Friday, January 3, 2014

Spanish Silver (Wallingford, VT)

Vermont has never been known as a silver-producing state, but for the past two hundred years, stories and legends have circulated regarding the likely existence of a lost silver mine that supposedly contains a trove of ingots as well as a rich vein of the precious ore located somewhere near Wallingford, VT.

During the summer of 1797, young Richard Lawrence was hunting squirrels not far from his home in the southeastern Vermont town of Chester.  As Lawrence made his way through the dark woods, he accidentally stumbled into a crude camp.  Two horses were contentedly grazing in a nearby glade, and a small fire burned in an adjacent clearing.  Next to the fire lay an old man, apparently sleeping, and a number of saddlebags were piled beside him.

When Lawrence approached the figure, the old man rose up and reached for a stout club lying nearby.  On seeing only the youngster, the old man dropped the club and lay back down, groaning in agony.  Curious, young Lawrence came closer, taking tentative steps toward the stranger.

As he neared the man, Lawrence saw the old mans left forearm was broken and that he appeared to be in great pain.  The old man told the boy he had fractured the arm the previous day from a fall off his horse.  When Lawrence announced he would try and obtain some help from town, the old man begged the lad no to tell anyone of his presence in the woods.

Instead, Lawrence raced to his home and, finding no one about, secured some rags and a short, thin plank.  Returning to the clearing in the woods, he tied the makeshift splint to the old mans broken forearm.  This done, the stranger thanked the boy and, moments later, fell into a deep sleep.

While the stranger lay quietly sleeping, Lawrence poked some life into the small fire and cast about in search of some food.  On opening one of the saddlebags, he was startled to discover it was filled with shining bars of heavy metal.  One after another the bags were opened, and all contained similar gleaming lengths of metal carefully packed into the wide panniers.  Finding only a few provisions, Lawrence soon had a boiling pot of tea ready.

Sometime later when the old man awakened and drank some tea, he expressed his gratitude to the boy.  Glancing toward the open saddlebags, he asked Lawrence if he knew what they contained.  The boy admitted to looking into the bags and finding what he thought was silver. At this point, the old man told him an amazing story.  As he held his sore forearm close to his chest, the old man told Lawrence he was a Spaniard, and the silver in his saddlebags had been dug from a mine about a two days ride to the northwest. The silver, which he said was among the purest he had ever seen, was melted in an oven just outside the mouth of the mine and poured into molds to form ingots.  The silver bars in the saddlebags, the old man claimed, were only a small portion of the bullion, an accumulation from many years of hard work by several men, that remained in the cave.

When he was only a boy, said the Spaniard, he, along with several companions, worked as crewman on a Spanish trading vessel that sailed up and down the Atlantic Coast.  Running low on water and food, the captain of the ship ordered the anchor dropped in a quiet Massachusetts bay and sent a number of crewmen ashore to locate a fresh water spring and procure some game. The old man told Lawrence he was one of those crewmen. The captain told them that if they did not return in three days, the sails would be hoisted and the ship would continue up the coast toward a more likely site. While searching for water and game, the crewmen became lost and never found their way back to the ship. For months they wandered, eventually arriving in southern Vermont.  While looking for shelter in a low mountain range, one of the men accidentally discovered an outcrop of silver.

After considerable discussion, the lost seamen agreed to remain and mine the silver.  When they were satisfied with their accumulation, they promised they would attempt to make their way back to the coast and await rescue. Their intention was to return to Spain, procure a vessel of their own, and return for the silver.
Years passed, and the mine eventually extended in to the side of the rocky hill for more than two hundred feet. The silver dug from the rock was smelted into ingots, which were then stacked like firewood against the walls of the mine. At last, when it was decided that each of the men possessed a fortune to take back to Spain, they covered the mine and struck out for the coast.

Along the way, two of the men died.  After reaching the coast, they lived in crude shelters for nearly four months before catching the attention of a passing ship. During the trip back to Spain, two more of them succumbed to illness.

Once back in Spain, the survivors went about the business of trying to secure a ship to return to America and retrieve their wealth of silver.  Weeks turned into months, and months into years. Finally, when enough money had been raised to commission a ship, the old man was the only surviving member of the original party of miners.
The Spaniard told Lawrence that the silver in the saddlebags represented all he was able to carry on the two horses he purchased in Boston on his recent arrival.  It was likely, the old man told the boy, that he would never return to the mine.

The Spaniard placed a hand on young Lawrence's shoulder and expressed gratitude for his help.  Then, to the boys astonishment, the Spaniard gave him directions to reach the secret treasure mine, asking Lawrence not to try and retrieve any of the silver until he was old enough to appreciate its worth.  The boy agreed. The next morning when Richard Lawrence walked out into the woods to the old mans campsite, the Spaniard was gone.

Years passed, and when Lawrence was about twenty-five years old, he decided it was time to try to find the secret silver mine.

Recalling the directions entirely from memory, Lawrence rode horseback northwestward from Chester until reaching the hills described by the Spaniard so long ago.  The hills in question turned out to be a portion of the southern extension of Vermont's Green Mountains. For several weeks, Lawrence lived in the hills near the present-day town of Wallingford while he searched for the mine, but he was never able to locate it. Finally, he returned to Chester where he told his story. Within a short time, dozens of men who had learned the tale of the old Spaniards lost silver mine were searching the hills for riches.

Even with the increased number of people combing the area for the mine, its location continued to prove elusive. One of the searchers, a man experienced in geology, eventually determined the reason. Based on Lawrences directions, the location of the silver mine was apparently buried under a heavy rock-slide that had taken place sometime during the last ten years.

An organized attempt was made to remove some of the landslide debris, but the task proved much too formidable and the project was eventually abandoned.

To this day, no further efforts have been made to reach the Spanish silver mine.  If the Spaniards tale was true, and there is no reason to suspect otherwise, an incredible fortune in silver ingots still lies under tons of rock in the Green Mountains.


Unknown said...

I love this story my son and I are going to be hiking up that way and looking he is 12 and huge into treasure hunting and metal detecting so I want to feed that curiosity. Do you have rough coordinates to start and look. I'm not expecting to to find any thing but the more information I have the better. also do you have other treasure stories for Vermont or New Hampshire.

Mark VanAlstyne said...

I live in springfield vt and grew up in chester. The spanish where great navigators on land as well as sea. A hunt for treasure markers of the spanish would be a good start as I believe the spanish had explored the area of vermont from evidence of other markets found in vermont

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