Here’s a link to a 24-minute Youtube video of Elonka Dunin making a presentation on the Beale Ciphers a few weeks ago (November 2015) at PhreakNIC 19, a hacker/tech convention held in Nashville every year.

Elonka Dunin talking about the Beale Ciphers

[ Note that in the following, I try to actively distance the Beale Papers (i.e. the pamphlet, which is hugely problematic as a source of historical evidence) from the Beale Ciphers (i.e. the three dictionary ciphertexts). ]

Elonka starts by showing a brief (but poor quality) intro to the Beale Papers courtesy of the TV history documentary series “Myth Hunters”, which you can tell is full of crackpot theorists serious historians because my face appears straight away. 🙂

Elonka’s Opinion…

Ultimately, Elonka’s opinion is that despite the crypto, both the Beale Papers and the Beale Ciphers are literary fakes, even though she appreciates that the Gillogly strings (which we should probably actually call the Hammer strings, after Carl Hammer who first described them) can very clearly be taken either as evidence of the Beale Ciphers’ fakery or as evidence of its genuineness.

In some ways, it’s not often individual cipher mysteries break down to an either/or (my apologies, I just heard Simon Munnery on “Quote Unquote”, which brought back fond memories of being filmed in a draughty warehouse for Munnery’s Kierkegaardian TV show “Either/Or” as a sort-of-quiz participant many years ago), so this is quite an unusual aspect of the Beale Ciphers. By which I mean that unlike the Voynich Manuscript’s ten thousand stupid competing theories, the presence of the Gillogly strings implies that there are only really two workable explanations for the Beale Ciphers (note: not the Beale Papers): (a) that they’re completely genuine, or (b) that they’re completely fake.

Specifically: if there’s any evidence that suggests that the Beale Papers are themselves anything but a lurid fabrication, I have yet to see it. In fact, the only actual issue would seem to be whether the papier maché fleshing out was done on top of a thin (but genuine) wire skeleton, or whether the underlying skeleton was fake as well.

My Opinion…

For me, I think it is reasonably likely that there was indeed a Thomas Beale who left a box (containing the cryptograms) behind at the Washington Hotel for safe keeping. But given that the innkeeper Robert Morriss didn’t actually start working there until 1823, it should be possible for us to directly conclude that the letters (in the pamphlet) apparently addressed to Morriss at the Washington Hotel and supposedly written in 1822 are therefore completely fake. Basically, Beale couldn’t have written letters to someone who wasn’t working there yet.

And if those letters are fake, then the backbone of the entire pamphlet is fake. And so I find it easy to agree with people who think that the Beale Papers are fake. But what, then, of the Beale Ciphers?

My own suspicion is that what we’re looking at here is – much as seems to have happened with the “La Buse” cryptogram – a fake story elaborated around the hearsay bones of a real (but poorly-understood) cryptogram. But, as again so often happens, perhaps there were several layers to the storytelling going on here.

Firstly, I suspect that Morriss made the first level of elaboration in order to justify his having broken the locks of a sealed container some years after it had been left at the Washington Hotel (presumably for safekeeping with a previous innkeeper). And I would expect that there was a second level of elaboration added by the person who became the next owner of the object (though I doubt we will ever know more about this shadowy person). And whether the topmost level of elaboration (to turn it all into pamphlet form) was added by Ward or Sherman probably matters not a jot.

So in the Beale Papers, it would seem from all this that what we have been handed down is a fictional story wrapped around a retelling of a self-justificatory lie, which itself in turn was wrapped around a set of three ciphertexts that themselves may or may not be real. No wonder it has proved difficult for people to make sense of it all!

Ultimately, though I think the Beale Ciphers are real, Elonka concludes otherwise: hence we sit either side of that particular either/or fence – but feel free to choose whichever side seems to you to have the greener grass. 😉

A few weeks ago, an occasional email correspondent proposed in some depth that the Beale Ciphers were some kind of Masonic cipher, as Joe Nickell had famously claimed many years earlier.

One of the grounds my correspondent cited was that because Robert Morris’s (~1860) “Written Mnemonics” employed (what he, though not a cryptologist himself, thought was surely) a largely similar dictionary cipher, then it was surely no great stretch at all to see the Beale Ciphers also as a Masonic cipher, right?

I’d seen “Written Mnemonics” mentioned in a number of places (most notably in Klaus Schmeh’s online list of encrypted books), but had never seen it up close and personal, even though it was quite a well-known historical cryptogram. So I bought a copy to see it properly for myself. And, as Barry Norman was (and probably still occasionally is?) wont to say, why not?


Maybe one day I’ll also get round to buying myself a copy of the Oddfellows cryptogram booklet I cracked too. But my cipher book-buying account is none too flush right now, having just bought four Beale-related books this month. 🙂

Anyway, I posted a permanent webpage here for “Written Mnemonics” with some scans of its first few pages: but it seems highly unlikely to me that anyone would be able to crack it without the (separately published) cipher key document, of which I don’t currently have a copy. (Of course, if anyone happens to know how I can get a copy of that, please let me know!)

