“What is it about treasure that makes history so fascinating?”
Is there buried Confederate treasure in Archer? In the waning days of the Confederacy, a guarded wagon train containing gold and personal effects of exiled President Jefferson Davis arrived at Cotton Wood, David Levy Yulee’s now-vanished plantation. That much is documented. But, speculation about what happened from there — even 150 years later — is enough to keep treasure hunters searching historical records for undiscovered clues.
THE CONFEDERACY FALLS
Richmond was burning. In April 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and members of his cabinet evacuated the city by train and headed south. With them was the remainder of the Confederate treasury, including crates of gold and silver coins, gold bullion from Richmond bank reserves and jewelry that had been donated to the Southern cause. Some estimates put the “treasure train” value at $1 million; others say the crippled government had much less than that in reserve.
Davis wrote that his goal was “to go to the south far enough to pass below the points reported to be occupied by Federal troops,” which was Florida. From there, he planned to travel west, rally his defeated troops and form a resistance. The entourage traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then into South Carolina and Georgia. The Richmond bank reserves were left in a bank vault in Washington, Georgia. Some portion was entrusted to two naval officers to take to England and place in Confederate accounts. The remaining gold, silver and jewelry traveled further south with Davis.
Davis denied that his entourage carried anything valuable, writing in “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” that, “A silly story had got abroad that it was a treasure-train.” Knowing that federal troops were closing in, he split up his party to try and be less conspicuous and confuse would-be captors. He sent his personal baggage, papers of the Confederate government and gold to cover the men’s expenses with a small detachment of soldiers. Ten soldiers, a scout and five servants set off with the trunks and boxes. The two groups planned to reunite in Florida.
On May 10th, however, Davis was captured near Irwinville, Georgia, north of the Florida state line. Union soldiers found none of the fabled treasure in Davis’ party. Meanwhile the guarded wagon train slowly made its way into Florida and approached Alachua County.
David Levy Yulee owned the Florida Railroad that ran from Fernandina to Cedar Key. His father had purchased part of the famous Arredondo land grant and Yulee built a 250-acre cotton plantation, called Cotton Wood, on a small rise of land northeast of Archer. Cotton Wood looked like the typical Southern plantation house: white paint and green shutters, eight rooms total. A detached kitchen that serviced the home’s dining room stood just to the northwest of the house, and the slaves’ quarters extended out toward the fields.
Yulee supported the Confederacy and knew Jefferson Davis well from their time together in the U.S. Senate. Davis wanted Yulee to tear up parts of his track and ship the salvaged rail supplies to other parts of the South that needed to rebuild. Yulee refused. Toward the end of the war, he heard a rumor that President Davis issued a warrant for his arrest due to his “treasonous” refusal to dismantle the railroad. Another blow came in 1864, when Union troops attacked and burned his Margarita sugar plantation near Homosassa. As a result, Yulee and his family fled north to their Archer home.
On May 22, 1865, the soldiers carrying Davis’ luggage, papers and the remaining gold reached Cotton Wood. After learning of Davis’ capture, the guards decided to divide the remaining treasure equally and disband. Yulee encouraged them to request parole at the nearest Union encampment under the terms of surrender. The soldiers entrusted four trunks of Davis’ property to the Yulees. Years later, Yulee’s son C. Wickliffe Yulee wrote in the Florida Historical Society quarterly about how he buried two chests and a trunk:
“He confided the task of secreting them to the writer, who delightedly, performed it, one faithful companion assisting, by burying them, at midnight, in the cow stable, where, a few hours later, no trace of the work could be seen.”
Another trunk containing government papers was also allegedly buried by a soldier in a horse stable. When David Levy Yulee returned to Archer and learned of the boxes and trunks, he had them dug up and sent to the railroad agent in Waldo for safekeeping.
On May 25, 1865, Captain O.E. Bryant of the Union army arrested David Yulee in Gainesville for his support of the Confederate government. Yulee’s family prepared to depart Archer for Mrs. Yulee’s family in Kentucky. But, one of the wagon train coachman tipped Union officers about the boxes and trunks and Bryant sent a detachment to Cotton Wood to retrieve them. Captain Bryant wrote:
“I met Mrs. Yulee, claimed and received the hospitality of the house, and ascertained that the trunk and chest had been removed. I asked her to state frankly where I might find them. After a moment’s reflection, she said they were the private effects of Mr. Davis and she had received them that she might deliver them to Mrs. Davis, who was an esteemed friend.”
Mrs. Yulee eventually confessed that they were in the care of the railroad agent. Bryant went to the depot: “I found the property in a store-room adjoining the house, not even locked.” Accounts differ whether or not any gold was found — some say $25,000 was recovered by Union troops.
Were all of Davis’ trunks and boxes unearthed before the Yulee’s left Cotton Wood? Is there a trunk of historical papers or buried treasure waiting to be discovered? Local legend holds that one of the guards buried his portion of the treasure at Cotton Wood and planned to return there to retrieve it after hostilities settled. But before he could, he died.
You can revisit these places and decide for yourself. While Yulee’s Cottonwood plantation off Archer Road and US 27/41 is gone (and is private property), there is a historical marker in Archer noting Cotton Wood and its role at the end of the Civil War. In the Waldo city park, another marker in front of the caboose notes the place where Davis’ baggage was confiscated.
And the location of the treasure itself, if it exists? Well, that’s for you to decide.
“What is it about treasure that makes history so fascinating?”