Secrets to Break: Book Five

‘The Beale Papers were a series of three coded documents written by a Thomas Jefferson Beale,’ began Fabyan. ...

… ‘In 1820, Beale put the papers in a box and gave them to a friendly innkeeper called Robert Morriss. Beale said that if he didn’t return to the inn, before ten years had passed, then Morriss was to open the box and try and decode the papers.
Beale promised he’d send Morriss extra things he needed to be able to decode the papers, but no documents ever came. And Morriss forgot all about the box. He didn’t open it again until 23 years later.’
‘What a bourbon biscuit,’ groaned Hunter. ‘Don’t tell me. When he opened the box he couldn’t make head nor tail of the codes.’
‘Exactly,’ grinned Fabyan. ‘He couldn’t solve a thing. After a while, addled by years of trying to solve the codes, Morriss handed the papers onto a friend. This friend used the words of the American Declaration of Independence as a key, and deciphered one of the codes.’
Brodie felt her skin prickle with excitement. ‘The Declaration of Independence?’ she confirmed.
Fabyan looked surprised by her enthusiasm. ‘Yes, why?’
‘Because we found a copy as part of our clues at Shugborough Hall.’
‘Seriously?’ he said. ‘That’s great. But I wasn’t there, remember? Tandi and I were trying to track down Friedman.’
Robbie smiled, acknowledging the search.
‘So this encoded paper,’ said Tusia, pushing forward. ‘Once it was translated, what did it say?’
‘That Beale had hidden a huge amount of treasure in the hills in Bedford Country Virginia. It explained the other encoded papers would reveal who should inherit the treasure when it was found and where exactly it was hidden.’

(Extract from Secret Breakers Book Five ‘The Pirate’s Sword.’) Show the full extract

“If you haven’t read Book Five yet you might want to come back to this page later as there are bound to be spoilers. You find yourself now in the part of the site where I will tell you all about the codes I based Book Five: The Pirate’s Sword on. Don’t forget then, you have been warned!”

You know by now that the main code of Secret Breakers is MS 408. If you haven’t had a good look at that yet then head over to the main Secrets to Break page here. When writing the adventure series though, I was desperate to include other real unsolved codes. The tag line of the book is ‘Real Codes - Real Mysteries - Real Danger’ after all. You can imagine how excited I was then to send Team Veritas off to the United States of America to try and find out as much as they could about one of the most intriguing un-cracked codes there is.

The Beale Papers is a series of three coded papers stored for years inside an iron box. Crack the codes and you will discover great treasure. I am sure there are treasure seekers out there right now trying to make sense of the codes! It is estimated that the current value of the hidden treasure is about $63 million.

Thomas Jefferson Beale was said to have buried the treasure and then handed a box containing the three ciphertexts about where the treasure was kept and who should get to keep it, to his friend William Morriss. In a pamphlet written about the treasure, Morriss explained that ‘the box was of iron, carefully locked, and of such weight as to render it a safe depository for articles of value. I placed it in a safe and secure place, where it could not be disturbed until such time as it should be demanded by its owner.’ Having left the inn, Beale wrote a letter to the friendly innkeeper telling him to open the box if Beale did not return in ten years. Here is a copy of the letter Beale wrote to explain this.

With regard to the box left in your charge, I have a few words to say, and, if you will permit me, give you some instructions concerning it. It contains papers vitally affecting the fortunes of myself and many others engaged in business with me, and in the event of my death, its loss might be irreparable. You will, therefore, see the necessity of guarding it with vigilance and care to prevent so great a catastrophe. It also contains some letters addressed to yourself, and which will be necessary to enlighten you concerning the business in which we are engaged. Should none of us ever return you will please preserve carefully the box for the period of ten years from the date of this letter, and if I, or no one with authority from me during that time demands its restoration, you will open it, which can be done by removing the lock. You will find, in addition to the papers addressed to you, other papers which will be unintelligible without the aid of a key to assist you. Such a key I have left in the hands of a friend in this place, sealed, addressed to yourself, and endorsed not to be delivered until June, 1832. By means of this you will understand fully all you will be required to do. Your sincere friend, T.J.B.
St. Louis, Mo., May 9th, 1822.