The historical background is that the book’s author, Robert Morris (no relation to the “Robert Morriss” mentioned in the Beale Papers, sorry if that’s inconvenient), produced these “Written Mnemonics” to try to preserve and distribute what he believed (from his own historical research) to be the oldest genuine forms of Masonic rites. Though this went against the letter of Masonic practice, he and a group of like-minded people known as the “Masonic Conservators” felt that the historical urge to conserve these rituals in written (albeit strongly enciphered) form outweighed the letter of the Law that said not to record them.

However, this was a controversial thing for him to do because when you signed up to be a Mason, you specifically swore never to write Masonic rituals down – they were necessarily supposed to be passed down orally, as part of an (allegedly) millennia-spanning tradition of passing secrets down orally (though whether this supposition is actually true or not is another matter entirely).

And so Morris’ publication in the 1860s of a 3000-copy print run of his “Written Mnemonics” book proved problematic for many Masons, particularly those of a more conservative disposition (of which there were more than a few). Unfortunately, there wasn’t really a middle ground to be had in the ensuing debate: and ultimately Morris came off the worse of most of the associated arguments, and so ended up being pushed to the movement’s periphery, if not the cold outside.

History hasn’t really remembered Morris well, but perhaps this is a little unfair: and this may also have been because Ray Vaughn Denslow’s (1931) book The Masonic Conservators covered the ground of what happened so well that there was little else of great interest for later historians to scratch through.


Might the Beale Ciphers be Masonic? Well, it’s entirely true that a fair few men of that era were Masons or Oddfellows or Sons of the Desert (or whatever), and so there was a reasonable statistical chance that the person who enciphered the Beale Ciphers was at least coincidentally a Mason: hence I can’t currently prove that the Beale Ciphers were not some kind of smartypants Masonic cipher of a previously unknown form.

But having gone over Denslow’s descriptions of Morris’s cipher key (which Denslow clearly had seen one or more copies of), I can say that there is clearly no connection whatsoever between the kind of code used by Morris and the kind of dictionary cipher used in B2, or indeed the (very probably) hybridized dictionary cipher used in B1 and B3.

So might the Beale Ciphers have anything at all to do with Morris’ “Written Mnemonics”? From what I can see so far, the answer is an emphatic no, sorry. As always, please feel free to point me towards other documents or evidence that suggests otherwise. 🙂

I know, I know, it somehow turned into ‘Beale Cipher Week’ here at Cipher Mysteries without so much as a tiny red flag on my part by way of warning. Having said that, I’m just as surprised as you probably are, and yes, I do have plenty of non-Beale cipher stuff to cover: but stick with where this is all heading, I think it’s actually quite interesting.

While waiting for my Thomas Beale Junior-related books to arrive (yes, the virtual BealeFest Will Continue), I had a quick look around the web to see if anything else Bealesque was going on. Apart from an online comic-book retelling of the Beale pamphlet / myth, all I found of interest was Reddit user called HughJorgens (fnarr fnarr) asserting that, contrary to what Ward’s pamphlet claims, you don’t get gold and silver mines in the same place.

Might he be right? I didn’t know: but given that the pamphlet specifically claims that Beale’s group found gold and silver north of Santa Fe, I thought it would be useful to briefly review gold and silver mining, and also the specific history of gold and silver mining in Colorado and New Mexico.

Lode vs Vein vs Placer vs Bench

To make sense of what’s going on here, you have to know some gold prospector terminology: so here’s a brief guide.

Gold starts in lodes (rich, clumpy underground deposits, typically in hard rock that needs mining out): but when a river cuts its way through an underground deposit, it breaks fragments of gold away from the lode, and washes them away. If they sink into fissures in the rock, they form underground gold veins (spread out in long thin deposits), or else they get carried away into stream beds containing sand, gravel or earth, known as placers. (Because gold is roughly six or so times more dense than most other materials normally found in a placer, it tends to move more slowly, to fall and then to get wedged in cracks in the bottom of the stream bed.)

Finally… when a stream or river changes its course over the course of time, an old stream bed can be left (quite literally) ‘high and dry’. This is known as a ‘bench’: and the gold found in a bench is a bench deposit. But if you’re looking at bench deposits, you need to dry wash what you dig from the bench, a process that was invented in 1897 by Thomas Edison – before that, prospectors had to bring lots of water with them to wet wash what they had dug out.

So: to successfully pan for gold, you need to be standing on a placer deposit, though ambitious gold prospectors sometimes try to trace a stream-bed back to the lode or veins where the gold in the placer was originally washed away from.

Silver prospecting, however, works quite differently from all this, because silver almost never appears as a placer deposit or bench deposit in the way that gold is, but instead usually appears as ore that needs mining. Moreover, silver ore is also frequently found with various other commercially valuable ores – copper, lead, tin – so offers much more of a conventional mining ‘win’ than gold. Hence a ‘gold rush’ can be a short, sharp shock to a local economy that then quickly disappears, whereas a ‘silver’ rush takes much longer to work through, often decades.


In 1859, the first gold in Colorado was found in placer deposits in Cherry Creek, near where it meets the South Platte River. This triggered a Colorado gold rush (known as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush simply because it was a well-known local feature, not because the gold was anywhere near it), which was followed by vein discoveries in a number of locations.

