During the Third Seminole War, army paymaster Major Jeremiah Yellot Dashiell was traveling to Fort Capron on the Indian River on the east coast of Florida with a leather pouch containing $23,000 in gold that had been withdrawn from the sub-treasury in Charleston, South Carolina. On May 1, 1857, Dashiell’s schooner transport had to anchor outside the Indian River Inlet because sandbars made it too hazardous for the ship to pass through the inlet. Dashiell boarded a small boat for the trip to the fort, but a freak wave swamped the boat. Although the passengers were saved, the leather pouch sank to the bottom of the inlet and was swallowed by “quicksand” , and could not be recovered. Major Dashiell applied to Congress for relief from responsibility from the loss, which was apparently granted, but a few weeks later in 1857 he suffered a mysterious theft of $13,000 in gold while staying overnight at a hotel in Palatka, Florida. The Federal government concluded that Major Dashiell was either extremely unlucky or extremely crooked, and dismissed him from service on July 10, 1858. Later, during the Civil War, Dashiell held the rank of colonel while he served the State of Texas as adjutant-general and inspector-general. After the war he lived in San Antonio and edited the Herald. His application in 1888 for a pension from the Federal government on the basis of service in the Mexican War was refused because of the circumstances of his discharge from the army in 1858.
106 years later two Ft Pierce locals–Ft Capron is located in modern Ft Pierce, Florida– were lobster hunting just north of the inlet. The morning of March 10, 1963 was not yielding many lobsters but then Al Ashley and the teenage Jim Gordy noticed a funny looking reef. Its top and lee side looked like they were paved in gold. In fact, they were! Over 3000 US gold coins, the entire Fort Capron payroll, were lying there in about 12 feet of water, waiting for someone to come and recover them. On July 2, 1964, James Gordy’s father, Ken F. Gordy, obtained a lease from the State of Florida to salvage the coins under the standard terms of three quarters to the finders with the remaining quarter to the State. In September 1964 the salvagers and the State divided the 582 gold coins reported to have been found. What the finders did not tell the State was that they had actually recovered more than 2,700 gold coins in 1963, many of which they secretly sold.
By 1967 Ashley and the Gordys had fallen out among themselves and the true story emerged, whereupon Ashley and the Gordys were sued by the State of Florida in 1968. They had complicated the matter by borrowing heavily from the St. Lucie County Bank (which later merged into SunTrust), using the coins as collateral for the loan. When the trouble began in 1967, the St. Lucie County Bank locked up the coins in escrow (while still accruing interest).
On April 17, 1972, the litigants concluded a stipulation under which the coins would be sold to satisfy the indebtedness to the St. Lucie County Bank. Then the remaining coins would be split, with 55% of the appraised value going to the State of Florida, and 45% of the appraised value to the finders, Albert N. Ashley and James R. Gordy, to split evenly among themselves. Ken F. Gordy was to receive no coins.
As of June 6, 1972, the indebtedness to the St. Lucie County Bank amounted to $11,408.28. The litigants wanted to sell as few coins as possible to satisfy the debt, so they chose to sell the more-valuable double eagles. A Mr. Ronald Sibley of Kissimmee, Florida, offered to pay $90 for each double eagle, but the litigants did not accept this offer. Instead they sold 114 double eagles to World-Wide Coin Investments Ltd. in Atlanta, Georgia, at the price of $101 per coin. (A further round of litigation by the State of Florida was dismissed in 1973.) After four years of litigation a settlement between the partners and with the State of Florida was finally reached in 1972, resulting in the “donation” of 250 US gold coins to the Florida State Collection (where they remain to this day). Because of the litigation, we know the total face value of the gold coins found by Ashley and Gordy came to $23,010.50, nearly exactly corresponding to the $23,000 that Dashiell claimed to have lost, which suggests that Ashley and Gordy recovered the entire cache.