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Treasure Found in Kentucky!

A man found more than 700 gold coins in a cornfield. The coins were probably buried in the 1860s.

A large group of gold coins with larger gold and silver coins arranged around the pile.

Photo courtesy of Asset Marketing Services, LLC

The Great Kentucky Hoard, which was probably buried in the 1860s, was discovered in 2023.

A man found more than 700 gold coins dating back to the U.S. Civil War in a cornfield in Kentucky. Experts say the total value of the coins, which are more than 160 years old, is between one and two million dollars.

The coins were likely buried by someone who wanted to protect their money from an enemy raid. During the Civil War, which spanned from 1861 to 1865, the North fought against the South, which had broken away from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (or the Confederacy). The root of the conflict was the South’s belief that slavery should remain legal. However, some states, including Kentucky, declared themselves neutral or remained loyal to the North even though they also permitted slavery.

The coins are U.S. money, not Confederate money. And the person who buried them probably sympathized with the North and feared a raid by Confederate troops. The person probably died before the end of the war or forgot exactly where they had hidden the coins.

The dates on the coins range from 1840 to 1863, so experts think the trove was buried in 1863. That has enabled them to identify the Confederate general who was about to invade Kentucky.

“It is entirely possible this [treasure] was buried in advance of Confederate John Hunt Morgan’s June to July 1863 raid,” Ryan McNutt, a conflict archaeologist at Georgia Southern University, told Live Science. Morgan raided Kentucky twice—once in 1862 and again in 1863. Both attempts failed to achieve their goals.

Coin experts and historians are calling the find the “Great Kentucky Hoard.” The coins are very rare, which is why they’re worth more than one million dollars.

“The importance of this discovery cannot be overstated, as the stunning number of over 700 gold dollars represents a virtual time capsule of civil war-era coinage,” rare coin dealer Jeff Garrett said in a statement.

Did You Know?

Carol M. Highsmith Archive/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-highsm-11617)

Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States during the U.S. Civil War, was killed in 1865 as he sat and watched a play at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. 

In his pockets, Lincoln was carrying two pairs of glasses, a lens polisher, a pocketknife, a watch fob (a chain that attaches to a pocket watch), a handkerchief with “A. Lincoln” stitched on it, and a wallet containing a five-dollar Confederate bill. He also had eight articles that he had cut out of a newspaper. Some of the articles were about him.

The photo shows the actual contents of Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated.

Tales of Treasure

A man in Kentucky found buried treasure. Does this mean there are more treasures to be found? Possibly! Here are just a few treasures that are rumored to be hidden.

  • According to legend, when the U.S. Civil War began, a Kentucky man named William Pettit buried about $80,000 (worth about $1.5 million today) in gold coins on his farm. He died before he could dig up the money, and it has never been found.

  • In 1641, a ship called the Merchant Royal sank near the coast of Britain after a voyage from Mexico, which was then a Spanish colony. The ship was carrying 100,000 pounds (45,000 kilograms) of gold and 400 bars of silver that the Spanish had taken from Mexico. In 2019, authorities found what they believe is the ship’s anchor. The ship—and its treasure—remain hidden.

  • In the early 1800s, Thomas J. Beale found an abandoned mine containing gold, silver, and jewels in what’s now the U.S. state of Colorado. He and a group of other people hid the treasure and wrote three coded messages that revealed its location. He put the messages in an iron box and gave it to an innkeeper in Virginia, telling him to open the box if he did not return in 10 years. After more than two decades, the innkeeper opened the box but was unable to crack the code. To this day, only one of the messages has been deciphered, and the treasure hasn’t been found.
A long list of numbers separated by commas under the title The Locality of the Vault on a yellowed background.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

This is a recreation of one of Thomas J. Beale’s coded messages.

More to Discover

Michael Crabtree–PA Images/Getty Images

This gold was retrieved from the wreck of the SS Central America, a ship that sank in the 1850s.

Can’t get enough buried treasure? You can read more about treasure hunting at Britannica School!

WORD OF THE DAY

hoard

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: a large amount of something valuable that is kept hidden

Definitions provided by
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