The earliest guide to the history of Colorado Gold was published in 1859 by Le Roy Reuben Hafen. His “The Illustrated Miners’ Hand-book and Guide to Pike’s Peak: With a New and Reliable Map, Showing All the Routes and the Gold Regions of Western Kansas and Nebraska” (available online here, though sadly without a scan of his “New and Reliable Map”) include some interesting (if somewhat breathless and unreliable-sounding) stories, such as this one:

In 1835, a French Trapper by the name of Eustace Carriere, while lost from his party, wandered through that region for several weeks, during which time he collected some fine specimiens, which he found lying upon the surface, and took them with him to New Mexico. Upon examination, they proved to be pure gold, and a company, with M. Carriere as their guide, soon set out for the new Eldorado. Arriving there, their guide failed to find the precise location where he had seen so much of the “sparkling mineral,” and the Mexicans, under the supposition that he did not wish to disclose to them his new discovery, inflicted upon him a severe whipping, left him, and returned to New Mexico. (p.7)

Not long after gold was ‘properly’ discovered in Colorado in 1859, silver veins too were found in the Central City-Idaho Springs district. Interestingly, “[the] veins of the district are zoned in a roughly concentric manner, with gold-bearing pyrite veins in the center, and silver-bearing galena veins more common in the outlying areas.”

New Mexico

In New Mexico, gold was first discovered in 1828, several decades earlier than in Colorado. Placer deposits were found first (in the Ortiz mountains in Santa Fe County), followed by a lode deposit close by, five years later (in 1833), which was still 13 years before it was incorporated into the United States. Yet New Mexico’s ultra-dry climate made it a difficult place to prospect for gold, particularly in the years before drywashers became available.

Fayette Jones’ (1905) book New Mexico Mines and Minerals talks about stories of old mines in the area, but concludes:

The evidence seems conclusive that no mines of either silver or gold were worked to any extent prior to 1800; save some little gold picked from the gravels at various points throughout the Territory and from the silver lead mines in the vicinity of Los Cerrillos […] (pp.11-12)

Another choice quotation (from what I found a very interesting book) concerned the gold productivity of the whole New Mexico territory at this time:

According to Prince’s History of New Mexico, between $60,000 and $80,000 in gold was taken out annually between the years 1832 and 1835. The poorest years of this period were from $30,000 to $40,000. (p.22)

Thomas Beale’s Gold and Silver?

In Ward’s 1885 pamphlet, the author writes that when Beale’s party found gold “in a small ravine […] in a cleft of the rocks” in April or May of 1818, it was “some 250 or 300 miles to the north of Santa Fe”, i.e. in the middle of modern-day Colorado. “[The] work progressed favorable for eighteen months or more, and a great deal of gold had accumulated in my hands as well as silver, which had likewise been found.”

Yet it looks as though HughJorgens’ (sigh) claim that gold and silver don’t occur together isn’t entirely true, in that both were indeed found close by each other in Central City-Idaho Springs (though only in 1859, and in veins rather than in lodes). And in fact Idaho Springs is very nearly directly north of Santa Fe (the two are about 340 miles apart).

But what bothers me here is the sheer scale of the operation, particularly the silver. The problem with mining silver is that that’s the easy part: it then has to be smelted in order to be commercially useful. But without a silver industry already in place, there wouldn’t be any kind of silver smelting infrastructure in place. Colorado may have become known for a while in the late 19th century as the Silver State, but circa 1820, this was all a long way in the future.

According to the B2 ciphertext:

“The first deposit consisted of one thousand and fourteen pounds of gold, and three thousand eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited November, 1819. The second was made December, 1821, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight pounds of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at $13,000.”

I don’t know: there are a lot of details here that I can’t quite swallow all at the same time. If it’s right, Beale and his team not only found gold (in vastly greater quantity than Eustace Carriere claimed to have done in 1835), but they also found silver, which is an extremely rare combination. They also seem to have found lode deposits near the surface: the description doesn’t sound as though they were doing anything so gauche as panning at placer deposits. And they also seem to have exchanged a large amount of silver (presumably silver ore?) in St Louis without causing any ripples of suspicion there.

Whether or not you buy into the whole ‘thirty gentlemen adventurers’ story is up to you: but there’s something about all this gold and silver business that mechanically and physically doesn’t ring true to me. It’s a thousand-plus miles to St Louis from Santa Fe: that’s a long, long way to haul that stuff, really it is. 🙁

Well. I am surprised.

No sooner had I posted about The Two Thomas Beales and Thomas Beale Junior than I stumbled upon rather more about the Beale family’s affairs than I honestly thought possible, let alone likely.

The key source of information was in a book called “New Orleans Architecture: Jefferson City”, part of a series of books about New Orleans Architecture by Friends of the Cabildo. Pages 41-45 detail the trials (literally!) and tribulations of the Beale family from 1812 through to 1846 or so. (There’s more on page 25).

