The New York Gold Conspiracy?

On September 24, 1869, the price of gold on the New York Gold Exchange hit $162 an ounce. Shortly after, it plunged to $133 an ounce, ruining scores of investors in the process. What was the Black Friday New York Gold Conspiracy?

Jay Gould & James Fisk: The Plot to Corner the Gold Market?

During the Civil War, the U.S. government began issuing “greenbacks” in order to raise money. Greenbacks were a fiat currency (similar to that used today) and thus, were not backed by gold or anything else. After the war ended, the government began to withdraw the greenbacks from circulation. This was accomplished by buying greenbacks with gold. This allowed the price of gold, which had reached $300 an ounce, to return to a more normal level of $130 an ounce by early 1869.

Around that time, a group of investors, led by Jay Gould and James Fisk, saw an opportunity to generate enormous profits. They wanted to, in effect, “corner the gold market.” But they feared the U.S. government’s tendency to stabilize gold prices. They needed to find a way to temporarily take the government out of the game. And in order to do that, they needed to seize control of its monetary policy.

Gould and Fisk recruited Abel Corbin, President Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law, to their cause. Together, the three men badgered Grant to stop selling government gold, arguing that it would make farmers more competitive in overseas markets and thus, raise farm prices.

Black Friday!

By September 1869, Gould and Fisk were convinced that their plan had worked. They began buying large amounts of gold with very little money, thanks to small margin requirements. As they accumulated a large position, they were able to manipulate the market price higher and higher, making plans to unload it before the inevitable fall. Prices rose and stocks fell. President Grant immediately grew suspicious of his brother-in-law and told his wife to add a note in a letter written to her sister:

“Tell your husband that the President is very much distressed by your speculations, and you must close them as quick as you can.”

On September 23, gold reached $142 an ounce. Gould, who’d learned that Grant was on to the scheme, began secretly unloading his position. Fisk, completely unaware of what was about to happen, did not. The next day, Black Friday, the price of gold ran all the way up to $162 an ounce (the actual blackboard is shown above). Then word reached the New York Gold Exchange that the Treasury was selling $4 million of gold. Abruptly, prices collapsed, sending gold reeling back to the mid $130s.

Many investors, who’d bought gold on margin, were ruined. Gould “was rumored to have cleared $10 or $11 million” although this remains in question. Fisk is believed to have escaped harm by repudiating his trades.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Black Friday caused a brief financial panic. But for the most part, no one paid a price for the scandal. Gould and Fisk escaped punishment, thanks to sympathetic Tammany Hall judges. President Grant was accused of being involved in the Black Friday scheme. However, it didn’t stop him from being reelected in 1872.

Over the years, others have tried to corner various types of financial markets. But Gould’s and Fisk’s Black Friday attempt might just be the most audacious of them all. By enlisting the gigantic hand of government to aid their cause, they took corporatism to a whole new level. On a relative basis, one could make the claim that Gould and Fisk caused the biggest one-day crash of gold in U.S. history on Black Friday, maybe even of all time, and got away with it.

Who is the Richest Person of All Time?

On March 10, 2011, Forbes Magazine declared Mexican industrialist Carlos Slim to be the richest person in the world. This marks his second year in a row in that position. But how does his fortune of $74 billion rank against wealthy people from the past?

Who is the Richest Person of All Time?

There are two ways to compare wealth. First, we can consider non-inflated sums. Second, we can attempt the difficult task of accounting for inflation, giving a far more accurate comparison.

In terms of the first method, the richest person of all time is Bill Gates. On April 5, 1999, his fortune was estimated at an astounding $101 billion.

However, non-inflated figures mean little, especially over the course of decades or even centuries. After accounting for inflation, the richest person of all time may have been John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller was the founder, chairman, and major shareholder of Standard Oil. On September 29, 1916, he became the first person to amass a fortune greater than $1 billion, a number which rose to $1.4 billion at the time of his death. Incredibly, his wealth was equal to about 1.53% of the U.S. economy at that time. Overall, historians believe that he amassed a fortune equivalent to $336 to $663 billion in terms of today’s dollars.

But is John D. Rockfeller really the Richest Person of All Time?

