Aug 09, 2007, 08:44 PM
Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust
Belcher's Cave of Great Barrington, Massachusetts
QUOTE FROM "NEW ENGLAND'S BURIED TREASURE BY CLAY PERRY, 1946"
Literally and figuratively the cave was the first underworld hideout of the criminal. In the year 1765 a man who went by the name of Gill Belcher migrated from Hebron, Connecticut, to the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and there set up as a silversmith. It is possible that he traveled up through Connecticut by way of Enfield, for later there was associated with him, in an enterprise which caused no small stir about southern New England and eastern New York State, a young man called William Hulburt or Hubbard, son of an estimable Enfield man, Obadiah Hubbard.
At any rate, Gill Belcher, a family man, who eight years later stated that he had "nine small children, the eldest twelve, and an aged mother" of whom he was an only son, made his appearance in June in the pretty little Housatonic River town in the Berkshire Hills and soon bought an interesting piece of property. It was a bit of a rocky hill, rising about 250 feet above the highway, later know as Knox Trail, where it joins the present U.S. Highway No. 7 at the northwestern edge of the town. This property had been owned by an eccentric gentleman, a veteran of the French Wars and prominent in military and civic affairs, William King, Jr., a major in the Revolutionary War. By its humorous owner, the property was called "Bung Hill" at the time he sold it to Belcher. On the side of the solid stone eminence was a cave, "halfway up a steep, jagged declivity on the north face of Bung Hill" which was a bold, unevenly rounded knob of rocks covered in part with a scanty growth of trees and with massive blocks of stone strewn along its base.
There seemed nothing strange about this purchase of land, because at the northern base of the hill, on a little level of land, was a small house where Belcher settled himself and family and proceeded to engage in his trade as a workman in silver and gold. Doubtless Mr. King considered himself well rid of the rocky hill which was sometimes haunted by rattlesnakes, sunning themselves and by various wild animals.
The cave itself is an immense opening in the hillside, evidently formed by some ancient convulsion of nature, one of those geological "faults" which form grottoes in the hard rock, in some localities. The portal yawns high and wide but the passage soon narrows and a heap of fallen rocks in fragments forms a barrier rising waist high, beyond which is a chamber about thirty feet long and eight to ten feet wide. This is roofed by one solid sheet or block of stone more than fifty feet long which forms also the eastern wall, like an attic room with the peak of the roof ten to fifteen feet about the floor, but at the side, bearing down to nothing.
Across the top of the outer entrance is a spearlike blade of stone which, in some lights and at some angles, resembles a huge scimitar or sabre; and in others a rude replica of an elephant's trunk.
The inner room is dimly lighted through an opening about midway of its length near the top and also by a smaller aperature - this latter seeming to have served a great many times as a chimney, for the blackened walls about it testify to fire.
That there had been many a fire there in the time of Gill Belcher, and for a nefarious purpose, was established several years after he had taken up his abode at Bung Hill. He sold the property in 1768 but is believed to have carried on his trade of silver-smithing at the house for some time afterward. At any rate, when he was committed to jail for counterfeiting on October 30, 1772, it is a matter of record that he was taken while he and others were in the cave, engaged in manufacturing counterfeits in imitation of "York money"; that is, coins and currency bearing the official imprint and accepted as standard in the Province of New York - and in the provinces of New England also.
(trial details left out for brevity, if anyone is that interested, e-mail me and I will include it)
....Oh, yes, the cave is still there and accessible to anyone who can climb a little - and isn't afraid of rattlesnakes which once haunted the vicinity in numbers, and seem to still be represented by a few stagglers. However, children play about the lofty caverns and eagerly guide adult inquirers to its location on old Bung Hill, and but one or two rattlers have been seen near there for years, and they were not in the cave, but in the weeds and grass at the bottom of the hill.
A few years ago, John L. E. Pell, historian and dramatist, after a study of the customs and costumes of the period, with the aid of John W. Taylor, an expert photographer, staged a reproduction of the counterfeiters' activities in the cave, and the raid by the King's Militia, even manufacturing a replica of the quaint, hand-operated press with which the false banknotes and coins were made.
-QUOTE FROM "THE BOOK OF BERKSHIRE BY CLARK W. BRYAN, 1886"
In the north end of the village, where a spur of the mountains comes to an abrupt end, a cave is formed by the disruption and falling together of rocks. It is known as belcher's Cave, because tradition says that a man named Belcher counterfeited silver coin there before the Revolution. The place is often made the object of easy, summer day's walks by those who want to see what the rough hand of Nature has done, and to get the refreshing coolness imparted to the air by rocks and shade.
-QUOTE FROM "HISTORY OF BERKSHIRE COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS, VOLUME II, 1885"
At Bung Hill was another small cluster of dwellings, one of which - the old L house on the corner - is standing at the present day. This was the residence of Captain George King, one of the early sheriffs of the county, who afterward died in the service at Ticonderoga. It is in this vicinity that the notorious Gill Belcher lived, and while apparently working at this trade as a tinker, he was in reality, as tradition has it, engaged in counterfeiting silver coin. On the mountain side, just south of the corner, is a cavern, knows as "Belcher's Cave," where the counterfeiter is said to have been discovered at his illegitimate work. Whether the tradition be true or false in this respect, in the weather book of Lieutenant Gamiliel Whiting are found the following entries:
"1772, July 2d, Gil Belcher com't'd" (committed). "1772, Aug. 3d, Belcher released." "1772, Oct. 30, Gill Belcher, D. Lewis, J. Adams, and J. Caul com. for counterfeiting." "1772, Oct. 31. Money makers went to N. Canaan."