The Beale pamphlet explains what happened next! Having done all that was required of him, Mr. Morriss could only await Beale's return, or some communication from him. In either case, he was disappointed. He never saw Beale again, nor did a line or message ever reach him. The two years passed away during which he said he would be absent, then three, four, and so on to ten; still not a line or message to tell whether he were living or dead. Mr. Morriss felt much uneasiness about him, but had had no means of satisfying his doubts; ten years had passed; 1832 was at hand, and he was now at liberty to open the box, but he resolved to wait on, vainly hoping that something definite would reach him.

Morriss soon began to believe that Beale would never return…but he was still unsure about opening the box! It was not until many years later that he finally lifted the lid!

Can you believe that! When Morriss found the coded letters he knew he’d need help reading them. He asked his friend and eventually James B Ward got hold of the Papers. He published a pamphlet asking for help with the mystery. And one of the three Papers was deciphered using the American Declaration of Independence as a key text!

The plaintext reads:

I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford's, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith: The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange for silver to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars. The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

Here’s Brodie’s notes about the Beale Papers to help you understand how everything worked!

Once one of the papers was deciphered, the race was on to find the treasure hidden in the mountains of Virginia!

How the deciphering works:

So how exactly can this incredible document of international importance be used to break the code? Here’s how:

  • The American Declaration of Independence is numbered as show in this beginning extract.

When(1) in(2) the(3) course(4) of(5) human(6) events(7) it(8) becomes(9) necessary(10) for(11) one(12) people(13) to(14) dissolve(15) the(16) political(17) bands(18) which(19) have(20) connected(21) them(22) with(23) another(24) and(25) to(26) assume(27) among(28) the(29) powers(30) of(31) the(32) earth(33) the(34) separate(35) and(36) equal(37) station(38) to(39) which(40) the(41) laws(42) of(43) nature(44) and(45) of(46) nature's(47) god(48) entitle(49) them(50) a(51) decent(52) respect(53) to(54) the(55) opinions(56) of(57) mankind(58) requires(59) that(60) they(61) should(62) declare(63) the(64) causes(65) which(66) impel(67) them(68) to(69) the(70) separation(71) we(72) hold(73) these(74) truths(75) to(76) be(77) self(78) evident(79) that(80) all(81) men(82) are(83) created(84) equal(85) that(86) they(87) are(88) endowed(89) by(90) their(91) creator(92) with(93) certain(94) unalienable(95) rights(96) that(97) among(98) these(99) are(100) life(101) liberty(102) and(103) the(104) pursuit(105) of(106) happiness(107)

  • Next the first number from the Beale Papers is found in the numbered Declaration of Independence.
  • The first letter of that word is taken to give the first letter of the hidden message.

For example, the first number of the Paper is 115 and the 115th word in the Declaration of Independence is ‘Instituted’. This would give us then the letter ‘I’ for our secret message.

Take a look at Brodie’s notes on the deciphering just in case you’re not quite sure how it works!

Two Secret Breakers Challenges for you!

I declare challenge Number One:

Now you know how I love to hide secret messages for you in the pages of the Secret Breakers books. Supposing I hid a message using the American Declaration of Independence numbered system for you. Where would I put a series of numbers I wanted you to see? On the bottom of the pages? On the top? On the book cover itself?

How exciting would it be to find the secret message I’ve hidden!

And if you do find it I’d want you to let me know! So drop me a line at H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH and all the while stocks last I’ll make sure I send you a prize!

I declare challenge Number Two:

What about writing me a message using a page of Secret Breakers or the Declaration of Independence? You could send it to me to see if I could read it…but don’t forget to let me know what you used to write the code! Send your messages to H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH and again you might just get lucky and receive a prize!

A note about the decoding in The Pirate’s Sword.

Now just so you know, I really did use the code explained in the story to decipher the second Beale Paper which led the team to the treasure. It was important to me the coding could really be done! This photograph shows how complicated the numbering of the letters was…and that it actually happened using a document written by Thomas Jefferson.

American and British Code Making and Breaking

I had so much fun exploring American codes in this instalment of the Secret Breakers adventure. Take a look at this short video clip which helpfully explains the history of codes in the USA and across the world. The clip was made to support the film ‘National Treasure’ in which an invented code is decrypted using the Declaration of Independence. It’s a great film about a modern code-cracking adventure and well worth checking out! But here’s the video clip to give you a taster of the theories behind the codes!

When you’ve learnt all you can about Beale and his codes, click the link below to take you to explore the final secret in the series!

Secrets to Break: Book Six