Rockefeller’s grip on the title of “The Richest Person of All Time” is controversial. Historical inflation figures are difficult to calculate and records of wealth were not always well-kept or made public. Other contenders for the title include:

  • Marcus Licinus Crassus: Lived from 115 BC to 53 BC. His personal fortune, which has been estimated at 170 million sesterces, was roughly equivalent to the “entire annual income of the Roman treasury.” However, the size of his wealth is debatable and some scholars place it closer to $200 million to $2 billion.
  • Musa I: Became the 10th emperor of the Malian Empire in 1312. Supposedly traveled with a huge caravan that included 60,000 men, 12,000 slaves, and 80 camels that carried between 50-300 pounds of gold dust apiece. Some value the entire caravan in excess of $400 billion in today’s dollars.
  • The Rothschild Family: Some historians place the value of the mid-19th century Rothschild banking and finance dynasty at hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars. However, this is disputed.
  • Genghis Khan: He was the Khan, or emperor, of one of the largest contiguous empires in history. However, to my knowledge, no estimates for his wealth exist.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, there you have it. While somewhat controversial, the best evidence we have today points to John D. Rockefeller as “The Richest Person of All Time.” And with a fortune that was at least five times greater than that of any fortune today, it seems likely that he will hold that title for many more years to come.

Who Kidnapped Lindbergh’s Baby?

In 1932, famed pilot Charles Lindbergh’s 18-month old son was abducted and subsequently killed. After an exhaustive investigation and trial, Bruno Hauptmann was found guilty and executed for the crime. But despite everything, he maintained his innocence until the end. Did the police and courts get it wrong? If so, who kidnapped the Lindbergh baby?

The Missing Lindbergh Baby?

On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow were preparing to spend the night at their newly-finished home near Hopewell, New Jersey. Around 8:00 pm, Anne and her nursemaid Betty Gow put Charles Jr. to bed. Two hours later, Gow went to check on the Lindbergh baby and discovered that he was missing.

Lindbergh proceeded to search the room and discovered an envelope. The oddly-misspelled note inside left little doubt as to what had happened:

Have 50.000$ redy 25.000$ in 20$ bills 15.000$ in 10$ bills and 10.000$ in 5$ bills After 2–4 days we will inform you were to deliver the mony. We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police The child is in gut care. Indication for all letters are singnature and three holes.

Two intersecting blue circles were at the bottom of the note. The overlapping area was colored red and a hole had been punched in its middle. Two additional holes were punched on the left and right sides of the design. It quickly became clear to all involved that the purpose of this “singnature” was to allow the Lindbergh’s to recognize communications from the kidnappers.

After the police arrived, they searched the area and found a muddy footprint as well as part of a makeshift ladder. A fingerprint expert was able to gather plenty of prints from the rungs. Unfortunately, many of them had been tainted by the growing crowd of observers.

Who Kidnapped the Lindbergh Baby?

Lindbergh thought the kidnapping had been conducted by mobsters and decided to take matters into his own hands. He got in contact with numerous crooked figures who promised to act as intermediaries between him and the kidnappers. Former FBI agent Gaston Means claimed he knew where to find the Lindbergh baby and managed to convince socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean, who owned the Hope Diamond at the time, to provide him with $100,000 in ransom money. He promptly absconded with the money (he was later caught and convicted of Grand Larceny). Even jailed gangster Al Capone tossed his hat in the ring, offering his assistance in finding the Lindbergh baby in exchange for his freedom (an offer that was quickly denied).

Eventually, Lindbergh sought help from Mickey Rosner, who was reputed to have underworld contacts. However, unbeknownst to him, Rosner was secretly working with the New York Daily News. This backfired horribly when Rosner got his hands on a second ransom letter for the Lindbergh baby. He sent it to the Daily News where it was leaked to the public. From that point on, it became difficult to determine if communications were from the kidnappers or hoaxers.

A Tragic End to the Lindbergh Baby?

Soon after, Lindbergh came into contact with a retired school teacher named Dr. John Condon. Condon had seemingly been in contact with the kidnappers and offered to help. Condon met with a kidnapper named “John” who claimed that the Lindbergh baby was healthy and being held on a boat. As proof, “John” provided the baby’s sleeping suit, which Lindbergh identified.

On April 2, Condon met again with “John” and gave him $50,000 in a wooden box. The carefully-selected ransom money consisted of gold certificates, which were increasingly rare due to President Roosevelt’s new currency regulations. Also, the police had recorded the serial numbers of each bill. Condon made the drop while Lindbergh watched from a distance and in return, received a note telling him where to find the Lindbergh baby. Unfortunately, the note gave false instructions.

On May 12, 1932, Charles Jr.’s body was discovered in a tree grove just a few miles from the Lindbergh’s home. The child had been killed by a blow to the head.

Did Bruno Hauptmann Kidnap and Murder the Lindbergh Baby?

With no other alternative, the police focused their efforts on tracking the ransom money. A year later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve.

On September 18, 1934 a gas station attendant received a $10 gold certificate as payment. Since Roosevelt’s Executive Order made such certificates illegal to possess, the attendant wrote down the customer’s license plate number. After the bank identified the certificate as one from the ransom drop, the police tracked down the license to a German immigrant named Bruno Hauptmann.

