Experts dismiss idea that British army payroll was buried in Circleville
For more than 250 years, rumors of buried gold from Gen. Edward Braddock's campaign during the French and Indian War have stirred men's imaginations.
The gold coin was to be used as payroll for the 2,400 British and American troops who journeyed with Braddock in June and July of 1755 during his expedition from Fort Cumberland, Md., to Fort Duquesne.
After Braddock was mortally wounded by the French during the battle of Monongahela (now Braddock, Pa) and his army retreated to a site near Fort Necessity in Fayette County, the $25,000 of British gold was never seen again.
There are different theories as to what happened to Braddock's gold.
During the 1950s, an unknown source wrote that Braddock had the gold buried when his troops were encamped at Three Springs Camp near Circleville, North Huntingdon Township, July 7-8, 1755. Braddock suggested the gold be hidden instead of carried into battle. After sending two guides to locate a nearby river, Braddock asked them to return to the river and bury the gold. The unknown source wrote that the guides followed Crawford Run to the Youghiogheny River and hid the gold under a walnut tree.
"People have been writing about Braddock's gold for many years," said Dr. Frank A. Cassell, president of the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and a known expert on the French and Indian War. "Braddock would have needed gold to manage the affairs of the army."
In addition to payroll and the purchase of supplies, Braddock used gold to buy gifts for the Indians in order to keep them happy, said Cassell.
"At the beginning of his march at Fort Cumberland, he got in trouble with the Indians because Braddock didn't understand the need to give Indians gifts," Cassell added. "By the time he started his march to Fort Duquesne, he only had six Indian scouts with him."
While the unknown source believed Braddock's gold was buried somewhere along the Youghiogheny River several miles from Three Springs Camp, a Virginia resident was convinced that the gold was buried somewhere in Fairfax County, Va.
Chas J. Gilliss wrote in 1954 that Braddock encountered difficulties moving his men and supplies through the Virginia wilderness. Braddock decided to leave several items behind, including two small brass cannons that had been stuffed with the gold. Wooden plugs were placed in the cannons' muzzles before they were buried "two feet beneath the soil, fifty paces East of a spring, where the road runs North and South," near Centreville, Va. Gilliss said an archivist looking over some papers "discovered by accident the secret of this buried treasure." A committee was supposedly sent from Great Britain to locate the gold but the spring was never found.
"Several years after the Circleville, North Huntingdon Township, gold story was published, scholars discredited the event because Braddock never came near the Circleville area," Cassell said.
James Steeley, former executive director of the Westmoreland County Historical Society, believes that Braddock didn't camp at Circleville, but someplace along present-day Route 30 near Chesterfield's Restaurant.
An historic marker at the intersection of Clay Pike Road and Robbins Station Road in Circleville was erected by the school children of North Huntingdon Township, Irwin and North Irwin on Nov. 23, 1932, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. It signifies Braddock's military road and Three Springs Camp, the last of the Braddock's camps in Westmoreland County. Washington was with Braddock during the campaign against the French.
Cassell said the chest of gold that Braddock had with him probably "fell into the hands of the French after the battle of the Monongahela" in Braddock.
"All his papers, his complete orders to take Fort Duquesne and to march onto Fort Niagara, were taken by the French and reprinted in French newspapers," Cassell added. "So chances are the French got the gold as part of the spoils of war."
Tom Headley, executive director of Westmoreland Heritage, has a differing viewpoint.
"If you read the diaries of people who were on the Braddock campaign, once they retreated to Fort Necessity, near Uniontown, Braddock told them to destroy the gunpowder and supplies so it wouldn't fall into the hands of the French," Headley said. "My thinking is that if there was a chest of gold, even after a horrendous defeat and a disorganized retreat, Braddock would have made sure everything was still done by the book. If there had been a payroll, they would have taken it with them."
Braddock survived three days before succumbing to his wounds.
If the gold had been left on the battlefield, Headley added, the battlefield has since been obliterated by development.
"It would be a stretch to think that the gold would still be there," he said. "But it's an interesting story."
For true historians, the treasure of Braddock's campaign can't be found in rumors of long-lost gold.
"The real gold for me is the greater flow of historical tourism to this area," Cassell said. "We have tremendous historical sites in this area, such as Hanna's Town, Fort Ligonier and Bushy Run. We'd like to have more people from around Pennsylvania, other states and from international countries come and see our history."