The highlights of the account are:
* Thomas Beale Senior had drank and gambled away all his money, particularly in 1810;
* He was declared bankrupt in 1812 with $26,000 in debts against ~$13,000 in credits, and indeed briefly went to jail;
* After the part his Rifles played in the Battle of New Orleans, he was something of a “hometown hero”;
* In 1817 he was given a juicy sinecure as Register of Wills (so if you see “Thos Beale Register of Wills” in the Orleans Gazette and Commmercial Advertiser, that’s him);
* Thomas Beale Junior “was as upright and economical as his father was rash”, and ran the family hotel well;
* 29th April 1818: Thomas Beale Senior bought a plantation of land from the late John Poultney, before the notary public Philip Pedesclaux;
* 27th April 1819: Thomas Beale Senior sold the plantation to Thomas Beale Junior, before the notary public Michel Armas;
* September 1820: Thomas Beale Senior died;
* October 1823: Thomas Beale Junior died;
* In 1824, Thomas Beale Senior’s widow Céleste bought the family plantation from Thomas Beale Junior’s estate (I hope you’re following this, there’s a test later), and began a series of lawsuits against Thomas Beale Junior’s natural mother Chloë Delancey alleging that the 1819 transaction between father and son was an illegal “simulated sale”;
* In 1830, the case Delancey vs Beale made it all the way to the Supreme Court in Louisiana;
* In 1846, the Beale Senior’s widow moved to Baton Rouge.

Of course, the duration and intensity of this legal process inevitably made a loser out of everyone involved, even the supposed winner in court (Céleste Beale): and over the next decade and more, the machinations of Samuel Ricker Junior (who married Céleste’s daughter Eliza) seem to have taken a bad situation and made it far, far worse… but that’s another story entirely.

Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to read “New Orleans Architecture: Jefferson City” via Googled fragments, and so despite the fact that it contains many references and footnotes supporting its statements, I have not been able to find those sources. However, I’ve ordered myself a copy and will post an update to Cipher Mysteries when it arrives (in the next week or so, all being well).

My Thoughts on the Beales

As a Register of Wills in New Orleans, Thomas Beale Senior was doubtless privy to all manner of schemes that the (often barely) living tried to put in place to avoid inheritance tax, death duties and the like. Given that the Louisiana Supreme Court (eventually) agreed that the transfer of his property to his son that he tried to put in place in 1819 was (as Beale Senior’s widow claimed) merely a “simulated sale”, it seems likely to me that this was very much part of a scheme along these same general lines.

All of which leads to the somewhat embarrassing conclusion that even though Thomas Beale Senior was a Register of Wills, both he and his son died without leaving a will: while their heirs – quickly surrounded by feckless, inept shysters, happily gouging out their estate – seem subsequently to have spent more time in Louisiana’s Supreme Court than could be considered healthy for anyone not directly making a living out of that place.

While I will be very interested to read up the historical source material on the Beales (which seems, their surname notwithstanding, as much of a soap opera as Eastenders), right now I don’t see anything happening circa 1816-1818 that leads me to even suspect that Thomas Beale Junior was a ‘gentleman adventurer’, as per the only-possibly-eponymous Beale Papers. Rather, Beale Junior seems to have been more interested in furnishing and running his family’s hotel / bar and running their only-recently-acquired plantation.

All the same, we still know next to nothing about what Thomas Beale Junior was doing before 27th April 1819 (the date when his father transferred the plantation over to him in the sham transaction), so – if you’ll forgive the almost unavoidable phrasing – the jury is still out.

Appendix: Delancey vs Beale

The case is to be found in “Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, Volume 1”, pp.524-526. I have included it herebelow, having corrected various scanning and transcription errors, as well as what seems to be one gender error:

In 1819, Thomas Beale, sen. conveyed all his property, by notarial acts, to his natural son Thomas Beale, jr., for one hundred and twenty-four thousand dollars, for which he took his notes, with reservation of mortgage. Shortly after, Beale, sen. died intestate, leaving a widow and minor children, but no proceedings in the probate court where had upon his estate. Beale, jr. resided with his father until his death, and afterwards possessed and controlled the property until he died in 1823. The estate was inventoried and sold as that of Beale, jr. Mrs. Beale, the widow of Beale, sen. bought in a large portion of it, and gave her notes with mortgage, according to the condition of the sale. Upon the filing a tableau of Eastern District, distribution by the curator of Beale, jr. she appeared in her own behalf, as partner in community, and as tutrix of her children, and claimed to be placed on the tableau as a privileged creditor under the sales or 1819, of the father to the son. This was opposed by the natural mother (the plaintiff in this cause) as benificiary heir, and also by the creditors of Beale, jr., upon the ground that the sales of 1819 were simulated and void, as made by the father to his natural son, for the purpose of protecting his property from the reach of creditors. These sales were accordingly declared null, and the property sold by these acts of 1819, was ordered to be restored to the widow and heirs of Beale, sen., to be administered according to law.

The present action was instituted upon the notes given by Mrs. Beale, for property purchased at the sale of Beale, jr’s. estate. A want of consideration was pleaded, and after judgment for the defendant, the plaintiff appealed.

  McCaleb, for appellant.
  Seghers, for appellee.

Martin, J. delivered the opinion of the court. The plaintiff, beneficiary heir of Thomas Beale, jr., brought suit on sundry notes of the defendant, given for property purchased at the sale of the estate.