Upon Hauptmann’s arrest, police discovered a $20 certificate on his person. A subsequent search of his home led to the recovery of $13,760 of the ransom money. The police also found a notebook containing a sketch of a ladder similar to the one found outside the Lindbergh home, a closet wall upon which Hauptmann had written down Condon’s telephone number and address, and a piece of wood that matched the wood used in the construction of the ladder.

And the evidence didn’t end there. Eight separate handwriting experts declared that Hauptmann’s handwriting fit that of the initial ransom note. And the letter itself, with misspellings like “gut” instead of “good” indicated that it had been written by a native German speaker. In addition, Hauptmann had fled Germany in order to escape punishment for a crime that involved entering a second-floor bedroom window via ladder. Finally, Condon and Lindbergh claimed that Hauptmann’s voice matched the one they’d heard at the ransom drop.

A jury voted to convict Hauptmann. And a short while later, on April 3, 1936, he was electrocuted.

But did Bruno Hauptmann really do it?

The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby caused a national uproar. Journalists reported every new discovery. Citizens flocked the crime scene and surrounding area. Thousands of letters poured into the Lindbergh estate. With intense pressure to close the case, is is possible that the police got the wrong man?

The evidence against Hauptmann was damning. And yet, to the end he proclaimed his innocence. Even when New Jersey’s governor offered to commute his sentence in return for a confession, Hauptmann refused to change his story. He claimed that the money had been left to him by a friend named Isidor Fisch, who’d died back in 1934.

During the 1970s, historians began to question the official version of events. They pointed out that handwriting analysis is highly subjective. Also, Hauptmann’s fingerprints weren’t on the ladder, a fact that the police covered up. In addition, the crime scenes were heavily contaminated, Condon’s and Lindbergh’s voice identification was highly questionable, and Hauptmann’s defense attorneys did a rather poor job.

Still, modern technology indicates that the ladder did match the wood found in Hauptmann’s attic. And modern forensic experts have stated that the handwriting found on the ransom notes matches that of Hauptmann.

But if Hauptmann did commit the crime, how did he know the Lindbergh’s would be spending that Tuesday at their house rather than with Anne’s parents, as was their normal custom? And how did he know where to find the baby?

The possibility of an “inside job” was considered almost from the beginning. The police suspected a servant named Violet Sharp. Violet later committed suicide after several rounds of questioning. Since her alibi checked out, it’s generally assumed that police pressure tactics, rather than guilt, caused her to kill herself.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Today, most historians believe that Hauptmann kidnapped and murdered the Lindbergh baby, possibly with help from an unidentified insider. One intriguing theory is that this mysterious insider was none other than Charles Lindbergh himself. It is well-known that he deliberately impeded the investigation and in many respects, took it over completely. He was also apparently a practical joker of some cruelty as recorded by Gregory Ahlgren and Stephen Monier in their book, Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax.

“Just two months earlier [Lindbergh] had hidden the baby in a closet and then dramatically announced that the child had been kidnapped.The whole household had been thrown into an uproar while a panic stricken Anne feared the worst. Lindbergh had allowed the ruse to continue for some 20 minutes before roaring heartily and admitting it was all a hoax.”

Did Lindbergh accidentally kill his own child while attempting an elaborate “practical joke?” Did he then stage a kidnapping to cover it up while using his influence to guide the investigation? It seems possible, if pretty unlikely. Regardless, let’s hope scholars continue to revisit this case and dig up facts. Because while Hauptmann was most likely guilty in some respect, it seems a near certainty that he didn’t work alone. And that means one thing…

Someone else got away with murder.

Blackbeard’s Ship…Or Not?

In 1718, Blackbeard the pirate ran his ship Queen Anne’s Revenge aground at Beaufort Inlet, North Carolina. In 1996, a shipwreck was discovered in the area. Is this Blackbeard’s fabled frigate?

Blackbeard & Queen Anne’s Revenge?

Blackbeard, whose real name was probably Edward Thatch, is perhaps the most famous pirate of all time. After the War of Spanish Succession, he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold. On November 28, 1717, Captain Hornigold captured the La Concorde which at that time was a slave ship. He turned it over to Blackbeard. Blackbeard renamed the ship Queen Anne’s Revenge, which may be an indication of his allegiance to the Stuarts. He mounted 22 guns on the ship and began a reign of terror unmatched in pirate history.

In 1718, he staged an incredible blockade of Charleston, South Carolina, in which he ransacked about nine ships as they attempted to leave the port. Shortly afterward, he mysteriously ran the Queen Anne’s Revenge aground and took off for North Carolina in a smaller vessel named the Adventure. Some historians believe this was a deliberate move by Blackbeard to disperse his crew and secure a greater share of the spoils for him and his friends.

A Mysterious Shipwreck?

