Sanford “Sandy” Boswell was born and raised in eastern North Carolina in the area where “Seeking Blackbeard’s Treasure” is set. With undergraduate (UNC-CH, 1967) and graduate (ECU, 1969) degrees in business, he began a career in higher education, during which he also earned an EdD degree (1992) from NCSU. He and his wife, Donna, have two adult children, and he has been organist at Brookwood Baptist Church in Jacksonville, NC since 1982. His interest in writing was sparked when UNC’s Writer in Residence, C. Hugh Holman, spoke to his freshman English class, but the necessity of earning a living forced him to put writing on hold until after his retirement. He is a member of ACFW.
Tom and Joanne Dixon and their teenage daughter, Caroline, were eating dinner with their eyes glued to Wheel of Fortune when Danny raced in screaming, “Mom! Dad! Sis! Look what I found!”
“What is it this time?” Joanne sighed.
Holding out an old sheet of paper, he exclaimed, “It’s a treasure map!”
“Get that filthy thing away from the table!”
“But, Mom . . . !”
“Don’t ‘But, Mom’ me!”
Tom reached for the paper. “Let me see what you have.”
Danny thrust it into Dad’s hand. “I found an ol’ log cabin in the woods. The logs are rotten, an’ this was in a bottle in a hollow log.”
Tom began reading it aloud, turning it so he could see the faded words. ‘“I, Ebenezer Smith, leave this note to guide the finder to my fortune.”’
Joanne switched off the television, and she and Caroline listened as Tom continued.
‘“On August nineteenth, eighteen seventy-nine, I was looking for my dogs on the north shore of Newport River when I spied an old chest sticking out of the mud. Tales about Blackbeard burying his treasure somewhere in Carteret County came to mind, and I thought this must be it, so I went back to the tree line and watched to make sure nobody got it. Just afore nightfall, I went and got my mule, shovel, axe, and some rope. I dug up the chest and cut some small trees to make a litter, lashed the chest to it, harnessed it to my mule, and drug it home. I took out a few coins, but I’m old and don’t need much, so I buried the treasure again. Directions to bottle two is on back. Each bottle has a gold coin buried with it in a shallow hole with directions to the next bottle. Bottle four tells where the treasure is buried. Distances are feet.’”
“What’re the directions?” Caroline asked.
Tom turned the paper over. “‘From an iron stake I drove near my front door, go Proverbs-twenty-five-v-twenty-three-word-two, Matthew thirteen, twenty-three, thirty, plus thirty-two.’”
“That’s from the Bible!” Danny exclaimed.
“Ebenezer would’ve had a King James Bible,” Joanne said. “Get our family Bible off the bookshelf in the living room.”
Danny retrieved the tome and opened it. “Let’s see . . . Proverbs . . . chapter twenty-five . . . verse twenty-three . . . word two. That word is north. Matthew thirteen . . . twenty-three . . . thirty plus thirty-two—that’s sixty plus thirty. Go north ninety feet from the iron stake.”
“Great!” Tom exclaimed. “I already have a compass. I’ll borrow our neighbor’s metal detector, and on Saturday, we’ll start looking!”
“Good deal, Dad!” Danny said as they returned to their meal. With their television off, they began planning how they’d spend their fortune.
The iron stake was easy to locate with the metal detector, and Tom had a 100-foot tape measure, but the trees that had grown up made finding the second bottle difficult. When they finally retrieved the clue and coin, Tom held it so that all could read the terse instructions:
S4,16,8 OF D8,5,13 COMMANDMENTS MOUNTAIN .9848 FOR (O + 5)/(N - 5) X G3,17,23 X 3.
A symbol like a horizontal check mark with the letter “i” nestled inside was also on the paper.
Because several books of the Bible start with S, D and G, finding the citations took several minutes. After reviewing all possibilities, they agreed the references were Song of Solomon, Daniel, and Galatians and that the clue directed them to go south of west at some unknown angle a distance of an unknown fraction x 30 x 3 feet, but they couldn’t decipher how far or at what angle.
