This is the story of one of the unluckiest men to ever visit the Sunshine State. His name was Jeremiah Dashiell. In the late 1850s he was a US Army major serving as a regional paymaster for the 700 or so troops in Florida for the third Seminole War. Dashiell’s appointment was unique, because he had no background in finance. He was a physician and it is speculated he was assigned the job of paymaster, primarily so the troops would have semi-regular access to medical care.
At any rate, in those days soldiers were paid in gold or silver coins and it was Dashiell’s job to personally deliver their money. In 1857, $23,000 in gold and silver was turned over to the major in Charleston, North Carolina. Dashiell then boarded a schooner headed to the tiny Florida Atlantic outpost known as Fort Capron, located about 225-miles south of Jacksonville. The trip was routine, until the major arrived at his destination. It was low tide and the water choppy. As a result, the schooner’s captain decided not to attempt to navigate through the natural inlet that existed there, but to anchor just off shore until conditions improved. Because the troops hadn’t been paid in months and there was already a morale problem, Dashiell was impatient to complete his mission. So, he ordered that he be immediately rowed to shore in a longboat. The ship’s captain complied, but reluctantly.
By now you may have guessed what happened. No sooner had Dashiell set off on his coastal journey than the longboat was upended. Although the major and his rowers were quickly plucked from the water, the payroll was lost and all efforts by the schooner’s crew to retrieve it failed.
Dashiell had no option but to head back to Charleston, tell his commander what had happened and pray he wouldn’t be court-martialed. Things went better than expected, perhaps because the major was an acquaintance of former President James Polk. He was not disciplined. In fact, Dashiell was given a replacement payroll - now totaling $28,000 and told to “head back to Fort Capron ... BY LAND!
Again, the trip was uneventful, until Dashiell reached Palatka! There he spent the night in an inn before heading off the next morning to board a river steamer departing southward from the town of Enterprise, located near present day Deltona. It was as he was about to board the paddleboat, when the major discovered that during his previous night’s hotel stay someone had snuck into his room while he was briefly out of it, opened one of his suitcases and made off with the gold and silver. Eventually, a hotel servant was arrested, but by that time all but $3,000 of the payroll had been spent.
And so back to Charleston headed our unlucky hero. This time, despite his political connections, he must have expected to face charges. After all, he had left his room UNLOCKED! Fortunately for Dashiell, however, the Army was more interested in getting its money back than making an example of a man who was an ex-president’s acquaintance. Thus he was “invited” to leave the Army, but only after agreeing to sell land he owned in Texas to repay the small fortune he’d lost.
Now, please don’t stop reading yet! Dashiell’s story is about to become even more unbelievable!
We turn the calendar ahead. Fort Capron is long-gone, replaced by the city of Fort Pierce. It’s a beautiful spring day in 1963 and two teenage boys are just off the Atlantic coast snorkeling, when they miraculously discover 3,264 gold and silver coins on the ocean floor. Research later proved that what the Atlantic had taken from Major Dashiell in 1857, it elected to give to a couple of kids 106-years later!
Jim lives in Live Oak.