For more than two centuries, the ship remained lost. Then, in 1996, Intersal discovered a shipwreck in the area. Since that time, extensive excavations have uncovered more than 16,000 artifacts. While the ship is generally believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources has always been cautious in its statements…until now.

On August 29, National Geographic reported that the shipwreck “has been confirmed as that of the infamous 18th-century pirate Blackbeard.”

“There was not one aha moment. There was a collection of moments and a deduction based on the evidence.” ~ Claire Aubel, North Carolina Maritime Museums, Public Relations Coordinator

According to the article, the main evidence used in the identification was “the sheer size of the wreck and the many weapons that were found in the rubble.” The rest of the evidence is even more circumstantial. For example, apothecary weights found on the wreck could belong to the ship’s original surgeon when it was still in French hands. Some traces of gold found among lead shot could have been concealed by a French sailor trying to hide it from Blackbeard. On the bright side, artifact dates appear to be in the right ballpark. Underwater archaeologists found “a bell engraved with the date 1705.” Previously announced discoveries include a brass coin weight cast sometime between 1702-1714 as well as a wine glass made to commemorate the 1714 coronation of King George I.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Still, I have to admit that I find this “confirmation” strange. There remains no real hard evidence to link this shipwreck to Blackbeard. And over the years, some researchers have called into question the so-called mountain of circumstantial evidence. For example…

Rodgers, Richards and Lusardi challenged the assumption that the many guns indicated a heavily armed pirate ship. All ships during the period were similarly armed, they said, and the number and and caliber of the guns suggest that the wreck was probably a merchant ship. They said only 14 guns were probably mounted on the Beaufort shipwreck, while the others were too small to damage a ship or were stowed in the hold as ballast. The number of those mounted is what would be expected on an average merchant vessel during peacetime in the first half of the 18th century, they said. Varying historical accounts say the Queen Anne’s Revenge carried 22, 36 and up to 40 guns. In addition, the archaeologists said, one cannon bears a rough mark they interpreted as 1730 or possibly 1737. If that is the date of the cannon’s manufacture, they said, it would eliminate the wreck as the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Now, that article is a couple of years old, but I imagine at least some of it is still relevant today. Furthermore, the timing of this announcement raises awkward questions. According to David Moore, curator of nautical archaeology at the North Carolina Maritime Museum, there were two reasons behind it. First, the museum didn’t want to entitle its new exhibit something along the lines of “Artifacts From the Purported Queen Anne’s Revenge.” Second and more disturbing, the confirmation will “help the museum secure private funding to continue excavating the wreck.”

The shipwreck in question may or may not be the Queen Anne’s Revenge. It seems to fit the profile and time period. And I understand that identifying the wreck is an extremely difficult task. Hard evidence may not even exist, although I’m holding out hope that divers will recover an engraved bell or something along those lines. Regardless, based on the obvious conflict of interest here, this confirmation seems meaningless to me. A better exhibit title? Additional funding to make up for state budget cuts? Good lord.Supposedly, there are 750,000 remaining artifacts aboard the wreck. Recovering them all could take an additional 15 years. Let’s hope one of those artifacts serves as “the smoking gun.” Because at this point, I’m just not convinced.

The Double Eagle Scandal

In May 1933, the U.S. Mint printed the very last Saint-Gaudens double eagle. These $20 gold coins were never officially released to the public. A few managed to avoid destruction and the U.S. government has spent more than 60 years and untold millions of dollars tracking them down. Why is the 1933 double eagle the most controversial coin in history?

President Roosevelt Seizes America’s Gold

On April 5, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102 which, in effect, forced American citizens to turn in “all gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates” to the Federal Reserve. On January 30, 1934, Congress followed up that Order with the United States Gold Reserve Act, which allowed the President to seize the Federal Reserve’s newly-acquired gold supply. The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

The U.S. Government Declares War on the 1933 Double Eagles

Suddenly, gold coins became a thing of the past. The director of the Philadelphia Mint ordered the recently pressed 1933 double eagles to be melted down into gold bars and sent off to Fort Knox, a task which would take several years to complete. Only two of the coins were slated to survive. They were sent to the Smithsonian for safekeeping.

But, double eagles began to pop up. One coin made its way into the hands of Egypt’s King Farouk. Another one was offered via auction. The Secret Service quickly decided that someone had stolen the double eagles from the Philadelphia Mint. They actually debated the “advisability of trying to get [the] coin back from King Farouk.” However, since World War II was in progress and Egypt was an important American ally, they decided not to risk infuriating him. However, they did seize the other coin, an act which launched a decades-long war against private ownership of the 1933 double eagles.

