Jun 13, 2010
Some of the oldest coins and relics can be found here, as this is one of the earliest settled parts of the country. It was the Canarsie Indians who controlled all of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, all of the islands in the East River, the western half of Queens, the eastern shores of Staten Island and the upper N.Y. Bay. It was these Indians who welcomed Verrazano to our shores in 1524, Hudson in 1609 and even sold Manhattan to Peter Minuet in 1626. The first land grant went to Jacob Van Corlear on June 16, 1636, for Long Island and the oldest cattle ranch in the U.S. was established in 1747 at Montauk, Long Island.
We have our share, perhaps more than our share of lost treasures, buried caches and long lost hoards. Incredibly, very little is written about this part of the country, so here is a few stories to inspire all of you New York treasure hunters. For those interested, there is a whole book devoted to New York treasures and sites.
1) In 1917, Dr. Albert Leffingwell told his son Thomas that he had hidden a quantity of coins on his property in Aurora, N.Y. Before, he could show his son the hiding place, he suddenly died. His son Thomas spent many years in fruitless search of the property, digging random holes in all he believed to be likely places. To speed up the search, he even hired workman to aid in the search, also to no avail till his death in 1974.
Twleve years after his death, two hired hands remodeling a section of the house, discovered a secret room on the third floor of the 140 year old structure. The room contained some old toys, three steamer trunks filled with historical items, an 1856 mason jar and wine decanter both filled with coins. These, dating from 1803 to the 1860s were estimated to be worth about $10,000. The total count was 200 coins.
Relatives of Thomas Leffingwell. were quick to point out that although the 200 coins had indeed been hidden, these were probably not the main treasure, as Dr. Leffingwell had stated on numerous occasions that he had hidden the coin cache under a tree somewhere on the property, never mentioning the secret room or its contents.
Last we heard, egged on by the unexpected find, family members plan to resume the search by means of metal detectors. The find, certainly lends a degree of truth to the existence of the coin cache and a glimmer of hope that it will eventually be found.
2) The automobile magnet, Walter Perry Chrysler, is said to have hidden a sizable treasure on his estate located just above Southhampton Beach in Suffolk County, Long Island before his death in 1940.
3) An English army officer of noble birth by the name of Moses Follensby was believed to have buried about $400,000 in the Adirondack Mountains. In 1820, he built a log cabin on the pond that now bares his name, Follensby Pond. (Two other bodies of water also bare his name: Follensby Clear Pond just west of upper Saranec Lake, and Follensby Jr. Pond about 8 miles north of the same lake.) One October day, he was found near death and mumbling by two sportsmen fishing near his cabin. Before dying, he revealed to them the location of a chest hidden under a large stone. It contained a British uniform coat, a package of letters, a gold scabbard decorated with jewels and impressed with a coronet, gold and gem inlaid toilet articles, and two pistols mounted in silver.
Further examination of his belongings, revealed that he had buried the $400,000 nearby his log cabin, supposedly located just a few miles southwest of Tupper? Lake in Franklin County.
The site of the cabin is lost in the dust of time but it is known that he lived near the pond, on his property which was supposedly located near Follensby Road, two miles southeast of Tupper Lake near routes 3 and 30.
4) Somewhere in the Columbia County town of Austerlitz, high on one of the snow capped cones of the Tatonics lies an abandoned gold mine. (It was not very profitable as the yellow streaked quartz yielded very little gold.) Oscar Beckwith was born in this area in 1810, and after many years of traveling the west, returned home at age 67. After finding traces of gold on his property, he sought financial backing from a certain Simon Vandercook, taking him on as a partner. The partnership did not work well and in 1882, Beckwith did away with his partner. The grisly remains were found hacked up and disemboweled in his cabin. The skull had been charred inside a wood stove, the liver cooked in a frying pan and other parts apparently prepared for pickling in a brine barrel.
Beckwith was able to escape justice for six years, but was eventually found and brought to justice. Beckwith eventually confessed his crime and described in detail how he had bludgeoned, stabbed and partially consumed his victim to get rid of the evidence. The crime was so gruesome that Beckwith was sentenced to death by hanging.
While awaiting the sentence to be carried out, he told some of his visitors about the discovery of a new gold vein, much richer than the first, which he discovered just before he eliminated his partner. No coaxing would get him to reveal the location of the new site, for he hoped the governor of New York would commute his sentence. He was hanged on a cold March morning in 1888, in the courtyard of the jail at Hudson. Shortly thereafter, the infamous blizzard of ·8 swept across the Taconics, obliterating Beckwith? old cabin and any signs of his gold mine.
Was there a second gold mine? Greed was probably the incentive for Beckwith? murdering his partner Vandercook, thus it lends credence that a new gold vein had almost certainly been found.
5) At the outbreak of hostilities in 1775, the wealthy families of the northern colonies were almost universally Tory, who had grown rich on the British colonial policies and were sure that Washington? rag-tag army would be easily crushed by the superior British troops. Tories, as English sympathizers, did not sit well with American Loyalists who, as the war heated up, began to tar and feather all the Tories they could get their hands on and proceeded to seize the goods and lands. After the Continental Army? success in New Jersey and upper New York State, Tories began fleeing, often to Canada. Those who had time to prepare, were able to take their goods and treasure with them, but many were forced to leave much of their wealth behind.
Some Tories chose to stay behind and continue to serve the British as spies or otherwise lending their service as best they could. One such Tory was Robert Gordon, born in London in 1739. He had a place called Red Barn Lot, on the west side of Wood Creek near Whitehall. As things got too dangerous for him, he loaded his wealth on a small boat, securely packed in an iron box and started for Canada. Somewhere in the marshes on the west shore of the Haven or Harbor on the Poultney River, he was forced to dispose of the iron box by throwing it overboard. He long prospered in St. Johns, Canada till he disappeared while on a hunting trip.
What lends some credence to the story is that in 1934 a state dredge brought up a metal box in its jaws while engaged in a swamp clearance project. The box momentarily rested on the mound of muck but slipped and toppled back into the water. Other explorations have yet to relocate the elusive treasure box.
Not all treasures stay buried as demonstrated by these finds. A farmer named Vostburg, living near Champlain in upstate New York turned up a quantity of ancient gold coins while plowing. The treasure was supposedly buried by Patriots who stole it from a contingent of British troops which was camped near Champlain during General Burgoyne? campaign against New York State. The Patriots probably lost their lives in the conflicts that followed. The coins were worth several thousand dollars by 1909 valuation.
In 1894, a schoolteacher named George W. Hawkins was digging some holes to plant beans, when some 18 inches down his spade hit metal. He hurriedly retrieved over 100 Spanish coins dating between 1770 and 1775. The house Hawkins lived in was originally occupied by Reverend Brewster of the old Presbyterian Church on Setauket? Village Green. As the British captured the green and skirmishes erupted, the Reverend buried his personal wealth for safekeeping behind his house, intending to recover the coins as the situation abated. He was probably killed or otherwise prevented from retrieving the hoard.
As you see, New York certainly has its shares of both lost and found treasures. With its tantalizing mixture of just enough evidence to get us close but not quite enough to get us there, it has again proven an irresistible challenge.