Bioweapons…during the Revolutionary War?

In 1777, George Washington signed an order to vaccinate his troops for smallpox. While some historians consider this a response to a normal outbreak, others point to a more sinister cause…a biowarfare campaign waged by the British during the Revolutionary War.

Biological Warfare during the Revolutionary War?

According to Wikipedia, Biological warfare is defined as “the deliberate use of disease-causing biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or biological toxins, to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war.” Biowarfare has a long sordid past. Hittite texts from as far back as 1500-1200 BC report the use of plague victims to spread disease into enemy territory.

According to a recent article entitled, British used Bioweapon in US War of Independence, smallpox was a particularly brutal disease back in the 1700s. In 1776, “more than half of all people caught smallpox at some point, and a third of those died.” Since a proper vaccination was still twenty-two years away, smallpox itself was used to immunize people. By deliberately infecting people with a less deadly strain, doctors managed to reduce casualty rates to just 1-2%.

However, people who had recently received the vaccination were capable of spreading the more deadly strain to others, making them, in effect, human bioweapons. British troops used this method to spread smallpox among North American Indians back in the 1760s and among Boston rebels in 1775. A year later, they supposedly infected prostitutes with smallpox and sent them behind American lines, causing 5,000 casualties.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Clearly, General Washington had reason to fear smallpox outbreaks during the Revolutionary War. It stands to reason that his order to send troops to Philadelphia to receive the primitive vaccination was due, at least in part, to concerns over human bioweapons. Later, he even “set up special clinics to inoculate all new recruits.”

These days, many people glorify the past as a simpler and more noble time. However, Britain’s biowarfare campaign serves as a stark reminder that this just isn’t the case. The weapons were less effective during the Revolutionary War. But the desire to cause mass enemy casualties, both military and civilian, was just as strong as it is today.

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.

Is Fort Knox Empty?

A few weeks ago, CNBC announced that Ron Paul, the esteemed congressman from Texas, hoped to audit the supply and purity of the thousands of tons of gold stored in Fort Knox.  Of course, Paul’s wish makes one minor assumption…that there’s actually still gold in Fort Knox.

The Origin of Fort Knox?

The strange tale of Fort Knox, also known as the United States Bullion Depository, begins in 1933.  On April 5 of that year, 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.  The federal government built Fort Knox in 1936 in order to store its newfound treasure.

Citizens received $20.67 for each troy ounce of gold they turned over to the government.  Subsequently, President Roosevelt offered other nations the opportunity to buy or sell gold at $35.00 per ounce, an inflationary measure designed to end the rising Great Depression.  It didn’t work.  However, with most other assets undergoing deflation, the higher gold price attracted massive amounts of sellers from around the world.  As such, by 1949 Fort Knox held nearly 70% of the entire world’s known gold supply.

The End of the Gold Standard?

During the 1950’s, the tide began to swing the other way.  The U.S. continued to transact gold at $35 per ounce.  However, due to the declining value of the U.S. dollar, other nations were now buyers rather than sellers.  The sell-off lasted until August 15, 1971 when President Richard Nixon “closed the gold window.”  By ending the last remaining links between the U.S. dollar and gold, he also ended the need for a bullion depository.  Thus, Fort Knox became little more than a glorified, high-security warehouse.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, that brings us to the main question.  What, if anything, is still in the facility?  According to official records, Fort Knox holds 4,578 metric tons of gold bullion, or roughly 2.5% of the entire world’s known gold supply.  At the present spot price, that works out to $225 billion dollars.

However, that amount comes with an asterisk.  You see, no visitors have actually been inside the facility since September 1974.  And an official audit has not been performed since January 1953.  Even worse, that audit was flawed in numerous ways.  It lasted only seven days and tested just a small fraction of the gold.  With so much wealth and secrecy rolled into one location, it’s not surprising that Fort Knox has given rise to a flood of conspiracy theories.  The most popular theory is that the vault is empty or perhaps, filled with fake gold bars.

Personally, I doubt that Paul’s efforts will prove successful, at least in the near-term.  But one can always hope.  If he does manage to crack the facility’s cloak of secrecy, we will finally know the answer to one of the greatest mysteries of American history.  Does Fort Knox truly hold 4,578 metric tons of gold?  More?  Less?  Or is it just an empty warehouse?  And if it’s empty, more questions arise.  Questions that could prove just as difficult to answer.  Questions such as…

Who took the gold?  And what did they do with it?