“The government has been fanatical about seizing and destroying these coins. They’re famous because the government has been seizing them since the 1940s.” ~ Robert W. Hoge, American Numismatic Society

The 1933 Double Eagle becomes the Most Expensive Coin in History

The Secret Service traced the coins to a Philadelphia-based jeweler named Israel Switt. Switt claimed that he didn’t have any records pertaining to the eagles. However, he did state that they weren’t purchased from a Mint employee. The Justice Department disagreed but was unable to press charges due to the statute of limitations.

For the moment, the investigation was at an impasse. But after King Farouk was overthrown, his double eagle found its way into the hands of a coin dealer named Stephen Fenton. Fenton attempted to sell the coin in 1996 but the end buyer betrayed him. Secret Service agents rushed the room and seized the double eagle.

Incredibly, Fenton was charged with “conspiring to convert to his own use and attempt to sell property of the United States.” No one seemed to care that FDR’s ridiculous and unconstitutional Executive Order had been repealed in 1974 by President Ford. And the fact that there was no proof the coins were stolen in the first place didn’t seem to strike anyone as strange.

Fortunately, the charges were quickly dropped. And eventually, Fenton and the Justice Department agreed to auction off the coin and split the proceeds. After an extended publicity campaign, it sold for a grand total of $7.6 million, making it the most expensive coin in history until the 2010 sale of a 1794 silver dollar. The anonymous buyer lent it to the American Numismatic Society, which in turn lent it to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Double Eagle Double-Cross?

The story of the 1933 double eagle should’ve ended with that auction. But there was still another chapter to come. In 2004, Israel Switt’s only child Joan Langbord along with her son Roy discovered ten 1933 double eagles in a safety deposit box. She took the coins to the U.S. Mint for authentication. The Mint agreed but ended up pulling a fast one. It refused to return the property and instead told the media that it had “recovered” ten additional coins.

The Langbord family sued. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero claimed that any 1933 double eagles that left the Mint did so illegally. The Langbord family argued that most of the Philadelphia Mint records, which were ill-kept, had been destroyed in 1978. Also, no surviving witnesses remained. Finally, they identified a “window of opportunity” where Israel Switt could’ve obtained the coins in a legal manner.Shockingly, the jury sided with the government. While the Langbord’s are expected to appeal the verdict, the story has come to an end, at least for now. And government representatives are quite pleased with their success.

“People of the United States of America have been vindicated.” ~ Jacqueline Romero, Assistant U.S. Attorney

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The government spent more than six decades vigorously pursuing these coins. They confiscated private property. They treated citizens very differently, allowing Fenton to profit from his coin while not giving the same courtesy to the Langbords. And they paid untold millions of tax dollars throughout the investigation as well as during the court case. That leaves me with one question…Do you feel vindicated?

The Mysterious Treasure of Oak Island

Oak Island is a small island located four miles off the coast of Novia Scotia. It is the home of the infamous “money pit.” For more than two centuries, treasure hunters have attempted to unearth its treasure. Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt participated in one expedition decades before he became President of the United States. Does Oak Island really hold a treasure? And if so, how has it managed to elude treasure hunters for so long?

The Oak Island Money Pit?

In 1763, residents in nearby Chester reported “strange lights and fires” on Oak Island.  Then in 1795, a 16-year old boy discovered a circular depression on the island’s southeastern end. With the help of two friends, he began to dig and uncovered a stone platform and two layers of logs. Although they found nothing, they would return to the island eight years later with the Onslow Company. They found platforms of logs every ten feet as well as charcoal at 40 feet, putty at 50 feet, and coconut at 60 feet. At 80-90 feet, they recovered a large stone with strange symbols on it. One translation of these symbols read, “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” The group continued to dig but at about 98 feet, the pit mysteriously flooded with seawater.

In 1849, the Truro Company dug a new shaft parallel to the flooded one. This shaft also flooded. In 1851, workers made an astonishing discovery. A nearby beach was fake. Someone had removed the original clay and created a drainage system. Round stones were covered with dead grass and coconut fibres and then topped off with sand. Five drains were connected to the area, leading to speculation that whoever built the pit had also constructed an ingenious flood-trap. The tides caused seawater to flow into the pit while the grass and fibres kept sand from clogging the drains. Bailing the pit out proved useless as more water just rushed in to take its place.

An 1861 effort by the Oak Island Association caused the bottom of the original shaft to collapse into what may have been a natural cavern. Over a dozen separate expeditions would follow, leaving the area around the Money Pit a nearly unworkable mess of mud and debris. Starting in 1967, Triton Alliance, Ltd. used a steel caisson to excavate 235 feet into the ground. Supposedly, workers lowered cameras into a natural cave and recorded images of chests and a human hand. But the shaft collapsed and yet another expedition walked away empty-handed.

What’s Hidden on Oak Island?

