State Treasure - West Virginia

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 41 of the February, 2010 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2010 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


Conspirators' Lost
Fortune in Gold!
WOOD COUNTY – A large deposit of gold is reputed to be buried on Blennerhassett Island in 1806 that has never been found. Originally the site of an Indian village, the island was later named Backus Island for Elijah Backus who purchased the island in 1792. The island was later named Blennerhassett Island for the infamous Harman Blennerhassett, a major player in the Burr Conspiracy who purchased the north end of the island in 1798.
Blennerhassett, an attorney by trade, was born the son of a wealthy Irish landowner. He immigrated to the United States after being shunned by family and his church when he wed his niece, Margaret Agnew. Using his father’s inheritance to re-establish himself, the Blennerhassetts moved to New York and Pittsburgh before settling in Wood County, West Virginia, on Blennerhassett Island.
There he built an opulent palatial mansion and the couple became the socialites of the Ohio Valley. Thousands were entertained there and, due to their extravagant affairs, accounts of their wealth were greatly exaggerated. Historians believe word of Blennerhassett’s fortune and influence reached the ears of Aaron Burr, who was tormented by a recent political failure. At that moment Burr needed an investor and a man of Blennerhassett’s influence to help him carry out his plans for annexing Texas or forming a new government out of the western states.
A meeting took place and the two men developed a friendship. At first Burr was a frequent visitor to the island, where he stayed at the Blennerhassett manor. But folks in the Ohio Valley became suspicious when Burr’s frequent visits turned into prolonged stays. What no one knew was both men were plotting treason against the United States in what is known as the Burr Conspiracy.
On November 27, 1806, President Thomas Jefferson ordered the arrest of Burr and his co-conspirators; the Virginia militia was then activated to make the arrests.
Word reached Blennerhassett that his arrest was imminent and he fled the island with little more then the coat on his back. Hours later the militia laid siege to Blennerhassett manor. Blennerhassett met Burr in Kentucky, but both were soon arrested and imprisoned in the Virginia State Penitentiary.
Blennerhassett had abandoned all personal possessions when he fled the island and was never able to return. Also left behind was the war chest of gold Burr and a long list of wealthy supporters had been building up over time. The funds were to be used to finance the overthrow of the U.S. government and to seize control of the western states in order to rise as an independent nation. It is believed that the conspirators kept their war chest buried near Blennerhassett manor. It has never been found.

The Lost Bellevue Treasure
JEFFERSON COUNTY – Colonel Joseph Van Swearingen is best remembered for his military service during the Revolutionary War, but the story of his strange death and lost fortune are all but forgotten today. The late Michael Paul Henson researched this story back in the 80’s and stated, “This is one of the few instances in which I have research material on a hidden treasure that involves the paranormal.” Henson admits the tale sounds like fiction and adds, “This is a strange treasure site.” Henson goes on to admit that his research confirms “records to prove it” do exist.
Colonel Joseph Van Swearingen was a prominent figure in Virginia history, as his father had been before him. Van Swearingen was serving as captain in the Berkeley County militia at the outbreak of the American Revolution and quickly organized the 12th Virginia Regiment. He rose to the rank of Colonel in Washington’s Army and saw action at the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. He was appointed commander of Berkeley County, which then included present-day Jefferson and Morgan Counties. He served until the war’s end in 1783.
For his service, Van Swearingen received a 4,000-acre land grant from the U.S. Congress and was one of 16 prominent citizens who worked to organize the newly formed Jefferson County. He was later appointed by Governor James Monroe to serve as a county justice of the peace and later served as High Sheriff of Jefferson County.
Van Swearingen built his mansion in 1773 on a high bluff overlooking a bend of the Potomac River near Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He named the home “Bellevue.” Before his death at Bellevue in 1821, Van Swearingen entertained such guests as George Washington, Henry Clay and Lord Fairfax.
In 1820, the Colonel visited a fortune teller who predicted he would die in one year. Soon thereafter Van Swearingen made preparations to bury the family’s vast fortune somewhere on his Bellevue estate. The undisclosed fortune was buried, its location a secret known only to the Colonel. Nothing out of the ordinary is known to have occurred during that year. Then, according to Henson’s research… “Colonel Van Swearingen did die at the hour and on the day predicted by the fortune teller.” To date this cache remains missing.
Today the Bellevue mansion is owned by the Henry Shepherd family and is located on County Route 5, at Route 1 Box 188, Shepherdstown, West Virginia and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Permission must be obtained first before entering or searching on private property.

Lost Union Payroll
LOGAN COUNTY – During the Civil War, a Union detachment was assigned to escort a payroll shipment of gold coins destined for a Yankee encampment in the region. As the detachment was proceeding through dense woods, a Union scout reported to the commanding officer that a Confederate patrol was rapidly bearing down on them from the east.
The Union officer ordered the detachment into a gallop to outdistance the Rebel forces. For approximately five miles the Union soldiers tried to elude the enemy, but the commanding officer could see their effort was futile. Realizing his men would soon be engaged in a fight, the Union officer stopped the transport wagon and ordered the canvas bags containing the gold be buried.
As troopers hastily dug a pit and buried the treasure, the commanding officer noted the location in his journal. He wrote the payroll was buried on the west side of the Guyandotte River near the tiny settlement of Chapmanville. After filling the hole and camouflaging the site, the Union soldiers fled. An hour later the Confederate patrol caught up with the detachment and opened fire.
The fight continued for roughly two hours, but the Union troopers were poorly situated and largely outnumbered. When the gunfire quieted the entire Union detachment lay dead. Rebels searched the wagon and found it empty. The Confederate commander suspected the gold had been buried just before the engagement and a search was conducted by retracing the Yankee’s trail for several miles, but nothing was found.
The Confederates then returned to the scene of the battle and stripped everything of value from the dead. An unknown Confederate soldier took the Union officer’s journal and later tossed it into a trunk where it remained until the early 1930’s. The directions in the journal stated the treasure was buried “at a point where the old road and the Guyandotte River came within twenty yards of one another.” Again a search was conducted and nothing was found.
The old road has since been obliterated, so check local plat maps or old military maps to help locate the cache site. No reported recovery has been made.

Sources:
Henson, Michael Paul, “West Virginia Treasures-Island Loot,” February 1989, Lost Treasure, p. 13
Burke, Michael, A Chronicle of the Life of Herman Blennerhassett, January 1999, West Virginia Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 1
Henson, Michael Paul, “West Virginia Treasures-Stashed Cache,” February 1989, Lost Treasure, p. 13
U.S. Department of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places, Van Swearingen – Shepherd House, OMB No. 1024-0018. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/jefferson/
83003241.pdf
Jameson, W.C, Buried Treasures of the Appalachians, 1991, Atlanta, Georgia, August House, Inc, p. 204-205.