The answer sets forth that the consideration of the notes has failed, the property purchased having been declared to have been acquired under a simulated sale, which has been judicially set aside. There was a prayer for the cancelling of the notes.

There was judgment for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

The record shows that the facts stated in the answer are true: but the appellee has urged that the estate of his [[her?]] son has large claims on those of his father, the defendant’s husband, for improvements on the premises, large advances and long services.

Admitting this to be true, these claims are to be preferred against the defendant and the heirs of her husband; the district court could not have acted on them in the present suit.

It is therefore ordered, adjudged and decreed, that the judgment of the district court be affirmed with costs.

What research resources might an interested historian use to find out about the very real Thomas Beale Junior (who might or might not be the Thomas Beale of Beale Papers fame)?

The various New Orleans depositions in 1824/1825 relating to Beale’s estate following his death in 1823 would be a sensible starting point (and the sooner we find a way to have these scanned and transcribed, the better in my opinion): but because they seem likely to be related to his life after 1820 (when he inherited his father’s estate), I suspect this may not carry our research into his earlier life much further.

Aside from (a) legal documents, the two other most obvious research resources would be (b) books and (c) newspapers: but before I delve into these, I need to discuss some tricky issues concerning what happened according to the ciphertext, so that we can possibly narrow our search range down.

Ciphertext vs Pamphlet

There are a number of issues to contend with:

* Ward’s pamphlet asserts that Thomas Beale’s group was made up of thirty Virginian gentlemen adventurers

…yet the ciphertext itself mentions only that it “[belonged] jointly to the parties whose names are given in [cipher] number three”, with the result that much ink has been spilled speculating how thirty names could be squeezed into B3’s plaintext.

* The pamphlet asserts that Beale entrusted the ciphers to Robert Morriss in 1822

…yet other documents indicate that Morriss only started at the Washington Hotel in Lynchburg in 1823.

* The language used in the pamphlet sits awkwardly with its supposed date of 1822

…e.g. “stampeding” only appearing in print for the first time some 50 years later, giving rise to suspicions that it is an out-and-out hoax.

* The pamphlet asserts that the decipherer numbered the pages, yet the ciphertext of B2 refers to B3 by its number

…which, by itself, consistutes nearly a complete proof that the pamphlet isn’t genuine.

What view should we take on all these differences?

Hoax vs Embellishment

To my eyes, the five basic positions about Ward’s pamphlet are that it is…

(1) Utterly genuine from start to finish, as are the ciphertexts;
(2) Largely genuine (though admittedly with some mistakes), but the ciphertexts are real;
(3) A creative embellishment upon a limited core of truth, but where the ciphertexts are real;
(4) Completely fake, though the ciphertexts themselves are actually real; or
(5) Fake from start to finish, including the ciphertexts.

I think we can rule out (1) on the grounds that the pamphlet is clearly and specifically inconsistent with the ciphertext; and – taking a dissenting position to Jim Gillogly’s viewpoint – I think the existence of some subtle cryptographic dependence of B1 upon the DoI is a clear indication that we can rule out (5). Most Beale researchers seem to be ‘pamphlet believers’ (2) or ‘pamphlet disbelievers’ (4 or 5): but I think the right position is more likely to turn out to be (3).

Yet the problem with (3) is that we are left wondering what that limited core of truth is – that if we can only very loosely rely upon the pamphlet, we’re left with almost nothing to work with.

The Thomas Beale Junior Hypothesis

If we accept that what B2 says was true; that Robert Morriss genuinely looked after the ciphertexts; that the name “Thomas Beale” was genuinely that of its encipherer; and then hypothesize that Thomas Beale Junior (d.1823) was the same person, then I think things start to get interesting.

One key research presumption has long been that the band of Virginians was formed in Virginia itself. However, the documentary evidence says that much of Thomas Beale Senior’s clientele at his New Orleans hotel was formed of older, out-of-state Virginians: so it might well be that if Thomas Beale Junior formed a band of Virginians to go adventuring, it may have been formed of the adventurous scions of those out-of-state Virginians living in New Orleans.

If that is correct, then his hypothetical timeline might then look something like this:-
1818: Thomas Beale Junior travels to New Orleans to meet Thomas Beale Senior
1819: Thomas Beale Junior forms a band of Virginians in New Orleans to go adventuring
1819: the band deposits its first treasure cache near Bufords
1820: Thomas Beale Junior returned to New Orleans: his father dies: all kinds of business to attend to
1821: the band deposits its second treasure cache near Bufords
1823: Thomas Beale Junior entrusts his enciphered note with Robert Morriss in Lynchburg: but then dies not long after returning to New Orleans

None of this is a certainty: but it might possibly help us decide where to go next.

Where To Look

If this is broadly correct (if lacking many details, and with some inevitable errors from guesswork), then I think the right place to look in some kind of concerted way would be in New Orleans newspapers in the date-range 1817 to 1825. However, it would be good to have the actual death dates of both Thomas Beale Junior and Thomas Beale Senior, so that the search can be more, ummm, focused.

