptions which had these symbols imprinted on them are very difficult to judge and decipher. Till date, it’s a mystery to all of us that the symbols are constituted to a script or not, or maybe they could have been used to constitute a language.  

Since the excavation of the Harappan Civilization also known as the Indus Valley Civilization, some scripts have been found some of which have been deciphered and others are still a piece of paper with unrecognizable writings waiting to be deciphered. 

A story about a prodigious treasure buried in Virginia, a city in the United States, was published by James B. Ward in 1885. He wrote that this treasure was buried 60 years before its existence was discovered, by Thomas Jefferson Beale in Bedford County of Virginia. The initial information like the location, contents and the intended beneficiaries of the treasure was concealed in three different ciphers. 

The story of Beale Cipher dates back to the 1820s particularly to the cold month of January. This was the time when a stranger known by the name of Thomas Jefferson Beale checked himself into the Washington Hotel of Lynchburg, Virginia. Beale was quite popular among the locals of Lynchburg; he liked the town so much that he ended up staying there till the spring season came to an edge.

People found Beale quite intriguing because he never spoke about his past and family and what brought him to the town of Lynchburg to anyone. As March was about to end Beale left the town of Lynchburg as suddenly as he had arrived. 

Two years later Beale returned to the town of Lynchburg and spent the winter season there but this time he entrusted one person with some of his belongings. He handed over Morris (a local man) a locked iron box which he claimed contained some valuable papers which were of extreme importance to him. As the spring season approached Beale left just like before. 

Morris, being the dutiful and genuine man that he was, guarded that iron box for 23 years when Beale had left without any trace, never to be seen again. Later in 1845 as the time passed Morris’s curiosity got the best of him, he thought that maybe Beale was dead and would never return to claim what belonged to him. Morris cracked open the box inside and found a note written in simple English and three sheets of papers covered in numbers.

The note had background information of Beale, the box and the three ciphers. Morris met Beale for the first time in April 1817 at that time Beale was twenty- nine years old before coming to the two of Lynchburg Beale was on a stroll across America. After travelling through the dense hunting grounds of the Western plains, Beale with some of his companions arrived in Santa Fe, before heading north in search of buffalo.

Then according to Beale’s note, they were quite fortunate: “Beale and his companions encamped in a small ravine, where they were preparing their evening meal when one of Beale’s companions noticed something that had the appearance of gold in a cleft of the rocks.Upon showing it to the others it was found out to be actual gold, and much excitement was the natural consequence of this discovery.”

The writing explained that Beale and his companions mined the site for another eight months, by that time they had accumulated a large quantity of gold and silver. In due course of time, Beale and his companions concluded that their newfound wealth should be kept in a secure place. They eventually decided to move it back to Virginia where they would hide it in a secret place where nobody else other than them would be able to find it.

In 1820 while travelling to Lynchburg, Beale traded some of the jewellery to reduce the weight. It was in Lynchburg where Beale buried the leftover of his newfound wealth.Beale Papers

During his first visit when Beale left the town of Lynchburg after the outgrown winter season he went back to rejoin his companions who were working at the time where the treasure was found during his absence.

During his second visit to the town of Lynchburg, Beale had some more jewellery to add to his stash as newly found wealth, but he also had a mission to accomplish. Beale’s companions were concerned that if in case something happens to them while mining or something accident happens and they are not able to make it out alive in this case they wanted the treasure to reach their near and dear ones.

Therefore Beale was responsible for finding a reliable and genuine person who would carry out their wishes in the event of their sudden death. Beale selected Morris to be that reliable person.   

After reading that note Morris concluded that he was responsible for finding the treasure and passing it onto the relatives of the supposed dead people. But unfortunately, the description of the treasure, its location and the list of people to whom it was to be passed onto had been transferred into three sheets and was encrypted but all the three sheets only contained numbers.

Beale’s note mentioned that the key required to decipher the three sheets of paper were to be mailed to Beale by a third party, but that key never materialized. Therefore, Morris was forced to decode the sheets from scratch. Morris spent twenty years of his life trying to decipher those three sheets but all of that went in vain. 

In 1862, Morris realised that he was coming near to the end of his life at the age of 84 and realised he couldn’t take the secret of Beale’s Cipher to his grave and he never wanted the hope of the treasure reaching the beloved ones of the dead men to die with him. So he decided to share the secret of Beale’s Cipher with one of his friends whose identity till date is a mystery.

This friend of Morris’s published a pamphlet which described the story of Beale and his Cipher and the list of events surrounding the mystery. An anonymous pamphleteer made the breakthrough in deciphering one of Beale’s cryptic sheets. 

 Evidence in favour of the probability of the ciphers comes from historical research, which may be wont to verify the story of Thomas Beale. Peter Viemeister, an area historian who showed me a number of the places where treasure hunters have already looked, looked for evidence to prove that Thomas Beale subsist. According to the census of 1790 and other documents, Viemeister has identified several Thomas Beales, who was born in Virginia and whose backgrounds fit the few known facts.

Most of the small print we have about Beale concerns his trip to Sante Fe, and there’s evidence to corroborate his discovery of gold. For example, Jacob Fowler, who travelled through the American southwest in 1821 to 22, noted in his journal that the Pawnee and Crowe tribes “speaks on the foremost friendly terms of the White men and Say they’re about 35 in number” this number is analogous to the dimensions of Beale’s cypher.

Also, there’s a Cheyenne legend dating from around 1820 which tells of gold and silver being taken from the West and buried in Eastern Mountains. Consequently, the story of the Beale ciphers continues to enthral codebreakers and treasure hunters.

However, anybody who could be tempted to require up the challenge of the Beale ciphers should listen of some words of caution given by the author of the pamphlet: “Before providing the papers to the general public interest, I might give them a touch of advice, acquired by the bitter happening of the events. It is, to devote only such time as are often spared from your legitimate business to the task, and if you’ll spare no time, let the matter alone.

Never, as I even have done, sacrifice your own and your family’s interests to what may prove an illusion; but, as I even have already said, when your day’s work is completed, and you are comfortably seated by your good fire, a brief time dedicated to the topic can injure nobody, and should bring its reward.”

By Neeharika Chaudhary

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