Call me way too cautious. If I had been an early settler in Otsego County and knew that American Indians or Tories were headed my way to destroy property or kill me "" I would've been out of there so fast it would make your head spin!

John Johnson, an early settler in the area of today's Garrattsville, got word of such attackers in 1777. Johnson had many gold and silver coins in his possession. Rather than take them and flee immediately, he decided to bury them in a field on his property.

That was a bad move for two reasons. First, his family and their neighbors, the Garratts, were captured by the Indians and taken to Canada where they were held captive for five years. Second, when Johnson returned to his land by 1783, he THOUGHT he remembered where he'd buried the coins.

What happened to those coins remained a mystery for a very long time.

John Johnson had emigrated from England to what is today's town of Burlington in 1774. He had two daughters, and one of them married Robert Garratt, from the family for which the hamlet of Garrattsville was named. The unmarried daughter lived with her parents. Johnson was considered to be comfortably well off, financially speaking.

Johnson's buried treasure search was quite extensive, but unsuccessful. His unmarried daughter was the only person with him when he hurriedly buried the coins. Johnson accused her of taking the coins. She denied the charge.

With the two of them living in the same house, one would expect it not to be a very happy home after the accusation was made. She couldn't persuade her father she was innocent, and he refused to talk with her from then on.

The daughter lived in the family home for a few more years, but then got married and moved away. Johnson died a few years later, but the father-daughter divide was never resolved.

The accusation of the stolen coins didn't stop there. Other family, in-laws and descendents always kept a difference of opinion going for years to come.

Nathan Smith was cultivating some corn on John Rockwell's farm near Garrattsville one afternoon in 1903. He noticed a round, shiny yellow object when he was digging and had no idea what he had discovered. Smith dug some more and soon came across a silver half-crown bearing the likeness of James II and the date 1685.

Smith reported his findings to John Rockwell, and the two continued to dig. They found the remainder of Johnson's treasure, and agreed that the proceeds of their search would be divided equally between them.

Smith and Rockwell marked off a 12-foot square plot of ground and dug in six inches. They uncovered 33 gold and 37 silver coins, a few coppers and a silver and agate sleeve button.

The gold coins dated between 1730 to 1769, most of them minted during the reigns of George II and George III of the United Kingdom.

The silver pieces, with the exception of one Spanish piece of eight, were dated from 1683 to 1698 and were issued during the reigns of James II and William III. The copper coins were English half pennies dated 1718 and 1724.

The coins changed hands over time. Willard V. Huntington purchased many of them, which are believed to be in the collection of the Huntington Library of San Marino, Calif. Some others were given or sold to Johnson descendents. Some have ended up in area collectors' possession.

Smith and Rockwell solved a mystery of nearly 125 years. Depending on your view of the afterlife, one might wonder if John Johnson and his daughter started speaking again after 1903?

On Monday: Oneonta's water from the tap attracted a lot of attention from near and far.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at His website is

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