It turns out that there were quite a few newspapers in French and English (and indeed some in Spanish, too):-
* L’Ami des Lois (via Google News) [largely court notices, in French and English]
* L’Ami des Lois & Journal du Soir (also via Google News)
* Orleans Gazette and Commmercial Advertiser (listing here)
* Louisiana Courier (via Google News) [ads and court notices, in French and English]

Completists might also look at the following:
* Baton-Rouge Gazette (link here)
* Feliciana Gazette (link here)
* Louisiana Planter (link here)
* The Time Piece (link here)

There’s also a useful resource showing how early New Orleans newspapers were related to each other here.

If you secretly have a deeply-felt (but timey-wimily paradoxical) desire to meet Thomas Beale, then you may well be thrilled to find out that the George C. Marshall Museum in Lexington, VA will be hosting “a special, one-time only presentation” on 1pm on Saturday 20th June 2015 that features “Thomas Jefferson Beale” himself. Or rather, slightly less confusingly, Bedford resident Tim Flagg who “has portrayed Beale on stage and in several film productions aired on BBC, the Travel Channel and PBS”.

Will Flagg/Beale reveal the location of his treasure? I’ll let you into a secret here: because Ward’s pamphlet only ever referred to the man as “Thomas Beale” (and never as “Thomas Jefferson Beale”), anywhere that you see ‘Jefferson’ inserted into the name (was it the Innises who first did this?) is likely to be just a tad unreliable. So perhaps you won’t be going back to that Virginian mini-digger hire company for their “Weekend Beale Deale” any time soon. 😐

In other Beale news, mystery writer Jenny Kile recently visited Buford’s (which I always presumed had long been bulldozed by the passage of time), and found that Buford’s original chimney was still standing. (Though it’s probably not a good idea to breathe in too deeply in the page’s comments section, secondary theory inhalation can have nasty long-term health consequences).

John Piper’s Beale Decryption

But I also recently found that Reverend John L. Piper claims to have “found the key to the Beale Cipher” back in January 2014, and “is working to complete the two decoded pages to a final draft.”

Piper’s blog posts are marked as being for “members only”, so do not currently appear on the web. Yet, oddly enough, two of Piper’s comments on those pages are publicly visible.

One comment links to a New Orleans public library probate listing for “Beale, Thomas, Estate of Beale, Thomas, absent heirs of” dating to 1824. The same listing has related probate claims made by “Henderson, C.L.” (1825); “Canterbury, P.” (1824); “Oakey, Samuel W.” (1824); and “Beale, Thomas, Jr., Estate of” (1824), which I would expect Piper has looked through too.

In the other comment, he quotes from a Cowand genealogy webpage which describes how a family member (Jesse Cowand) was “a Corporal in Captain Thomas Beal’s Company of Orleans Riflemen”: and that’s a whole different story I haven’t previously covered here…

Captain Thomas Beale

There’s quite a lot written about Captain Thomas Beale’s (somewhat ad hoc) Company – which numbered 62 or 78 men, depending on which source you believe – and the part it played in the Battle of New Orleans. It was composed of “distinguished New Orleans businessmen and civic leaders, most of them from Virginia. Each member wore a blue hunting shirt, black slouch hat and carried a Kentucky longrifle.”

This Thomas Beale was, according to “Fifty Years In Both Hemispheres” (1854) by Vincent Nolte, “a man of advanced years, a native of Virginia, and then residing in New Orleans, where he had some reputation as a fine marksman.” (p.206) Along with almost bar one of his company, Captain Beale survived the famous 23rd December night-battle (though by running away and hiding, according to the none-too-fond Nolte).

Confusingly, there was both a Thomas Beale Senior (who died in September 1820 in New Orleans) and a Thomas Beale Junior (who died in October 1823, also in New Orleans). The existence of 1824 probate documents (as noted by Piper) seems to imply that Beale Junior died without a will.

Beale treasure hunter forum members have raked through these archival coals many time since. For example, ‘ECS’ noted as recently as Jan 2015 that:

* Thomas Beale [Senior] shot Major James Risqué in a duel that concerned Risqué niece,Julia Hancock. (For a time, Julia stayed with her cousin, George Hancock Kennerly in St Louis. Kennerly also fought in the War of 1812- Julia, later married William Clark of Lewis & Clark).
* Thomas Beale [Senior] fled Virginia after this duel.
* Thomas Beale [Senior] had an affair with Chloe Delancy of Botetourt county and fathered Thomas Beale Jr.
* Thomas Beale [Senior] went to New Orleans, married Celeste Boucher de Grandpre, had an uptown plantation, the Planters & Merchants Hotel, and gambling and sporting houses.
* During the Battle of New Orleans, Thomas Beale [Senior] led a militia, Beale’s Rifles, composed of New Orleans merchants and lawyers.
* Thomas Beale [Senior] died Sept 1820 in New Orleans, and in his will, bequeathed everything to Thomas Beale Jr, which caused several claims against the Beale Estate to occur,including claims by Celeste Beale (widow) who was represented by John Randolph Grymes, Samuel W Oakley, P Canterbury, C L Henderson.
* Thomas Beale Jr died at the Planters & Merchants Hotel, Oct 1823, which brought Chloe Delancy to New Orleans to make her claim against the Beale Estate./em>

Which Beale Is Which?