Like many treasure stories, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Early accounts mention marks every ten feet. Later accounts change these marks into wood platforms. The stone with strange symbols on it has not been seen since the early 1900s and the corresponding translation remains highly controversial. Most importantly, after so many excavations, its impossible to tell if structures within the pit were created by the original builders or by earlier expeditions.

Numerous theories abound as to what might be hidden on Oak Island. Everything from pirate treasure to Shakespeare’s true identity to the Ark of the Covenant has been speculated to sit at the bottom of the money pit. And of course, there’s also the very strong possibility that the pit is nothing more than a natural sinkhole which leads to an underground cave (similar geological features exist on the mainland). The flooding, in this scenario, was caused by underground cavities filled with water. Dye tests conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution add support to that theory. However, the artificial beach as well as other clues make it hard to deny the possibility that someone built the pit centuries ago, presumably to hide something within it.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Recently, Oak Island Tours, Inc. began using electrical resistivity in order to detect underground tunnels. The process involves pulsing current through the ground in order to find unusual structures. According to Rick Lagina, the process has proved fruitful.

“There are interesting anomalies, yes…There are more than several sites that we are very excited about.” ~ Rick Lagina

Lagina and his fellow treasure hunters plan to analyze the data in order to determine promising drilling spots. So, is this just the latest in a long line of failures? Or will Oak Island Tours, Inc. finally get to the bottom of the money pit mystery? Either way, we should know the answer very soon.

The Ship that Nearly Sank America

On September 3, 1857, the SS Central America left the port of Colón, Panama, en route to New York City. It never arrived. What happened to it? And how did this ship’s failure to reach its destination nearly ruin the United States of America?

The Lost Treasure of the SS Central America?

The SS Central America was a side-wheel steamship that sailed routes between Central America and the east coast of the United States. In 1857, fifteen tons of gold were prospected in California and shipped to Panama via the SS Sonora. Since the Panama Canal was not yet in existence, the enormous gold shipment was transported by train across the country and reloaded onto the Central America.

As the Central America sailed towards New York City, it initially encountered few difficulties. But all that changed on September 9. While sailing off the coast of North Carolina, the steamship found itself engulfed by a Category 2 hurricane. The crew, under the direction of Captain William Lewis Herndon, fought mightily to stave off disaster. But eventually, the hull cracked, sending the gold and over four hundred people to the bottom of the ocean.

The SS Central America and the Panic of 1857?

According to historian Bray Hammond, the ship’s gold represented more than 20% of Wall Street’s gold reserves at the time. As such, the news of the shipwreck caused major financial ramifications throughout the United States.

Early in 1857, agriculture and other industries began drawing against their bank deposits, putting increased pressure on banking gold reserves. The New York Office of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Other New York banks followed suit as they found themselves unable to pay employees or creditors. A delay in gold shipments from California only added to the bleak situation. And when the SS Central America sank, it ended the last hope of New York bankers to stave off a major financial crash. The Panic of 1857, as it is known today, was perhaps the worst economic depression of the 1800’s. Some historians even consider it a major factor behind the Civil War.

Salvaging the SS Central America?

On September 11, 1987, one hundred and thirty years after the sinking of the SS Central America, the Columbus-America Discovery Group located the wreck in 8,000 feet of water using an ROV. Led by engineer Tommy Thompson, the Group excavated gold in the amount of $100-$150 million dollars. This haul included an eighty-pound ingot, which at that time was determined to be the most expensive piece of currency in the entire world.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The sinking of the SS Central America was one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. It caused over four hundred deaths and caught off all hope of quickly ending the Panic of 1857. The Panic, in turn, helped bring the country one step closer to a full-blown Civil War. The Central America is not widely known today. But in my opinion, it deserves to be recognized as one of the most significant shipwrecks in American history.

The Lost Fleet of Captain Morgan?

Captain Henry Morgan was one of the most successful privateers of all time. In 1671, while conducting a shocking raid on Panama City, he lost five ships to the raging waters of the Caribbean.  Now, divers believe that they have located this lost fleet. Just who was Captain Morgan? And how did his raid single-handedly change the world?

Who was Captain Henry Morgan?

Henry Morgan was born in Wales in 1635. While early accounts of his life are conflicting, we do know that he was commanding his own ship by the age of 30. Soon after, he took on the role of privateer, or a government-sanctioned pirate, similar to the infamous Captain Kidd. Outfitted with letters of marque from Britain, he began a series of daring raids that rocked Spain’s tenuous grip on the New World.

Captain Henry Morgan invades Panama?

In late 1670, Captain Henry Morgan assembled a mighty fleet of thirty-six ships and some 2,000 men and turned his sights towards Panama City. At that time, Panama City was the richest city in the Americas, thanks to seemingly endless loads of Inca gold appropriated by the Spanish conquistadors. It was also considered invincible, thanks to heavy fortifications facing the Pacific Ocean and miles of thick jungle separating it from the Caribbean Sea. Undeterred, Henry Morgan sailed to the Chagres River and captured Castillo de San Lorenzo. In the process, he lost five vessels, including his flagship, which underwater archaeologists believe they have now located.

