Secret Troves of the St. Lawerence Valley

By Hal Douglas
From page 58 of the January, 1980 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © January, 1980 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved

The St. Lawrence River Valley is an area rich in history and adventure. Ever since Jacques Cartier, a French sea captain, first probed the river's mouth in 1534, adventurers have marked a trail of romance, which now may be followed by modern-day treasure seekers.Treasure? Yes, the valley of this great river has its share and more of lost troves that still lure knowledgeable treasure seekers. For instance, few people know of a hoard buried in the area by Lord Jeffrey Amherst during the French and Indian War.It was the year 1760 and Amherst was leading more than 10,000 men from Oswego for an attack on the French at Montreal. The only French stronghold between his forces and Montreal was Fort La Presentation (now Ogdensburg), known to the English as Fort Levis. Amherst captured La Presentation without too much difficulty, dismantled it, and put the fortress to the torch. As his ships sailed away, only the charred ruins and a solitary chimney were left to mark the spot. The latter stood for many years as a landmark, giving the island upon which it had been erected the name it still bears - Chimney Island.About 30 miles further northeast on the river, Lord Amherst decided it was too risky to carry a large amount of money and valuables into enemy territory, so he landed near the present town of Louisville, N.Y., and buried a large chest of money, which included loot from Fort La Presentation. Fortunately, for the English troops, they scored an easy victory over the depleted ranks of the Marquis de Levis at Montreal. For some strange reason, Lord Amherst reportedly never recovered the chest, which he secreted before the attack. Stories of this hidden cache persisted along the river for years.In 1840, one fellow, claiming he had a revelation, dug a hole 80 feet deep in a search for the lost hoard. He finally gave up in despair, but the pit was known for many years as the money hole.An event during the Revolutionary War brought about the origin of another treasure cache in the St. Lawrence area. British troops, under the command of Col. Barry St. Leger, were being assembled on Carleton Island for a raid upon colonial settlements in New York's Mohawk Valley. His plan was to follow the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario, then to Oswego and the Mohawk Valley.When St. Leger's mixed force of 900 troops and some 1,000 Indian allies shoved off from Carleton Island, they encountered rough weather upon entering Lake Ontario. The result was that some of the boats carrying chests of gold sovereigns were swamped at Point Peninsula. As a consequence, the oaken chests were taken to a location near the present town of Redwood, N.Y., and buried for safekeeping. Tradition has it that this cache was valued at 20,000 British pounds. Apparently it was never reclaimed, perhaps because St. Leger's force was given a rough reception by colonial militia particularly at Oriskany where the raiders were chased back to Oswego.In the 1920's, an organization known as the Great Adirondack Treasure Company began selling shares of stock to raise funds for recovering St. Leger's treasure, however, this outfit seemed to have evaporated when authorities commenced to ask embarrassing questions concerning its operations.During the War of 1812, British troops lost another chest of gold coins, which is still waiting for a lucky treasure hunter. Historians relate that a British squadron was sailing down the St. Lawrence when a heavy fog enveloped the river. Rather than taking the risk of running aground, the ships anchored near Vanderbilt Island. Aboard one sloop was an army paymaster with several oaken boxes of gold coins for paying the troops and buying supplies. In accordance with normal procedures, two soldiers were posted as guards over the pay chests, but apparently the paymaster had selected the wrong fellows. The two guards had a yen for easy money and they weren't enthralled with army life. So, they quietly lowered a lifeboat under cover of the thick fog, then they eased one of the pay chests over the side of the sloop. Unfortunately for the two troopers, the chest dropped to the bottom of their boat with a loud thud. This noise, under the shroud of the gloomy fog, brought several troopers running to the rail of the vessel. At the command of a lieutenant, their muskets sent a volley of murderous lead after the fleeing lifeboat. Several balls hit the boat just below the water line, flooding it with jets of water.As they neared the shore, the two thieves accidentally overturned the boat in an effort to escape the rain of musket fire. This act jettisoned the money chest into the three or four feet of slimy ooze of the riverbed. To this day, the vanished pay chest has not been found, although a river guide, Donald MacTavish, claimed to have hooked it with his grapnel and lost it again in 1844.If you don't find the missing British pay chest near Vanderbilt Island, you might try for the several river pirate treasures which are said to exist between Ogdensburg and Lake Ontario. Pirates said to have stashed loot in this area include Jean Beauvier. Bill Johnston, Peter John Duval, Gamache and Patterson.Beauvier was born in France during the early 170O's, but left when police made it too hot for him. In Quebec, his criminal tendencies made it advisable for him to again depart in a hurry, so he and a couple of other renegades stole a bateau and hightailed it for the vicinity of Ogdensburg. It was there that they acquired a sloop without permission of the owner. Gathering a few more cutthroats, this crew ranged the river ports amassing a great deal of plunder. Attacks on smaller unarmed vessels was one of their specialties, but they made a great mistake in robbing and sinking the Jacqueline Marie. Some survivors managed to make their way back to Montreal to arouse the authorities. From that time on Beauvier was a hunted man.However, Beauvier succeeded in eluding the law the hard way. He did not meet his death at the end of a hangman's rope; he died of snakebite and was buried, together with a goodly portion of his ill-gotten wealth, within the present city limits of Ogdensburg. Folks say his grave and treasure are probably on the site of the Diamond International Corp.Patterson, another rascally pirate, worked both the Canadian and American sides of the St. Lawrence River with equal abandon. However, he only enjoyed about a year of devilish prosperity. It was in 1813 that Patterson and his fiendish crew decided to launch a great raid on some Canadian river ports. Rather than chance the loss of his accumulated plunder during the raid, he secreted it on the bank