Let’s try to get some clarity here. 🙂

I think we can identify Thomas Beale Senior as having been Captain Thomas Beale, who Nolte identified as “a man of advanced years”.

And we can also surely eliminate Thomas Beale Senior as a possible author of Beale Paper ‘B2’, because the cipher plaintext states clearly that the second load of treasure was deposited in “Dec[ember] Eighteen Twenty-One”, more than a year after Beale Senior died.

All of which leaves Thomas Beale Jr., who by 1821 was not ‘Junior’ any more but just plain “Thomas Beale”: might he be the same “Thomas Beale” who Ward asserted left the ciphered note?

On the plus side, both the father’s and the son’s intimate connection with Virginia seems intriguingly sensible: and the fact that Thomas Beale Junior died in October 1823 (somewhat unexpectedly, it would seem?) seems consistent with the dates in the ciphertext.

Moreover, Emilee Hines, in her (2001) “It Happened In Virginia: Remarkable Events That Shaped History“, says that though fathered by Thomas Beale Senior, Thomas Beale Junior was actually born in West Virginia and raised there by his mother Chloe Delancy: and that “when he went to New Orleans to locate his father, his father was dying and his stepmother wanted nothing to do with this Virginia son.” Geographically, Botetourt County (where Chloe Delancy lived) is immediately adjacent to Bedford County – the Blue Ridge mountains run through them both.

On the minus side, however, we know next to nothing else about Thomas Beale Junior. So right now it’s an intriguing possibility – and very arguably the best one we have – but that’s as far as it all goes for the moment.

Perhaps there is much more in the archives to be found out about Thomas Beale Junior: after all, you couldn’t really get much more specific than naming a person, his parents, and his places of birth and death, could you?

Six months ago, I was interviewed for a “Raiders of the Last Past” (“Myth Hunters” in the US) episode focusing on the Beale Papers. Unfortunately, I managed to miss the first US airing three weeks ago of Series 3 Episode 13 “The Mystery of Thomas Beale’s Treasure”, *sigh*, and so completely failed to flag it to all you nice Cipher Mysteries readers, sorry. 🙁


However, the UK version is going to be broadcast at 9pm this Good Friday (3rd April 2015) on Yesterday (Freeview channel #19), and I heartily recommend it as a nice slice of cipher mystery TV entertainment. Of course, feel free to fast-forward past my own talking head, because if you’re reading this you probably already know what I’m going to say. 🙂

Anyway, rather than try to summarize the whole sorry saga of the Beale Papers, the film-makers have chosen to focus on George and Clayton Hart’s sustained attempts to understand and crack them. Which I think, having seen the final edit, was a pretty smart move on their part: I mean, who really wants to see a long parade of ugly battling theories?

My own conclusion on the Beale Ciphers shifted while I was getting my thoughts ready for camera, as I described here before. In short, I now think that the ciphers are very probably real, but that nearly all of the pamphlet is fake. I also think that the ciphers will prove to be crackable, with little more than a small step sideways from what we already know.

We shall see! But in the meantime, enjoy the episode! 🙂

It’s an episode of “Expedition Unknown” that has everything – Foamhenge, some inside peeks of the Grand Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia, and even Justin ‘Justintime’ Cannady (hey there Justin) helping host Josh Gates get absolutely nowhere in his quest to dig up squillions of dollars’ worth of Beale-related treasure 4 miles from Bufords etc etc.

Yet as normal, it’s all based on a grossly unsophisticated reading of the Beale Papers, and with little or no attempt to assess the evidence, do a close reading of the texts, or even really engage beyond the superficial gee-that’s-a-lotta-treasure-y’all-talkin’-’bout-there-hoss mythology we’ve seen a dozen or more times before.

All the same, if you’re simply desperate to see Josh Gates fall out of a raft, then this could well be the best thing you’ll see all week. Enjoy!

Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an episode in a new series of Myth Hunters (in the US, “Raiders of the Lost Past” in the UK). The documentary makers focused on a particular well-known group of Beale Treasure Hunters from some decades back: but for me, talking on camera brought a whole load of conflicting research strands to the front of my mind.

Specifically, people usually talk about the Beale Ciphers in a very polarized they’re-either-real-or-they’re-fake kind of way. But this doesn’t do the subject justice at all: in fact, to me the evidence suggests the Beale Papers are both real and fake at the same time. Which is a juicily paradoxical place to begin…

Firstly, the cryptology. I now believe that Jim Gillogly was just plain wrong when he concluded that what we now call the “Gillogly strings” are evidence of hoaxery. Rather, I have no doubt at all that they offer strong evidence of some kind of keystrings “poking through” the B1 ciphertext: nothing else makes any kind of practical sense to me. So on the one hand, I would say that I find the evidence that ciphertexts B1 and B3 do use some kind of genuine cipher system (because B3’s stats look extremely similar to B1’s stats) based on the DoI to be extremely convincing.