Afterwards, Captain Morgan divided his 1,400 remaining men and marched through the Panama Isthmus. He caught the Spanish defenders by surprise, outflanked their counterattack, and seized the city. He spent several weeks in Panama and eventually left with 175 mules loaded with gold, silver, and jewelry. The haul was relatively light due to the fact that a few treasure-laden Spanish vessels managed to flee the harbor. However, since Henry Morgan paid his men just ten pounds apiece for their help in the raid, many researchers speculate that he took the rest of the treasure for himself and hid it before returning to Jamaica.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

According to Stephan Talty’s excellent book, Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan’s Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws’ Bloody Reign, Captain Henry Morgan’s raid on Panama City led to more than a possible lost treasure. It also changed the course of history, helping to bring about the end of the Spanish Empire and the “Old World”, which had been driven by religion, laws, and birthrights. The British Empire and a “New World”, driven by money, free trade, and democracy, would rise in its wake. In that respect, Captain Morgan remains one of the least known, yet most influential people in modern history.

“Morgan had helped, in his own way, point a path toward the future. Some historians have even argued that without Morgan the Spanish would have been able to settle and defend Florida more vigorously and even extend their control along the Gulf Coast, creating an impregnable empire stretching to Texas. Without him, who knows what the map of the Caribbean and even of the United States might look like. He battled a divine empire on behalf of men interested in trade and gold and rational society (but certainly not freedom for every member, as the pirates had insisted on). The next great world empire, the British, would be a mercantile, not a religious, one. The world had turned Morgan’s way, and he’d nudged it along.” ~ Stephan Talty, Empire of Blue Water

Who Framed Captain Kidd?

Captain William Kidd is one of the most notorious pirates in history. In 1701, he was executed in London after being found guilty of murder and five charges of piracy. Two hundred years later, documents emerged that called into question the official story. Was Captain Kidd framed? If so, why?

The Adventures of Captain Kidd

In 1698, King William III offered pardons to pirates who surrendered themselves to England. Only two men, the apparent worst of the worst, were denied such pardons. The first such pirate was “Long Ben” Avery, who eluded punishment and vanished. The second pirate was a man known as Captain William Kidd.

Kidd was a Scottish sailor turned British privateer. Privateers were essentially government-sponsored pirates. They were issued letters of marque and were only permitted to attack ships belonging to enemy nations. As such, Captain Kidd received a government license, some funding from prominent members of the Whig Party, and permission to keep a percentage of his profits. In turn, King William III gained another vessel to disrupt enemy trade as well as rights to ten percent of all of Kidd’s profits.

In September 1696, Kidd launched from London in the Adventure Galley and set course for Madagascar. Hopes for a successful voyage quickly crumbled and the ship’s crew suffered an outbreak of cholera, constant leaks, and few prizes. By October 30, 1697, part of the crew had deserted and the rest were openly talking about mutiny. On that day, Captain Kidd fought with gunner, William Moore. The argument ended when Kidd slammed a bucket into Moore’s head, fracturing the man’s skull. Moore died the next day.

Captain Kidd becomes a Pirate

A few months later, on January 30, 1698, Kidd finally captured the large prize that had eluded him and his crew. The Quedah Merchant was a four-hundred-ton Armenian ship, filled with satins, muslins, silks, sugar, opium, guns, silver, and gold. However, although the vessel was under French control, it was captained by an Englishman. After news of the Quedah Merchant reached England, Captain Kidd was declared a pirate.

After capturing at least four smaller ships, Kidd learned that he was being hunted. He sought support from Lord Bellomont, one of his investors and the newly appointed governor of Massachusetts. Bellomont offered him clemency. But when Kidd arrived in Boston, Bellomont had him arrested instead.

Kidd’s trial started on May 8, 1701 in England. He was accused of Moore’s murder and five counts of piracy. Kidd claimed that his attack on Moore was due to the man’s role in an attempted mutiny. He also claimed that four counts of piracy were done against his wishes by the mutineers.

The fifth count proved more troubling to explain. The Quedah Merchant was captained by an Englishman and carried strong connections to the England-based, East India Company. Also, Kidd did not take his spoils back to England as his contract required. Instead, he dispersed it amongst his crew and kept the rest for himself. Kidd fought back, alleging that his mutinous crew took the spoils. He also insisted that the Quedah Merchant was clearly a French ship and that he had the papers to prove it. However, these papers mysteriously disappeared prior to his trial. On May 23, 1701, Captain Kidd was executed via hanging.

