In 1885, a short pamphlet was published containing a strangely compelling story – a kind of cross between Edgar Allan Poe and the Wild West. It claimed to record a letter written in 1822 by a Thomas Jefferson Beale to a Mr Morriss, which in turn claimed to contain three encoded texts (now known as ‘B1’, ‘B2’, and ‘B3’) describing the location and beneficiaries of a huge treasure haul hidden in Bedford County, Virginia during 1819 and 1821. The pamphlet included a decoding of B2 (using a slightly miscounted Declaration of Independence as a codebook), but nothing for B1 and B3.
It should be no surprise that since then, countless Beale treasure hunters have trawled the historical archives for references to the people involved (but with relatively little success), hunted for texts that might have been used as the codebooks for B1 and B3 (also with little success), and have raked over Bedford County with old maps, metal detectors, and occasionally digging machines (similarly unsuccessfully).
Was the whole thing no more than a scam to make money from printing the pamphlet? Many think so – and yet there are many statistical aspects of B1 that make it look as though it was created in a very similar way to B2. In fact, the most mysterious aspect of all (as first noted by well-known historical codebreaker Jim Gillogly) is that if you use the same miscounted Declaration of Independence as the codebook for B1, you end up with some extraordinarily improbable text sequences, for example ABFDEFGHIIJKLMMNOHPP.
Personally, I think this indicates that B1 is a real codetext, and perhaps even that a differently-miscounted version of the Declaration of Independence was used to encode it (though with a simple cipher applied to it too). For more on Gillogly’s discussion click here, and (my follow-up post) here.
For the full text of the ciphers and (alleged) letters, go to a dedicated Beale Papers transcription page on the Cipher Foundation’s website.