Yet secondly, the deciphered text of B2 doesn’t seem to tally with the account given in the text of the pamphlet. The writer writes: “To systematize a plan for my work I arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them”. However, the deciphered text reads:-

I have deposited in the county of Bedford […] the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number “3,” herewith […]

Paper number “1” describes the exact locality of the vault so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

So who numbered the pages? The original encipherer (say, Thomas Beale?) as the ciphertext implies, or the writer of the pamphlet as the pamphlet text implies? The answer is simple: if the cipher is real, then the pages were numbered by the original author — but if the cipher is fake, it was the pamphlet writer who numbered them. There’s no middle ground to be had.

Logically, then, my conclusion is that if the cryptology demonstrates – as I think it does – that the Beale Ciphers B1 and B3 are genuine ciphers, then I think it is extremely likely that the pamphlet text is just a confection, a frippery. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that this implies that all the letters included in it are fake as well.

In which case, it seems that we have a new Third Way to proceed along: that while the ciphers (and possibly the name Thomas Beale) appear to be based on some kind of actual cryptography, everything else is probably something else entirely. Right now, my opinion is that the pamphlet is very probably some kind of retrospective whitewash (or do I mean ‘hogwash’?) wrapped around a genuine cipher.

Currently, the secret history of the Beale Papers looks to me like this: that while Robert Morriss probably was given a box at his hotel in 1822 by someone (Thomas Beale, why not?) to look after, when in 1845 Morriss forced the box open, it was simply to take what was inside for himself – there were no letters, no grizzlies, no stampede, none of it. But all Morriss actually found was some sheets of paper with numbers on and (I suspect) a Declaration of Independence: mystified, he eventually passed this on to a third party, who came to realise the relevance of the DoI to the sheets of dictionary cipher, and thus was able to crack the B2 ciphertext (though not the other two).

But as for the letters and the pamphlet… to my eyes, they’re nothing more than a fabrication, perhaps to justify Morriss’s breaking the locks, or perhaps to help Ward sell his pamphlets: possibly even both. But regardless, I don’t believe that anything much we find in the pamphlet (the ciphers aside) will help us move towards decrypting those ciphers. The secret is genuinely in the ciphers, sure, but I trust the rest of it not one jot.

Make of that what you will! 🙂

Seeing as you’re here, I’ll let you into a sort-of secret: actually, I’m not the best code-breaker on the planet. All the same, I think (for what it’s worth) I’m an extremely good historical logician with a strong ability to work in a sustained manner with tricky, uncertain evidence: and am extremely cipher- and stats-literate.

So when I’m taking on a thing like the Beale Ciphers, my primary aim is to understand the practical and historical logic of what happened, and to use that to reduce the dimensions and degree of the code-breaking ‘space’ to something that is more practically tractable. But in all honesty, that’s far closer to an explicitly history-focused process than to a directly cryptology-focused process: someone else who is fundamentally a code-breaker would almost certainly be looking more for cryptanalytical results as a starting point.

But that’s OK: roughly paraphrasing what Euclid said to Ptolemy I Soter I, there is no royal road to this kind of knowledge – every individual must travel it (and learn it) for themselves the hard way.

Anyway, I’ve been looking again at the (33 years later, I’d say “infamous” is very nearly the right word to describe them) Gillogly sequences in Beale Cipher B1.

Firstly, here are the strings that Jim Gillogly found all those years ago: by reconstructing the sequence, I can say with some certainty that what Jim did to get these was to use the first letters of the Declaration of Independence exactly as quoted by Ward as a cipher letter dictionary. And here is what you get (with indices outside this DoI’s 1332-word range printed as ‘?’)


Today’s interesting observation is that if you instead use the modified index numbers that are required to transform Ward’s DoI into the letters that reproduce the B2 plaintext (i.e. adjust for the numbering gaps etc), the output is similar but more coherent (i.e. even more improbable than before):-


What makes this so interesting to my eyes is that quite a few formerly diffuse features kind of ‘come into focus’:-

Before: aabbplaaabwctltfif
After: baabadaaabbcdeffif

Before: abfdefghiijklmmnohpp
After : abcdefghiijklmmnohpp

Before: ttttt
After : tjttt

Before: acbcddlbe
After : acbcddebe

The immediate thing to notice is that “abcdefghiijklmmno” is (I think) more than a thousand times more improbable than “defghiijklmmno”, which itself already had a probability of occurring of less than one in a million million.

The second thing to notice is that the probability of ttttt occurring (based solely on the letter frequency distribution) was about 12.9%, while the probability of tttt occurring is 51.2%: so the fact that the only occurrence of ttttt disappears from one to the other is also a strong indication that we’re going in the right direction.

All the same, another thing to notice is that because T, A and P are all high probability initial letters in the DoI code book text (19.3%, 13.5%, and 4.46% respectively), we would expect to see quite a lot of TT, AA, and PP pairs in the output if the codebook was somehow misaligned with the index stream. And we still do… so it’s also very likely (from that alone) that dictionary mismatches or construction errors or cipher dictionary errors continue to persist.

This isn’t a solution, it’s just an observation standing on on Jim Gillogly’s shoulders. I don’t fully know what it all meams just yet… but I suspect that it will turn out to mean that broadly the same letter numbering used in B2 was used for B1 as well, rather than Ward’s DoI text. Your mileage may vary! 😉 To me, the Gillogly strings tell a complicated, multi-layer story… it’s just that we can’t read it all yet as closely as we would like…