State Highway Marker

State Highway Marker

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Strange Tale of 1888

From the pages of the Richmond Dispatch of 1888, a strange tale for the week before Halloween. 

          A Remarkable Discovery Near the Ancient Capital- Captain John                    Smith's Letters.

                WILLIAMSBURG, VA, March 31, 1888.
To the Editor of the Dispatch:
Thursday inst, while two gentlemen from New Kent were hunting on the Stone-House tract, in this county, they discovered the entrance to a remarkable cavern, but as it was then late in the afternoon an exploration of its mysteries was deferred until a more favorable time. When the discovery became generally known there was a considerable excitement among the residents of that vicinity, any persons believing it was the open sesame to the Cavern in which, according to tradition, vast treasure were stored. Mr. Winder Lane, of this city, made arrangements with a party to explore the cave, and your correspondent was kindly invited to accompany him. Early this morning we started out, and were not long in reaching the Stone House tract. Here, in consequence of the roughness of the country, we left the vehicle and pursued the remainder of the journey on foot. Expecting to find game we brought guns with us, and soon we were banging away at the ducks floating off the stream. As the report of our weapons died away, "Hello" came a shout from the New Kent side of Ware creek. Lane responded, and a small boat in which two men were seated, glided across the stream. These were the men Lane had engaged to meet. Mr. Braddenham is a taciturn, middle-aged gentleman, and his features give evidence that he is a man of courage and cool determination. James Richardson, who was familiarly greeted as "Tupps," is a younger man, of herculean frame, and the embodiment of good nature. Removing from the boat two lanterns, a hatchet, a coil of rope, and a large ball of twine, we started up the hill, and Tupps, by right of original discovery, led the way. Our course lay through what is known as

A more unbroken country is not to be found in this region. The hills rise abruptly from three to four hundred feet, and the descent is precipitous into dark ravines made almost impenetrable by thick undergrowth of laurel and ivy. Tall trees of oak and chestnut obstruct the light, and in many places we were compelled to grope our way in darkness. After toiling up and down the hills for some time Tupps halted and appeared to be lost. We were then in a ravine and a small stream flowed across our path.

                                                               THE LOST STREAM
"I've never seen this 'branch' before," said our guide, "and I've just been wondering how it gets out of here." This did seem a puzzle, for on every side we could see nothing but hills and no outlet for the water. We followed the stream and as we went the waters rushed more rapidly and a deep rambling sound was heard. The undergrowth now became so thick that we were compelled to clear a path with the hatchet. Making our way with difficulty through the oozy soil, we found that the stream descended into the earth through an opening between two huge boulders. Retracing our steps we next reached the top of one of the highest ridges, when, to our gratification, the serpentine course of Ware creek could be traced and York river was plainly seen in the distance. Tupps then said he had the "bearings," but it would be impossible for him to find the cave unless he started for the Stone House. Accordingly we set out for the creek and after a wearisome march ascended the tall hill overhanging that stream. The Stone House was soon afterward reached, and here, nearly worn out by fatigue stopped to rest.

has suffered much from the lapse of time and the ruthless hand of treasure hunters. The walls have been thrown down, the chimney nearly removed, and not one stone has been left upon another, except in the foundation-walls, which appear to sink deep into the ground All around the building deep holes have been sunk, to evidence the labors of modern seekers for hidden wealth. There is local tradition which ascribes the erection of the stone house to Blackbeard, a pirate, who was infamous for his cruelties about the beginning of the eighteenth century, and who is supposed to have concealed his ill-gotten gains near this retreat. There is, however, no historical evidence to support this tradition. Among Virginia historians there seems to be a consensus that is the popular word of opinion that this is the "Fort of Retreat" alluded to by Captain John Smith in his writings as having been erected in 1608-'09. If this is true, it is a most interesting relic of by gone days and the ruins of the oldest house built by the hands of Englishmen in America. After halting on this interesting spot for more than half an hour we arose to pursue our journey. Tupps got up lazily and faced successively each point of the compass. When the bearings had been obtained he started off rapidly, and we followed in Indian file. Following the ridge about one third of a mile we reached a gnarled ash-tree, and here our guide abruptly turned and commenced to descend the hill. We were soon deep in the ravine, wandering about in an eccentric and apparently aimless course. Tupps grunted his satisfaction on discovering familiar objects, but it was evident he was an unacquainted with the direct route to the goal, and for two hours we pursued the tiresome journey.

At length our conductor sprang off to the left with rapid strides and pushed his way out of sight in a tangled mass of undergrowth, Soon afterwards we heard a shout, and Tupps called out to us, "Come on boys. Here’s the port-hole of -- Sheol." We scrambled over the rocks and through the brush to where he was standing, and there sure enough was the entrance to the cavern. A large rock had been partially dislodged by the elements of nature, and the opening to the cave was exposed. We were now at the base of one of the highest hill, and the thick matted branches shut out the sunlight, so that objects were undistinguishable at a few feet distant. The lanterns were lighted, and on examination it was found that the mouth of the cave was two feet wide and three and one half feet high. The huge stone was smooth on the underside, and had evidently once closed the mouth of the cavern, but it had been undermined by the rains and slided partly down the hill. We now made ready to enter the cave, and not expecting to meet savage men or beast it was thought best to leave our guns at the entrance and provide ourselves with long poles. Three of us did so, but Tupps could not be persuaded to leave his trusty gun behind. Braddenham unwound a ball of twine and attached one end to a tree, explaining that it would be a good guide to daylight should we lose our way. 


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