What research resources might an interested historian use to find out about the very real Thomas Beale Junior (who might or might not be the Thomas Beale of Beale Papers fame)?
The various New Orleans depositions in 1824/1825 relating to Beale’s estate following his death in 1823 would be a sensible starting point (and the sooner we find a way to have these scanned and transcribed, the better in my opinion): but because they seem likely to be related to his life after 1820 (when he inherited his father’s estate), I suspect this may not carry our research into his earlier life much further.
Aside from (a) legal documents, the two other most obvious research resources would be (b) books and (c) newspapers: but before I delve into these, I need to discuss some tricky issues concerning what happened according to the ciphertext, so that we can possibly narrow our search range down.
Ciphertext vs Pamphlet
There are a number of issues to contend with:
* Ward’s pamphlet asserts that Thomas Beale’s group was made up of thirty Virginian gentlemen adventurers
…yet the ciphertext itself mentions only that it “[belonged] jointly to the parties whose names are given in [cipher] number three”, with the result that much ink has been spilled speculating how thirty names could be squeezed into B3’s plaintext.
* The pamphlet asserts that Beale entrusted the ciphers to Robert Morriss in 1822
…yet other documents indicate that Morriss only started at the Washington Hotel in Lynchburg in 1823.
* The language used in the pamphlet sits awkwardly with its supposed date of 1822
…e.g. “stampeding” only appearing in print for the first time some 50 years later, giving rise to suspicions that it is an out-and-out hoax.
* The pamphlet asserts that the decipherer numbered the pages, yet the ciphertext of B2 refers to B3 by its number
…which, by itself, consistutes nearly a complete proof that the pamphlet isn’t genuine.
What view should we take on all these differences?
Hoax vs Embellishment
To my eyes, the five basic positions about Ward’s pamphlet are that it is…
(1) Utterly genuine from start to finish, as are the ciphertexts;
(2) Largely genuine (though admittedly with some mistakes), but the ciphertexts are real;
(3) A creative embellishment upon a limited core of truth, but where the ciphertexts are real;
(4) Completely fake, though the ciphertexts themselves are actually real; or
(5) Fake from start to finish, including the ciphertexts.
I think we can rule out (1) on the grounds that the pamphlet is clearly and specifically inconsistent with the ciphertext; and – taking a dissenting position to Jim Gillogly’s viewpoint – I think the existence of some subtle cryptographic dependence of B1 upon the DoI is a clear indication that we can rule out (5). Most Beale researchers seem to be ‘pamphlet believers’ (2) or ‘pamphlet disbelievers’ (4 or 5): but I think the right position is more likely to turn out to be (3).
Yet the problem with (3) is that we are left wondering what that limited core of truth is – that if we can only very loosely rely upon the pamphlet, we’re left with almost nothing to work with.
The Thomas Beale Junior Hypothesis
If we accept that what B2 says was true; that Robert Morriss genuinely looked after the ciphertexts; that the name “Thomas Beale” was genuinely that of its encipherer; and then hypothesize that Thomas Beale Junior (d.1823) was the same person, then I think things start to get interesting.
One key research presumption has long been that the band of Virginians was formed in Virginia itself. However, the documentary evidence says that much of Thomas Beale Senior’s clientele at his New Orleans hotel was formed of older, out-of-state Virginians: so it might well be that if Thomas Beale Junior formed a band of Virginians to go adventuring, it may have been formed of the adventurous scions of those out-of-state Virginians living in New Orleans.
If that is correct, then his hypothetical timeline might then look something like this:-
1818: Thomas Beale Junior travels to New Orleans to meet Thomas Beale Senior
1819: Thomas Beale Junior forms a band of Virginians in New Orleans to go adventuring
1819: the band deposits its first treasure cache near Bufords
1820: Thomas Beale Junior returned to New Orleans: his father dies: all kinds of business to attend to
1821: the band deposits its second treasure cache near Bufords
1823: Thomas Beale Junior entrusts his enciphered note with Robert Morriss in Lynchburg: but then dies not long after returning to New Orleans
None of this is a certainty: but it might possibly help us decide where to go next.
Where To Look
If this is broadly correct (if lacking many details, and with some inevitable errors from guesswork), then I think the right place to look in some kind of concerted way would be in New Orleans newspapers in the date-range 1817 to 1825. However, it would be good to have the actual death dates of both Thomas Beale Junior and Thomas Beale Senior, so that the search can be more, ummm, focused.
It turns out that there were quite a few newspapers in French and English (and indeed some in Spanish, too):-
* L’Ami des Lois (via Google News) [largely court notices, in French and English]
* L’Ami des Lois & Journal du Soir (also via Google News)
* Orleans Gazette and Commmercial Advertiser (listing here)
* Louisiana Courier (via Google News) [ads and court notices, in French and English]
There’s also a useful resource showing how early New Orleans newspapers were related to each other here.