of Chippewa Creek, about four miles from the St. Lawrence. This raid was a complete flop. A company of British troops ambushed the pirates before they could begin looting. Those renegades not killed, including Patterson, were hauled off to Kingston to swing on the gallows, leaving another still hidden hoard.Ever hear of Bill Johnston? He earned a wide reputation as both patriot and pirate. A Canadian by birth, Johnston was one of the heroes of the Patriot War. This uprising, begining in the fall of 1837, was an effort by some Canadians and a few Americans to make Canada a nation independent of England. Johnston was branded a pirate however, by British authorities when he led a raid on the Canadian steamer Sir Robert Pee on the night of May 30, 1838.The steamer was on her way from Brockville to Toronto with 19 passengers and about 20,000 British pounds in specie for payment of troops in the Upper Province. While the steamer was taking on wood in the night at McDonnell's wharf, above Alexandria Bay, a gang of armed men led by Johnston rushed on board. After robbing the sleepy passengers and setting them ashore, the pirates set fire to the vessel and cast her adrift. The pirates later hid out on an island called The Devil's Oven. Johnston preferred to call it Fort Wallace. This could be a fine place to search for hidden loot.All of this leads one to ask has any treasure ever been recovered in the St. Lawrence area? Yes, but lucky searchers do not advertise the fact. However, one fellow did brag about his find. Richard Jackson, a Mohawk Indian, was digging a ditch at Morristown, N.Y., one day in 1916. Suddenly his shovel hit a hard metallic object. Clearing the dirt away, Jackson uncovered an old tea pot containing some old coins - an Eagle, two Double Eagles and two Fives. Naturally, this touched of a great treasure hunt, but no additional boodle was located there.The largest known trove in the St. Lawrence Valley dates back to the year 1758 when British troops under Maj. Gen. James Wolfe were ordered to attack the French fortress of Quebec. Seldom, if ever, had Britain sent out a force more redoubtable than the crews and regiments, seasoned, experienced and confident, that were then closing upon Quebec. The fortress was in deadly peril. Well aware of this precarious situation, the French commander, Gen. Louis Joseph Montcalm, issued a bulletin stating that residents of the city could send their valuables to the citadel for safekeeping. Into the citadel poured a vast amount of gold doubloons, louis dor and grand signeors family jewels and plate brought from chateaux in old France. This treasure amounted to millions of dollars. The trove was sewn up in hides and canvas bags then stashed in metal bound chests. As further protection, Montcalm chose four trusted guards and ordered them to transport this precious burden up the St. Charles River and bury it on the riverbank for safekeeping. It was Montcalm's intention to return the treasure to its owners after the impending battle.The St. Charles River joins the St. Lawrence at Quebec. The British assault on the fortress of Quebec was delayed until Sept. 13, 1759, a battle which took the lives of both Wolfe and Montcalm, as the Red Coats swept to victory. Montcalm's death left only four men who knew of the treasures location and little or nothing is known of their fate. Did they meet death, too, in the battle for the city? No concrete information about this treasure surfaced again until 1909, when a Quebec man made a strange discovery while repairing his fireplace. Removing a large stone, he was astounded to see that it hid a recess containing a small silver box, tarnished with age. A rusty key was still in its lock.Removing the mysterious box, the man gently rotated the key until the lid opened - in the box was a single piece of parchment, brittle from heat and discolored from age. It bore this message: Go to the little bay on the River St. Charles, 10 feet up the east bank you shall find buried in plaster, in charred wood, a plate and ingot of silver, and a sheep's skull. Under it is the secret of a great treasure.Could a former owner of this old chateau have been one of the four who buried the ancient treasure? Perhaps he and the others may have lost their lives in the assault upon Quebec, never able to restore the hoard to its rightful owners. In any case, the man who found the silver box, with his son, conducted an exhausting search along the banks of the St. Charles, digging by night to avoid unwanted attention. After digging several holes, they were unusually fortunate in striking the plaster and other items mentioned in the fireplace message. Beneath the sheep's skull the two treasure hunters unearthed a sturdy, ironbound chest. The older man swung his pick several powerful blows against the lock to pop open the lid of the chest. Treasure? No, rather there was another handwritten message: Go across the River St. Charles to the wood near the small bay and peninsula. There, 20 feet N.N.W. by N. towards a clump of firs, dig 50 feet and in plaster is our great treasure which came from the citadel.These directions seemed specific enough at first, but the treasure seekers found that this river had two well-defined peninsulas in what was thought to be the treasure area, but which one was referenced? Also, from what point should one measure 20 feet N.N.W. by N.? To further complicate matters, the two men discovered that the general area of the treasure site was land owned by a church; if treasure were discovered, would the church then be the rightful claimant? Not desiring to share the treasure with the church, the father and son dug secretly at night.For many nights they sweated with pick and shovel, but found no trace of the hidden wealth. Finally they gave up in despair. The clue of the clump of firs was no longer a reliable one after a century and a half. The firs may have long since been cut down. The best clue to this wealth is a map drawn in 1759 by a British naval officer. It shows a church, Notre Dame des Anges, just west of a point where the River Larrey enters the St. Charles. South of the church the map depicts a wooded peninsula named Des Islets. This could well be the peninsula referred to in the second instructions. Were these old documents intended only as a reminder for the four men who originally buried the ancient treasure? Certainly they did not intend to have strangers find this vast wealth.If these treasures do not suit your fancy, there is a tale of the Marquis de Levis having buried $500,000 in gold coins at Isle Royal, and another $100,000 in similar coins at Treasure Island. Both in St. Lawrence County.Yes, the St. Lawrence Valley offers good hunting for today's treasure seeker. A number of rich troves are secreted there, but it will require inordinate skill to recover them.