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Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (11/2000) Relic Hunter (10/2000) Relic Hunter (12/2000)   Vol. 34 November 2000 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the November 2000 edition of W&ET Magazine

The Silver Treasures Of Port Royal

By: Ed Fedory
Photos By: Mark Swann

The very name Port Royal conjures up a lot of images... warm Caribbean breezes and snapping acres of canvas sails in the wind... turquoise waters, white sand beaches, palm trees. Real-life characters like Captain Henry Morgan are inextricably mixed with Robert Louis Stevenson's Long John Silver, and there's an awful lot of belaying and talk of jibs, mains'ils, and fo'c'stle rumors o'treasure, buried deep, for certain, argghhh! All the heroes bear a startling resemblance to Tyrone Power... the villains uncannily sneer in classic Basil Rathbone fashion... and all the tavern lasses cast sultry glances across mugs of grog with Jane Russell eyes. It's the world of Rafael Sabatini... the swashbuckling world of pirates and buccaneers... of broadsides and avasting.

re exists but one problem. Our tale of treasures buried deep takes place in Port Royal, Tennessee. Exit 17th century... farewell, Mr. Sabatini... and a hearty goodbye to the cast of thousands. We'll shift the scenes from frothy waves to dusty Tennessee back roads... from armed merchantmen to an old homestead. But it's still a tale of buried treasure- keelhaul me, else, if it ain't, arrgghh!

Pulling to the shoulder of the dusty gravel road in rural Tennessee, Mark and Reba Swann emerged from the truck and looked across the overgrown lawn toward what would soon be their new home. Not only did they share a common dream and the large task of restoration, but they shared the job of researching the history of the old Bourne homestead.

The house before them looked nothing like the one 18-year-old William Bourne had built for his new wife, Matilda, in 1828. The original building was a one-room log cabin, but well situated on high ground, near a year-round natural cave spring and an old Indian trail which led to the lower Ohio Valley. William and Matilda were not the first to inhabit the area, as in the closing days of the American Revolution a pioneer/trading station had occupied the same site. As the years passed and their family grew, additional rooms and a second story were added to the original dwelling; and from those windows, in 1838, they watched the forced migration of thousands of Native Americans along what would become known as the Trail of Tears.

The history of the area, coupled with tales of lavish lawn parties, and the story of the Bournes' displaying little faith in local banks and having buried money on the property, added to Mark's and Reba's excitement when they first turned on their detectors to begin what was to become a most memorable series of treasure hunts!

Mark's initial recoveries near a large maple were certainly less than auspicious, consisting of a bent piece of copper and a couple of old shotgun shells; but after digging a generous plug on his fourth signal and glimpsing the gleam of silver in the bottom of the hole, he knew that some interesting recoveries were going to be made during the course of that first day. After carefully removing the coin, Mark held it to the light. "I could plainly see the word 'Liberty' on the headband, and the date of 1827."

"I decided to run my pattern over to the area where Reba was searching, but before I could reach her, I received another signal, which proved to be a nice copper watch fob. Reba had completed digging her target, too, which she later revealed was a piece of Mexican silver."

As Mark continued his tale of treasure, he recalled, "Once again I set out to rejoin my wife, to see what kind of recoveries she had made, when another signal rang through my headset. When I switched into the all-metal mode, I could tell that the target was a rather large one, and from the tone of the signal, I figured it was pretty deep. After unsuccessfully attempting to reach the target with my small trowel, I opted for a long-handled shovel and removed a larger plug.

"Removing the loosened soil, I inserted my detector's 9" coil into the hole, and from the loud sound with which I was greeted, I knew I was getting very close to the target. I continued to dig until I felt the blade of the shovel glance off the side of a hard object. I got down on my hands and knees and began to remove the soil. The removal of the loosened soil revealed the side of an old blue Mason jar, and as I carefully dislodged it from the grip of the soil, I saw that it was still intact!"

I wish I had a dollar for every Mason jar lid I've dug! Anyone who has ever relic hunted around old cellar holes and dwellings that have fallen to ruin knows the drill: deep target... tough digging... remove the soil... dull metal lid exposed in the bottom of the hole. Hope... hope... hope... radically raised pulse rate... pant... pant... pant. Gently dig around the lid, remove the target, and what do you have? Another Mason jar lid!

If you are really lucky, you didn't cut yourself on any broken glass that may be lurking in the confines of the hole. That's pretty much the quality of the luck I have had when dealing with the remains of Mason jars discovered and dug far from the beaten path. What Mark recovered goes far beyond the sort of fortune I've experienced or have witnessed.

"Looking up, I saw Reba's inquisitive face looking down at me and the Mason jar. I passed it to her for a closer inspection, and as she rubbed the remaining moist soil from the outside of the old jar, several large silver coins came clearly into view! The momentary silence that existed between the two of us, and the jar, could have been easily cut with a knife. The stories of the Bournes' having hidden money on their property had been true!"

While a number of individual coins continued to be found on the front and side lawns, Mark noticed that the older coins were consistently found close to the old roadbed. Due to the number of cut nails found in some of the holes, Mark opted for the use of a smaller coil for better target separation.

"One particular signal I remember quite well. It was rather faint, but certainly repeatable. Digging through a combination of cut nails and other debris, I found a beautiful 1816 Spanish piece-of-eight! Searching the area very carefully after that find, I was able to recover a 1790 and an 1807 half real. From the amount of debris in the soil- the broken early glass, cut nails, and one-piece brass buttons- I knew that I had discovered the site of the old pioneer station which once had stood on the side of the old Indian trail!"

During subsequent trips to their future home and restoration project, it seemed that Reba developed a sixth sense in regard to where the next cache of coins would be found.

During one of their searches Mark decided to take a breather beside his wife, who was in the process of recovering another target. "I heard Reba's digging tool strike an object, and then saw the disappointment on her face when an old brass oil can was brought to the surface. I tossed it aside and was about to give her a hand filling in the hole when we heard the jingle of coins from within the oil can!

"Reba picked up the can and after several failed attempts at opening it, handed it over to me. I could easily sense growing impatience as my first attempts were unsuccessful, but finally the threaded spout began to turn. With the cap finally removed, I poured the contents into her eagerly outstretched hands. It was a mini-cache of nine silver dimes and a $2-1/2 gold piece!"

Today, the house restoration project has been completed, and a total of six caches, consisting mainly of silver dollars and halves, have been recovered on the surrounding property.

... and somehow I can't help but think that when Mark looks out the window at his lawn, he isn't thinking so much about mowing it, as he is digging it!














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