Was Captain Kidd Framed?

While the charges were serious, many people continue to believe that Captain Kidd was framed or at the very least, sacrificed for the sake of politics. Its important to note that he didn’t dispute the killing of William Moore or the seizure of four of the ships. His defense for those crimes hinged on his statement that he was under constant attack by a band of mutineers. Regardless, his crimes weren’t exactly unusual given the times.

As for the Quedah Merchant, Kidd based his defense on a “French pass,” which was a piece of paper indicating that the ship was controlled by France. Kidd reported that he took the pass from the vessel’s captain and sent it to Lord Bellomont, his old business parter. Bellomont wrote a letter to Kidd which seemed to confirm the pass’s existence. However, it vanished prior to trial. Over two hundred years later, in 1911, a writer named Ralph Paine made an astonishing discovery. While searching London’s Public Record Office, he found the missing French pass. Its existence caused many to question if it had been hidden on purpose, in order to throw doubt on Kidd’s story.

Several groups stood to gain from his execution. He was initially backed by prominent members of the Whig Party. After news of the Quedah Merchant went public, the Whigs found themselves under heavy attack from the Tories. Wishing to avoid an embarrassing situation, the Whigs were eager to abandon Kidd. They went so far as to declare that he’d turned rogue after they’d outfitted him and his ship.

Another group who stood to benefit from Captain Kidd’s death was the East India Company. Kidd’s capture of the Quedah Merchant angered the India emperor, who threatened to close down trade routes. The East India Company, eager to placate the emperor and discourage future piracy, had strong motive to make an example out of Kidd.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Captain Kidd was a privateer who either turned pirate or was forced to do so by a mutinous crew. He never gained much success and if it hadn’t been for his sensational trial and his subsequent attempt to barter his life for a vast, hidden treasure, he would’ve been easily forgotten.

So, was he framed? Not exactly. After all, he committed at least some of the crimes of which he was accused. However, other pirates got away with far worse. It seems clear that both the Whigs and the East India Company had strong reasons to see him hang. This caused his supporters to abandon him and most likely led Lord Bellomont to file away the French pass rather than present it at his trial. While Kidd wasn’t framed, he was a victim…a victim of politics.

The Lost Treasure of Charles Dickens’s Shipwreck

On October 25, 1859, the Royal Charter crashed into rocks off the coast of Wales during a horrendous hurricane. With over 450 lives lost, it remains one of the biggest maritime disasters in history. Charles Dickens himself visited the site and wrote about it in his short-story collection, The Uncommercial Traveller. The other day, divers shocked the world when they announced the discovery of treasure while searching the shipwreck.  How much did they find? And is there more?

The Royal Charter Disaster

In late 1859, a steam clipper by the name of Royal Charter set sail from Melbourne, Australia to Liverpool, England in what should’ve been a sixty day journey. Historians estimate that it carried 371 passengers, 112 crew members, and other employees. As the ship rounded Anglesey, a force 12 hurricane struck the area.

Powerful wind slammed into the ship. Massive waves crested against its side. The crew attempted to anchor but the chains snapped. As the gusts drove the Royal Charter towards shore, the crew cut the masts and revved the steam engines. But it was to no avail. After crashing into rocks, gigantic waves, driven by one hundred mile winds, battered the Royal Charter into pieces. Twenty-one passengers and eighteen crew members, all men, survived. The rest, an estimated 459 people, perished in the destruction.

Charles Dickens & The Royal Charter

At the height of his fame, the author Charles Dickens visited the site and reported on the tragedy. His words, initially published in his magazine All the Year Round, helped memorialize the horrible disaster.

So tremendous had the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece of her solid iron-work: in which also several loose sovereigns that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced there. – Charles Dickens

Lost Treasure on the Royal Charter?

Recently, a team of divers led by Vincent Thurkettle announced the discovery of over two hundred artifacts as well as substantial amounts of gold dust, nuggets, and coins. It turns out that some of the passengers who sailed on the Royal Charter‘s last voyage were gold miners. At the time of the storm, they carried over 79,000 ounces of gold. Today, this treasure is estimated to be worth about $125 million dollars.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The Royal Charter‘s story is a sad one. Ordinary people as well as miners who’d struck it rich were on the verge of returning home after a long, two-month voyage. But with just a few hours to go, a vicious, merciless storm ended most of their lives and forever changed those of the survivors. However, it wasn’t all for naught. The destruction of the clipper led to the first gail warning system, improved weather forecasting, and the development of other safety measures.

Today, the remains of the Royal Charter lay under ten to fifteen feet of water, a solemn reminder of nature’s fury. It is believed that about twenty percent of the ship’s gold remains with the wreck. If so, then close to twenty-five million dollars of treasure, buried under a thin layer of sand, still waits to be recovered.