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philadelphia18thc

By Everett MillmanGainesville Coins ……….
 

Amid the many historical sites and abundance of artifacts from the American Revolution to be found in the heart of Philly, you may also find a stash of Spanish gold and silver coins somewhere.

A mysterious letter that dates to 300 years ago may hold clues to a hidden treasure buried beneath Society Hill, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The Mystery Letter

Society Hill is close by to the famous Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The area was named for the Free Society of Traders, an association of free-market capitalist merchants circa the late 17th century. Considering that the early U.S. colonies enjoyed a key trading relationship with the Caribbean, Society Hill’s roots jive well with the potential presence of valuable booty from that Caribbean trade.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) has no record of how the enigmatic letter dated May 14, 1716 (and verified to be authentic) ended up in its collection. Presumably, it has resided there as an oddity of the archives for centuries.

1716 letter discussing the Society Hill Treasure

Source: Thom Carroll / PhillyVoice

Written anonymously from a city in Jamaica called St. Jago De La Vega, the letter provides instructions to its recipient to locate a “chist” (treasure chest) buried about six feet underground in Society Hill. It describes a site that has since been extensively built over. However, the Society historian who came across the letter two decades ago thinks there’s a chance that the treasure is still there.

“If it’s still there, and it’s ever found, it will be accidentally,” said Daniel Rolph, the historian at HSP.

For instance, historical accounts as recent as the late 19th century still make note of the landmarks described in the letter.

This provides a more contemporary timeline of where exactly the merchant who wrote the letter is talking about. One prominent treasure hunter actually believes he has narrowed down the location to a specific street of homes in Society Hill.

Beyond the presence of the Free Society of Traders, the British ban on banks in the colonies drove many merchants and businesses to hide their wealth in the form of such gold and silver bullion from the West Indies.

No Search Party?

At this point, nobody has gone to seriously look for the buried booty because they would need the consent of the property owners to go in with metal detectors. Some surmise that the treasure was already found long ago, perhaps by the man who received the initial letter, but there are no such reports in the local archives.

Interestingly enough, the letter explicitly tells the recipient to destroy the document as soon as he he can. Obviously, this never happened. One does wonder why—and it could have become irrelevant to destroy the letter if the original recipient did indeed retrieve the treasure chest.

Supposedly, the treasure chest contained gold and silver Spanish coins: “doubloons, pistoles, reales and pieces of eight.”

However, the ambiguity of treasure trove laws in the state of Pennsylvania makes it uncertain whether or not the finder would be entitled to the coins at all. This has also likely been a deterrent to would-be treasure seekers.

You can read more about this fascinating possibility of buried treasure on the website of the PhillyVoice.
 


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