State Treasures - Virginia

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 47 of the September, 2011 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2011 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


Lost Civil War Booty
FAIRFAX COUNTY – Confederate Commander Colonel John Singleton Mosby pulled off a daring nighttime raid on Union forces encamped at the Fairfax Courthouse on the rainy night of March 9, 1863.
Before a single shot was fired, Mosby’s Partisan Rangers had already captured 42 Union soldiers. Commander Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton was among those captured. All prisoners were then marched to the corral and ordered to mount their horses.
Mosby’s Rangers were 46 miles south of the Confederate line at Culpeper. Mosby would turn over his prisoners and a burlap sack he’d found in General Stoughton’s room full of heirloom treasures taken from the homes of Virginia families.
Jewelry, ornate candlesticks, gold and silver specie, priceless family heirlooms, and gold plate, that Stoughton had valued at $350,000, was intercepted by Mosby’s Guerilla’s before he could hand them over to Union authorities.
Mosby’s Rangers rode at night to avoid detection. Several hours into the ride, one of Mosby’s scouts reported a large contingent of Union troops ahead, with a second group to the east.
The scout led Mosby’s unit and prisoners west of Haymarket and through the piney woods to avoid Union patrols. Following a route that today parallels U.S. 211, an unnerved Mosby stopped his command deep in the woods and summoned his most trusted sergeant.
Mosby told his sergeant (whose name is lost to history) that in case of battle he didn’t want the treasure to again fall into Union hands. He ordered his column to continue while he and the sergeant buried the treasure between two large pine trees, which Mosby marked with his knife so he could later recover the hoard. Mosby and the sergeant then returned to the column and continued on unmolested to Culpeper.
Months passed before Mosby felt it safe for his men to recover the cache. When the time was right, Mosby told his sergeant to pick six of his best men and go retrieve the hoard, but they were captured before reaching the woods. Union soldiers took them to Fort Royal where General Custer declared them all guerillas and hanged them.
Mosby now was the only man alive who knew the location of the buried treasure. Though he always intended to recover it, the war and fate prevented him from doing so. Two weeks after Lee’s surrender, Mosby disbanded his men and returned to his law practice in Bristol.
Shortly before his death in 1916, Mosby told his closest friends that some of the most precious heirlooms belonging to old Virginia families were in that sack. He always regretted his inability to have recovered them so those families could reclaim their valued possessions. To date, Mosby’s lost cache has yet to be found.Bureau of Engraving Treasure
FAUQUIER COUNTY – Here’s a legend as told by the residents of Warrenton. The story goes that, in 1911, $31,700 in new U.S. currency and one set of U.S.$20 engraving plates were buried in a creek north of Warrenton, which has never been found. Should you desire to unearth this treasure…BEWARE!
What I find interesting about this story is that there is no story or event associated with it. The story appears in Charles A. Mills’ book, Treasure Legends of Virginia (1984), and is briefly mentioned in Thomas P. Terry’s U.S. Treasure Atlas-Volume 10.
Neither account, however, provides any details as to who placed the cache or how the Bureau of Engraving lost $31,700 in new bills and a set of $20 plates.
If there is any truth to this legend it can only be explained that the Government opted to keep the loss a secret, and the story was somehow leaked and is purely rumored. I find no mention of this loss in newspaper accounts or in government records.
Before investing much time and effort, I’d first carefully research it locally hoping to find some explanation as to what the source of this tale is and why there is no supporting documentation of this treasure.Murder Mystery Haunts
Winchester Residents
FREDERICK COUNTY – It was a Tuesday night in May 1818 when Dr. Robert Berkeley, scion of an old Virginia family and master of the Rock Hill Plantation on the Shenandoah River, heard a knock at the front door.
Berkeley opened the door and found Landon, one of his slaves, standing there. Landon reported that Randolph, a runaway slave, had returned and was armed with a club.
Berkeley accompanied Landon to the slave quarters intent on making quick work of the problem. Inside a slave cabin, Berkeley approached Randolph and disarmed him, but Randolph tripped him and recovered the club when Berkeley fell to the floor. Next, Randolph savagely beat the doctor, as other slaves looked on, until Berkeley had breathed his last.
The men and women then stuffed their master’s body into the fireplace and kindled a fire. After Berkeley had been reduced to ashes and a small pile of bones, his remains were disposed of. Once done, the perpetrators told Julia that Randolph had fled again and her husband gave chase.
The following day, Julia informed the plantation’s overseer that her husband was out searching for Randolph and she asked him to pick up some supplies at neighboring White Post. The overseer traveled to White Post for the supplies on Thursday, two days after the murder. Folks there asked about Dr. Berkeley, though no one thought anything out of the ordinary.
By Saturday no one had heard from Berkeley and a neighbor, John Rust, became suspicious. He organized a search party, but found no clue as to the whereabouts of the good doctor or the run-a-way slave Randolph.
Rust decided it was time to question those who’d last seen Dr. Berkeley, his slaves. Landon confessed, then led Rust to the fireplace where Berkeley was reduced to ashes. Inside the fireplace, brass buttons from Berkeley’s clothing were found. Other slaves were immediately arrested and all confessed. Randolph was captured and court dates were set.
By interviewing the perpetrators, it became evident they had conspired to kill Berkeley. But prosecutors had no motive; had Berkeley been a cruel master? In the community, Dr. Berkeley was known as a quiet man and highly respected. But on the matter of motive his killers remained eerily silent.
Of the eight slaves charged, three hung for Berkeley’s murder, two were convicted and sent to prison, and three were acquitted. The crime still haunts Winchester residents.
Without a motive there can never be closure. Nearly 200 years after the fact, people still wonder why Berkeley was murdered. Two explanations have been offered, one as recently as 1997.
According to author Thomas P. Terry, robbery was their motive. He states Berkeley’s slaves robbed him of a bag of gold coins. Fearing if caught with the specie they’d certainly be incriminated in his murder, it was buried near the slave’s quarters.
Their subsequent arrests and confinement prevented them from ever returning to unearth the cache. Those acquitted of any wrongdoing knew they’d be shot or hung on sight if seen anywhere near Berkeley’s estate.
But another account surfaced in 1997. Oral history passed from generation to generation by the descendants of Berkeley’s former slaves claim on the night Berkeley was murdered he’d come to the slave quarters to find Sarah, the wet nurse. The master had just returned from a long trip and found Mrs. Berkeley lying in bed crying and ill after having recently given birth to their eighth child.
Berkeley found Sarah in her cabin nursing her own infant while his wife had been left unattended. Sent into a violent rage, Berkeley struck Sarah causing her baby to fall to the floor fatally striking its head on the stone hearth.
Four days later Berkeley’s slaves exacted their own justice from Dr. Berkeley. During testimony, a slave named Ralph stated Berkeley was a cruel master, and Sarah said, “The devil is dead.”
The truth of Dr. Robert Berkeley’s brutal murder and what motive may or may not have existed may never be fully understood. Many believe the gold cache that was buried in the vicinity of the slave’s quarters was never unearthed.Sources:
Mikhailoff, Byron, Missing $350,000 Civil War Cache, April 1973, True Treasure magazine, p. 19
Mills, Charles A., Treasure Legends of Virginia, 1984, Alexandria, Virginia, Apple Cheeks Press, p. 67
Terry, Thomas P., U.S. Treasure Atlas, Volume 10, 1985, La Crosse, WI, Specialty Publishing Company, p. 1041
O’Connor, Adrian, What Inspired This ‘Murder of Horrible and Savage Barbarity?’ Winchester, Virginia, The Winchester Star, November 24, 1997, p. 13.