There's gold -- also silver, jewels, coins, paper currency, artifacts and small arms -- in these here hills and harbors. You could look it up.
Look up, for instance, that story last month out of Lewes, Delaware. The head of a Nevada-based salvage company held a press conference there at the De Braak Inn, a restaurant named after the British warship caught in a squall off the Delaware coast in 1798 and sunk -- with the help of a heavy load of captured Spanish treasures.
Three years ago, Harvey Harrington, president of Sub-Sal Inc. of Reno, had looked up records that said the ship carried coins and jewelry now potentially worth $5 million to $500 million.
The wreck, the target of a dozen unsuccessful salvage efforts, had now been positively identified, Harrington said. He held up a ring, the inscription of which identified Capt. James Drew, who went down with the De Braak and some 35 crew members. Harrington also displayed 35 Spanish gold doubloons.
The diving continues.
There are other, more accessible treasures hereabouts -- but, like Harrington, anyone with the faintest hope of digging anything up should definitely look it up first. To start with, there are books on the subject (yes, listed under "treasure") at your local library -- including two from which the following sampling of would-be area treasure sites was derived, Robert F. Marx's "Buried Treasure of the United States" (New York, 1978) and Michael P. Henson's "Guide to Treasure in Virginia and West Virginia" (Deming, New Mexico, 1982).
Such books are meant primarily to whet your appetite; serious hunters' next stops include local historical societies, county and state land- record offices, and, eventually, the property owners or governing authorities themselves -- these for permission, which should always be obtained before you assault the ground with anything sharper than the tread of your hiking boots.
Here are some of the region's potentially serendipitous sites -- all of which, though they may not immediately yield the loot said to live within them, also happen to be nice places to visit:
ASSATEAGUE ISLAND, MARYLAND -- A letter was found in a London public records office several decades ago, written in 1750 by a pirate named Charles Wilson, who was based in the Carolinas, to his brother overseas. The letter, originally found on a vessel captured by a British warship, said in part: "There are three creeks lying 100 paces or more north of the second inlet above Chincoteague Island, Virginia (this would place it in the region of Woody Knoll on the southern end of Assateague, close to the state line). At the head of the third creek to the northward is a bluff facing the Atlantic Ocean with three cedar trees growing on it, each about 11/2 yards apart. Between the trees I buried ten iron bound chests, bars of silver, gold, diamonds and jewels to the sum of 200,000 pounds sterling. Go to the woody knoll secretly and remove the treasure." None have succeeded, so far.
CAPE HENLOPEN -- More than 50 shipwrecks over the centuries make the beaches of this area, most of which is part of a state park, very good for beachcombing treasure hunts, particularly after strong storms. Among the more beguiling wrecks off the point: the English merchant ship Cornelia, sunk in 1757 with more than 300,000 pounds sterling in gold and silver; the Spanish Santa Rosalea, wrecked in 1788 with more than 500,000 pesos in silver bullion and specie aboard, and the American merchantman Adeline, which was carrying $200,000 in gold coins when it went down in 1824.
CULPEPER, VIRGINIA -- Confederate guerrilla Capt. John Mosby is said to have buried a large treasure -- tons of gold and silver pieces, and a number of weapons -- between two large pine trees somewhere between the towns of Culpeper and Norman, close to Route 522.
FAUQUIER COUNTY, VIRGINIA -- William Kirk, a Scotsman locally thought to be a pirate, resided between voyages on a 386- acre tract now known as Snow Hill Farm. Before his death in 1779, Kirk is said to have buried about $60,000 in gold and silver coins somewhere on the farm. About a century later, a tenant on the farm plowed up a crock of English guineas and Spanish pieces of eight, and led the landowner to believe there had only been a few such coins in the crock. Several weeks later, however, the tenant bought a large tract of land nearby for $8,000 cash. It is thought the tenant spent all of what he found; the rest remains hidden.
FREDERICK COUNTY, MARYLAND -- During the Civil War, more than $100,000 in gold coins was buried somewhere along the banks of the Monocacy River about two miles south of the city of Frederick, near Route 144. The county has yielded many wartime artifacts, both Civil and Revolutionary, but not this one.
POINT LOOKOUT STATE PARK, MARYLAND -- Treasure hunters have found many items here in St. Marys County, where the Potomac empties into Chesapeake Bay -- more on the historical than valuable side, but finds nonetheless. The park was the site, between 1863 and 1865, of Camp Hoffman, where more than 20,000 Confederate soldiers were detained during the Civil War.
PETERSBURG,VIRGINIA -- The area around Petersburg has proven an excellent treasure-hunting spot over the years; to fuel the imagination, there are plenty of legends -- most of them dealing with Civil War valuables stashed along the Appomattox River and elsewhere. One such legend says the British government loaned the confederacy $10 million in gold coins and bullion during the Civil War and that it was buried along the banks of the James River just east of Hopewell. Another -- perhaps referring to the same cache -- has it that $3 million in gold and silver plate and jewelry contributed to the Confederate treasury by patriotic Southerners was stolen from Richmond in April 1865 by a band of guerrillas. The gang got as far as the James, where they buried the stuff before they were trapped and killed, all of them, by Confederate troops -- who were then unable to find the loot.
REHOBOTH, DELAWARE -- At the south oceanfront end of Rehoboth Beach, gold coins occasionally wash ashore during northeast storms. The coins are thought to come from the British frigate Faithful Steward, wrecked offshore in 1785 with a cargo of 240,000 pounds sterling in gold coin.
WARRENTON, VIRGINIA -- In 1911, the stash known as the Bureau of Engraving Treasure -- $31,700 in paper and a set of $20 bill plates -- was supposedly buried near a creek bed just north of Warrenton, off Route 211.