They discussed the clue every night at dinner and soon agreed that “commandments mountain” meant “Sinai,” but the rest of the clue eluded them until one night when Caroline asked her dad for help with her trigonometry homework. He took a seat beside her at the kitchen table. “What’s the problem?”
“If sine (h) of a right triangle is point eight eight two nine, and the hypotenuse is four feet, what degrees are angles (h) and (i), what is the sine of angle (i), and what are the dimensions of the triangle?”
“I’ve forgotten how to calculate sine,” Tom said. “What’s the formula?”
“It’s ‘opposite over hypotenuse,’ whatever that means.”
“Where’re your tables?”
“In the back of the book. Why?”
“We have to find point eight eight two nine on the sine table. That’ll tell us the degrees of angle (h). The angles of a triangle always add to one hundred eighty degrees and we know that one angle is ninety degrees, so the degrees and sine of angle (i) will be easy to find. After that, calculating the sides is just basic algebra. Sine (h) is point eight eight two nine, and it’s on the line for sixty-two degrees. That means angle (i) is twenty-eight degrees, so sine (i) is . . . hmm . . .” sine (i) and Sinai sound the same. The number on the clue is point nine eight four eight. Yes! There it is! It’s the sine of eighty degrees! “I’ve got it! I know what Sinai means! We have to look eighty degrees south of west from where the bottle was buried!”
They continued searching every Saturday, but without knowing the distance of (O + 5)/(N – 5) x 30 x 3, their efforts proved fruitless . . . until a cold Sunday in January when Tom attended church with his family, something he rarely did. The minister began his sermon by saying, “I feel led today to give my sermon, not from the Bible, but about the Bible.”
Bor-ing. Maybe I can catch up on my sleep.
But Joanne kept elbowing Tom awake. So his mind wandered to the unsolved clue, and it started churning when the pastor said, “There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament and twenty-seven books in the New Testament.”
Hmm. Thirty-nine old . . . twenty-seven new . . . old . . . new . . . O . . . N. If O is Old Testament and N is New Testament, that means O + 5 equals 44 and N – 5 equals 22, so 44 divided by 22 equals 2. That’s it! He jumped up, pumping the air. “HALLELUJAH!”
The congregation thought the Holy Spirit had finally entered Tom’s stubborn heart, but as the pastor stepped down from the pulpit to receive him into church membership, Tom stage-whispered to his family, “I figured it out! Come on!”
Joanne, Caroline, and Danny jumped up and made a hasty exit with Tom leading them as the stunned congregation watched.
He explained the calculation to his family as they peeled out of the parking lot.
“Way to go!” they congratulated him.
Four doors flew open when they
screeched to a halt. They raced into their house, changed clothes,
grabbed the tools they’d need, and rushed into the woods. From the spot
where they’d found the last clue, they measured 180 feet (2 x 30 x 3)
in the direction of 80 degrees south of west, but almost two hours
passed before they located the next coin and clue:
J4, 3, 13–14 H1, 9, 14.
After checking all possibilities, they agreed the citations were Judges (nine hundred) and Habakkuk (east).
“Nothing to it now, Dad!” Danny predicted.
“In that distance, just a tiny error in direction can make a big difference, son. I’ll hold this end of the tape measure and direct you.”
Four hearts sank when they broke through the woods onto a marsh, with 873 feet marking the edge of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Joanne moaned. “Are you sure you measured right?”
“I’m pretty sure we did. This was just a little creek in Ebenezer’s day. The waterway was built in the nineteen thirties, and the shore’s eroded a lot since then.”
They re-measured three times before they gave up. Though disappointed that they hadn’t found the bulk of the treasure they’d sought, they went home with a spark of satisfaction in knowing they’d found two of Blackbeard’s gold coins.
To be continued…