The more they dug, the more money piled up

Posted by | March 26, 2015

Hoard Of Ancient Coins Found Near Madisonville

Maryville Times, Monday, July 11, 1927

(By Mrs. Robert Magill in Chattanooga Times)

MADISONVILLE, Tenn—Just imagine how it must feel to be hoeing cotton with a long, hard day in prospect, and all at once begin to dig up clinking coins—and the deeper you dug the more coins rolled out. It sounds like one of [Robert Louis] Stevenson’s stories; but such was the experience of Eva Watson and her sister, Edith Watson, and their cousin, Bertha Mae Torbett, who, together with their brothers, were hoeing cotton on the farm of Ransom Watson, formerly the Joe Torbett farm near here last week.

The girls were working on a hillside in sandy land which had been cultivated this year for the first time. The “new ground” had been cleared about two years ago. The girls had gone to work early and had been working about an hour when Eva Watson saw something round as she was digging up some dirt around a cotton hill.

Ferdinand VII coin

One of the types of coins discovered in the buried cache. Obverse: The Latin inscription is FERDIN(ANDUS) VII DEI GRATIA 1821 – “Ferdinand VII, by the Grace of God, 1821.” Reverse: The Latin inscription is HISPAN(IARUM) ET IND(IARUM) REX M(EXICO) 8 R(EALES) — “King of the Spains and of the Indies, Mexico City Mint, 8 Reales.”

Her first thought, she said, was that someone had lost some money. She stopped to pick it up and began to scratch in the dirt, looking for more coins. The other girls came running at her call and began to dig. The more they dug, the more money piled up. By this time the boys had noticed the excitement and arrived on the scene.

Edwin Torbett, with his hands filled with coins, ran to the place where his father, Joe Torbett, and Sam Watson, were plowing in the same field. Mr. Torbett and Mr. Watson said when they reached the place where the money was found it looked very much like a flock of hens had been turned out on the hillside. The cotton crop near the scene was not spared, and now no cotton grows near the place.

It is needless to say that work on the farm was suspended for most of the day.

The girls said that when they found the coins, part of them were stacked together. There was no box, pot or any sign of anything in which the money had been hidden. Possibly it had been hidden near a stump and the stump decayed. It was all found within a radius of a few feet.

All the money was unusually well preserved, considering its age. As it was dug up it was not dark as might be expected; but appeared as though it had just been dropped in the sand. Soon after the money was found it was brought to the Bank of Madisonville and the bank soon filled with people to see it. It has since been on display there.

Among the coins found were some of the first ever to be coined in America. The first money was coined in 1792, and a 50 cent piece found was dated 1795. An American dollar was dated 1797. There was also a Spanish dollar with the words “Dei Gratia Ferdin VII,” dated 1797. This is the size of an American dollar.

There were four Spanish coins the size of the American dime or a little larger, which had the words “Dei Gratia Carelus III.” Three of these were dated 1780 and one 1807. Another Spanish dollar had the words “Dei Gratia Carelus III,” dated 1797. There was also some Mexican money.

Beginning in 1806, there were 50 cent pieces representing every year but three up to 1831. This was the latest dated coin found. There were eight 1824 50 cent pieces, the same number of 1829, and five of 1807, 1818, 1825, 1826, respectively. In all there were eighty-four 50 cent pieces.

The quarters, numbering twelve, were dated from 1805 on up to 1825. Five of the earlier coins have holes in them. The half-dollars had the words “Fifty-Cents” on the edge. The coins found at first amounted to more than $50, and some have been found since. The value, of course, depends on the premium on them. The good condition of the coins makes them more valuable; none of them being worn except those with holes in them.

The Old Federal Road in eastern Tennessee

Map of the Old Federal Road, showing Madisonville, TN, location of coin find.

Was the $50, a small fortune in early days, the property of an Indian or some one who lived in the community? These questions have perplexed the neighbors since the finding of the money. Some believe that it had been hidden by the Indians as it was near the trail of the Cherokees.

The trail which led from the Cherokee settlement in this county to the settlement of the same tribe in the Sevier County, followed approximately what is known as the Old Federal Road. The trail, it is said, led near the place where the coins were found, to the Indian town of Tellequah, now known as Tellico Plains.

This was a rendezvous and camping ground for the Cherokees when they were masters of this domain. Here the great chiefs called their clans together in councils of war. Here they planned their battles and their hunts, here they built their mounds and buried their dead. It is thought that when the town of Tellequah was destroyed, some Indians hid the money near the old trail.

This might account for the holes in the small pieces, as it was the custom of the Indians to wear money around their necks. It is said that the hills nearby were burned off and used by the Indians to observe the approach of the enemy.

During the Civil War, Sherman’s men camped near the place where the money was found and some think it belonged to some of his men. But others think that because the latest dated coin was 1831, that it was buried long before the Civil War.

The story is told by some in the community of an old Indian coming to a house nearby and telling the people that some money was hidden “beneath a stooping hickory” on the hill. It was said that he hunted several days for the money and never found it. He died soon afterwards, it was said.

The story which is more likely to be true is that “Uncle Husey” Torbett, who lived near the place where the money was found, hid it. Mr. Torbett, the great grandfather of the children who found the coins, lived some little distance from the hill of treasure. It was on what was once his farm that the money was found. He lived on what was known as the Old Federal Road, cut in 1812. He owned a large farm but did not work on it, working at Coker Creek.

Placer mining with primitive methods was used at Coker Creek up to the beginning of the Civil War. Mr. Torbett was in the War of 1812. It is supposed that there was where he got the Spanish and Mexican money. He was an old man at the beginning of the Civil War. As there were no banks in those days the people had to hide their money anywhere they could.

The Indians were also here, and the people did not know at what time there would be an outbreak among them. It was said that Mr. Torbett had more money than anyone in the community where he lived. Old residents recall the story among the neighbors of how “Uncle Huse” had lots of money when the war broke out and that he was told to hide it.

Where he put it remained a secret. One day he had been working at Coker Creek and came home ill. He died that day or the next. His sudden death is explained by some as being the reason he never disclosed where his money was hidden.

The old house on the farm of Ransom Watson, near here on the Old Federal Road, is said by old residents to be the oldest house in this section. It was built by “Uncle Huse” more than 130 years ago. Until recently it has belonged to the Torbetts.

The building of logs is situated on a slight rise overlooking the Old Federal Road. The house itself and the farm are rife with historic interest. During the Civil War the old house was used as headquarters for Sherman’s staff. The army camped not far from the house.



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