By Francis X. Scully

  At the time it was lost, it was valued at one and a half million dollars, but with the increasing value of pure silver the lost bars could conceivably be worth double that amount. Supposedly buried near the mini-village of Gardeau in McKean County, northern Pennsylvania, the lost treasure has been part of the folklore of the Keystone State’s oilfields for over a century. What is more, if you go after this one, you will be within fifty miles of four other lost treasures valued at five million dollars or more—-a rare opportunity for an enterprising treasure hunter.

  In 1811, a Captain Blackbeard (not to be confused with Edward Teach) received a commission from the British Admiralty to raise the wreckage of a Spanish galleon, which had gone down off the Bahamas during a raging tropical hurricane in the early fall of 1680. Plainly visible in less than 20 fathoms of water, the hulk posed no difficulties for the astute Blackbeard, one of the greatest marine salvage experts of his day. In less than a month, the canny Englishman raised the hulk, and by surrounding it with pontoons, made ready to tow his prize and its cargo to the safety of an American port; England then being at war with Napoleonic France.

  Escaping a furious storm by a matter of hours, Blackbeard landed his wreck at Baltimore, where he immediately made arrangements to have a warship tow it and the loot it contained to the safety of an English port.

  In June of 1812, while tipping a few tankards of ale in a Baltimore tavern, Blackbeard met Peter Abelhard Karthaus of the privateer Comet. Blackbeard’s heart almost stopped beating when Karthaus very subtly informed him that he was aware that the English sailor had successfully brought to the Maryland city a Spanish galleon and its $1,500,000 worth of silver bars.

  Running the gauntlet with French warships was one thing, but trying to escape the relentless privateer, the rogue of his day, was another thing. Then, too, the possibility of war with America was growing stronger with each passing day. To attempt to take the treasure across the sea was an impossibility, reasoned Blackbeard. The land route to Canada and safety was only four hundred miles, most of which was through uninhabited wilderness and it could be accomplished in a few weeks reasoned the now-thoroughly alarmed Englishman.

  That night Captain Blackbeard studied the route he would take. He would follow the Susquehanna due north to about what is now Williamsport, Pennsylvania and from there to the Sinnemahoning River northwestward until he reached what is now Emporium, Pennsylvania. Then there would be a twenty-three mile portage over Keating Summit to the headwaters of the Allegheny River near Port Allegany. This was known as Canoe Place at the time, and had been used by traders, trappers, and warring Redmen for over three centuries. Then all he had to do was follow the Allegheny to the mouth of the Conewango Creek near present-day Warren, and then up to Chautauqua Lake (Jamestown). From the head of Chautauqua, he could practically roll down the hill to the blue waters of lake Erie. Britain controlled Lake Erie, Blackbeard mused, and the treasure would be home safe, and he would claim his reward and perhaps a knighthood from a grateful king. This was the plan to follow, and so the Englishman made ready.

  The silver bars were loaded into wagons, all of which had a false bottom, covered with hay and straw. Each wagon was drawn by six oxen, accompanied by a handful of guards supposedly loyal to Britain, now almost on the verge of war with their cousins in North America for the second time in forty years.

  Blackbeard never dreamed of the difficulties the land route through Pennsylvania’s trackless wilderness could pose until he reached what is now Lycoming County. Twice, the Englishman had to build rafts, in order to ascend the turbulent Susquehanna, and twice the bulky log platforms had capsized dumping the bellowing oxen and wagons into the icy river. By the time the expedition reached Clinton County and present-day Renovo, Blackbeard was coming apart at the seams. War had finally broken out between America and England, and the Englishman became almost obsessive in his efforts to avoid contact with any wandering trapper, whom he felt almost certain would have to be American. Then, the gnawing suspicion that one or two of his guards had betrayed some suspicious attitudes, brought Blackbeard to the brink.

  That night, the English captain made up his mind that he would get the silver over the twenty-three mile portage, and then bury it for safekeeping. Word had slipped through that Fort Niagara had been blockaded, and Lake Erie was swarming with American boats, perhaps influenced his decision, but his mind was made up. He would bury the loot until after the war. After the British had trounced the upstart Yankees, he would have no trouble in reclaiming and finding the silver. It was perfectly safe in this primeval forest, reasoned Blackbeard.

  And so, late in the summer of 1812, in the southeast corner of McKean County near the tiny village of Keating Summit, and not far from either Smethport or Port Allegany on CW 1198 and CW 1199, the huge treasure was buried near an old saltlick. During the digging, at least two dozen elk watched the strange behavior of the sweating humans, as they lowered box after box to the bottom of narrow trenches. Legends of McKean County indicate that bison at one time congregated at the lick, and early records state that over 300 elk were counted at one time around that spring and its salt deposits.

  So Blackbeard made it safely back to Canada and eventually to Britain, where he reported to an exasperated Admiralty that the tremendous treasure was buried someplace in the wolf-infested forests of northern Pennsylvania, back in Yankeeland. Returning to America, Blackbeard sent Colonel Noah Parker to the treasure site. Perhaps this was like sending a fox to guard a henhouse. While Parker kept intruders away, he also managed to keep Blackbeard from finding out anything about the silver hoard.

  Within a few years, the frustrated Englishman went to his reward and the treasure was forgotten by all—save Parker. From time to time he showed sudden affluence, but always denied that he had ever found any of the silver.

  After the Civil War, Parker opened one of the first spas in northern Pennsylvania, claiming that the curative powers of the spring waters would move the Iron Virgin. Hundreds flocked to the little hotel, and Parker never failed to regale them with the story of the lost treasure. Thousands searched for the treasure and never found it, and if Parker knew of its whereabouts he went to his grave without telling anyone.

  It is now part of the folklore of the people of the rugged hills of Pennsylvania, and Captain Blackbeard’s fabulous treasure—or at least that portion not expended by the shrewd Colonel Parker—is still awaiting a finder.

Back to the Potter County Page