Woman remembers 70-year-old discovery of buried Berkeley Co. treasure

The silver collection is now on permanent loan to the Charleston Museum. (Source: Live 5)
The silver collection is now on permanent loan to the Charleston Museum. (Source: Live 5)
At 97, Martha Sullivan remembers finding the treasure 70 years ago with her husband. (Source: Live 5)
At 97, Martha Sullivan remembers finding the treasure 70 years ago with her husband. (Source: Live 5)
Strawberry Chapel (Source: Live 5)
Strawberry Chapel (Source: Live 5)

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - The discovery of buried treasure in Berkeley County made national news 70 years ago, and this priceless find is still fascinating folks today.

Martha Sullivan helped find it, and at the age of 97, has a lot to tell about Comingtee Plantation, finding lost treasure, and making national news in the Saturday Evening Post.

"It was just a pass time for us," Sullivan said as she remembered the night the treasure was finally discovered.

Her husband, Grover, managed Comingtee, then a hunting preserve. It was late in 1946, after World War II when metal detectors were a new thing.

"And they came down with that metal detector from New York and tried to find it," she said.  But no treasure turned up. Not yet.

Comingtee Plantation house had been the home of the Ball family, according to Dr. Robert Ball of Charleston.  The man who buried the treasure was part of the Ball family tree, a distant relative.

"He was probably a great, great, great, great grand uncle," Ball said.

As their family story goes, in 1865, Keating Ball and his slave set out at night to bury the chapel communion service from nearby Strawberry Chapel.  They were hoping to hide the silver and keep it safe from the Union soldiers, burying the treasure underneath the floorboards of the Comingtee rice mill on the banks of the Cooper River.

But after the war, no one could find it, until the Sullivans returned by lantern light, searching night after night.

"We dug down to it and the box it had been in had decayed from the wet ground and we found it piece by piece," Sullivan said.

She said they re-buried it for safekeeping until it could be returned to the chapel congregation.

"We were so glad we had gotten it so it could go back to the church where it belonged," she said.

The Ball family kept it under lock and key until it was placed in the Charleston Museum on permanent loan. Tourists marvel at the invaluable collection. The chalice and paten are some of the oldest pieces of Southern silver. Curator Grahame Long points to initials "M.B." on the upper lip of a silver chalice, and said it stood for Miles Brewton, who crafted the set.

"He was a rock star for his time," Long said.

An engraving on the set reads, "St. John's Parish, in South Carolina, In America."

"When this is made circa 1711 to 1714, all the world is England, nobody really knows where South Carolina is, so they have to clarify South Carolina is in America," he said.

Sullivan still remembers the find.

"It had inscriptions on it, you know, and we knew it belonged to the church, and we had the pleasure of finding it, and so that was enough for us," she said.

The hidden history was finally revealed.

"I feel it's a part of our heritage, the people of this part of the country," Sullivan said.

With the communion service safe at the museum, Ball's attention is focused now on Strawberry Chapel, a victim of frequent, senseless vandalism.

The chapel now has security cameras, and the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department keeps a close eye on the rural chapel. In the last two months, 18 people have been accused of trespassing after hours at Strawberry Chapel.  Five people have been arrested, two of them juveniles.

"That place is a historical treasure and too many people go there to cause it harm," Berkeley County Chief Deputy Mike Cochran said.

He wants to remind people they have officers there to keep it safe.

The chapel congregation stresses there is no longer silver at Strawberry Chapel. Instead, you can see the treasure on exhibit at the Charleston Museum on Meeting Street.

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