It is possible that Belcher and his confederates were a part of a line of counterfeiters extending at that time from Connecticut through Berkshire into New York. Belcher was probably taken to New Canaan for trial, and was afterward confined in the Albany jail, where it is recorded that he was executed.
-QUOTE FROM "BERKSHIRE OFF THE TRAIL BY BERNARD A. DREW, 1982"
"Great Barrington - One of the more quaintly named geological appendages in South County is Bung Hill, a 25-foot-high wart of the face of the town's otherwise quietly rambling landscape.
Major William King, an eccentric fellow who lived at the foot of the hill (at the junction of Routes 7 and 23) gave it its name two centuries ago because of its resemblance to a keg bung, or stopper.
In 1785, Major King sold Bung Hill and adjacent land to Connecticut goldsmith Gill Belcher, a gentleman who was to lend a great deal of notoriety to that section of town.
Mr. Belcher quickly discovered a cave on Bung Hill and put it to novel use. The gash in the hill's rocky northeastern face has a broad opening marked by a spearlike blade of stone overhanging. A low passage leads to a 30-foot lean-to cavern which Mr. Belcher and his confederates are said to have utilized for counterfeiting activities.
Details of Mr. Belcher's endeavors are not abundant. Great Barrington's historian Charles J. Taylor dismissed Belcher's Cave as a myth when his history was published in 1882. But upon investigation, he wrote an article which was printed in the The Berkshire Courier's June 17, 1891, number in which he said that "Gill Belcher made this cave his workshop and hiding place whilst engaged in the manufacture of counterfeit coin; that his retreat was betrayed by the smoke of his fire issuing from the crevices of the rocks; that he was arrested and executed for his crimes.
Mr. Taylor said that Mr. Belcher maintained a low profile in town, though local records showed that he was briefly a guest at the local lockup in August, 1772, that charge not stated. Two months later, he and three other men were arrested and taken to Albany for prosecution as counterfeiters.
James Parrish, a member of the town's Historical Commission, said Mr. Belcher likely was making copper shillings, hot-dipping them in silver then stamping them between dies in his shop. The cave, he suspects, was used only to hide the dies.
Mr. Taylor said, and Gill Belcher's own confession bears it out, that he was also making paper "York" money, which was passed in New York State.
At any rate, Mr. Belcher and 11 other men were tried and convicted on counterfeiting charges in December, 1772. Three of them were sentenced to hang: John Wall Lovely, Dr. Joseph Bill and Gill Belcher.
I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow
Aug 09, 2007, 10:03 PM
Re: Belcher's Cave of Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Very interesting story! Wonder if any of those counterfeit coins could be lying around waiting to be found. The one story makes it sound like he did counterfeiting there while one of the others suggest he just hid some dies there.
If nothing else, it would be a neat place to visit, take pictures and detect for awhile for the heck of it.
If I make it there this year, I'll post some pics here.
Thanks for the info Gypsy - you're a research genius!
"There is no getting away from a treasure that once fastens upon your mind" - Joseph Conrad (Nostromo)
Jan 01, 2008, 10:58 AM
Re: Belcher's Cave of Great Barrington, Massachusetts
i have been to belchers cave .it lies along the housatonic rivers banking. its a tough area to detect many beer cans and tabs. if you decide to dig a target its highly compacted rock and dirt mixed with very tough root systems of the many trees located there. i wished i hadnt dragged my detector with me because it is located on the side of a steep hill. i was not prepared to go into the cave that day but from what i saw its very small . not much area to search. if items were hidden in the cave its a good possibility it would have been located. i did notice one stone carving while at that site. just in front of the cave entrance was a diamond carved with a letter G in the middle. no other carvings could be seen. although nearby is East rock which i find interesting because an awol hessian soldier from the revolutionary war attempted to dislodge the rock in order for it to roll down the mountain in order to crush the houses located in town below. number one no one goes awol to try to defeat a town by himself. number two in order to hit any of these houses the boulder would need to roll over a mile on some very rough terrain which is tough enough with out adding to the fact the stone is not round but square or diamond shaped. i have attempted to locate that stone but i didnt find it . another attempt im surely it could be located. this is in a very steep mountain side angles of 60 to 70 degrees are quite common. very treacherous trails you would need both hands free to negotiate this trail. and no fear of heights. im pretty sure the records of gil belchers arrest are still located at the great barrington police station. the policeman told me i could stop by and read them. so that avenue might be worth looking into. kiddrock33
Apr 13, 2008, 03:44 PM
Uncovering History one handful at a time
Re: Belcher's Cave of Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Kiddrock..... you said.... I did notice one stone carving while at that site. just in front of the cave entrance was a diamond carved with a letter G in the middle.
Here's a thought on that......
If you look at a Masonic logo you'll see that it is made up of a square and compass which form a type of diamond or triangle and has a letter G inside it.......
It could be possible that he was a mason and by placing this mark there, maybe it afforded him some small protection from people in the area, or even local law enforcement officials...
Just a thought......
Good hunting, stay safe, and don't get caught, I have NO bail money !
Feb 04, 2013, 05:39 PM
Could someone please tell me where Belcher's cave is? I'm an avid hiker, and this is one of the very few cave in berkshire county. I've been trying to find the trail on a map for months! I see the two previous posters have been there, could you please provide me directions to find it, or point it out on google maps?
Maybe it's on one of the unlisted trails here?
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