Mormon History

Fascination With Money Digging - 1822

  Palmyra Herald July 24, 1822


Every country has its money-diggers, who are full in the belief that vast treasures lie concealed in the earth. So far from being a new project, it dates its origin with the first man who ever weilded a spade. 'Tis as old as Adam. Even in these latter days, we find men so much in love with the "root of all evil," and so firm in the belief that it may be dug up that they will traverse hill and dale, climb the loftiest mountain, and even work their way into the bowels of the earth in search of it. Indeed, digging for money hid in the earth, is a very common thing; and in this state it is even considered an honorable and profitable employment. We could name, if we pleased, at least five hundred respectable men, who do, in the simplicity and sincerity of their hearts, verily believe that immense treasures lie concealed upon our Green Mountains; many of whom have been for a number of years, most industriously and perserveringly engaged in digging it up. Some of them have succeeded beyond their most sanguine expectations. One gentleman in Parkerstown, on the summit of the mountain, after digging with unyielding confidence and untiring diligence, for ten or twelve years, found a sufficient quantity of money to build him a comodious house for his own convenience, and to fill it with comforts for weary travellers. On stopping lately to refresh, we were delighted with the view of an anchor on the sign, emblematical of his hope of success, while we left him industriously digging for more. Another gentleman on the east shore of Lake Champlain, we are credibly informed, has actually dug up the enormous sum of fifty thousand dollars! The incredulous and unbelieving may stare at this assertion, but it is nevertheless true, and we do not hesitate to declare our belief that digging for money is a most certain way of obtaining it. Much, however, depends on the skillful use of the genuine mineral rod. Don't dig too deep, is an appropriate maxim, with all who are versed in the art. Wood's Iron Plough, skillfully guided, is sure to break the enchantment, and turn up the glittering dust in every furrow. Countless treasures yet remain hid in the earth. Speed the plough -- ply the hoe -- 'twill all come to light.

P. S. The best time for digging money is early in the morning, while the dew is on.

Note 1: The 1820s was a great time for seeking buried treasure, it seems. The Philadelphia National Gazette publicized the delusion in an article it reprinted from the Hallowell Gazette on Mar. 27, 1822. The Montpelier Watchman article was reprinted in several "yankee" papers, including the May 4, 1822 issue of the New Hampshire Sentinel. Certain avaricious New Englanders spread their money-digging propensities and methods westward to New York, where the novelty took a strong hold. See the Rochester Gem of May 15, 1830 for a story of a family of local money-diggers named Smith and the Wayne Sentinel of Feb. 16, 1825 and Dec. 27, 1825 for accounts of similar clandestine proceedings, including one such episode in nearby Orleans Co.

Note 2: Despite the Montpelier Watchman's tongue-in-cheek reporting of the "skillful use of the genuine mineral rod" and the need "to break the enchantment" guarding buried treasures, such beliefs associated with 1820s money-digging were taken seriously by the practitioners of that dubious trade. The 1822 article from the Watchman was also reprinted as "Money Diggers" in the Palmyra Herald and Canal Advertiser on July 24, 1822. It was subsequently reprinted in the Farmer's Diary or Ontario Almanac for 1823, published by James D. Bemis & Co., in Canandiagua. So, it appears that the subject of money digging was of as much interest to people in Ontario Co., NY during this period as it was to their relatives back in New England.

Note 3: For even more Vermont money-digging and mineral-rod lore, see the Middlebury Vermont American of May 27, 1828, Barnes Frisbie's 1867 book, History of Middletown, and the Rev. Daniel Dorchester's 1879 article, "St. John's Rod."