It’s like a plot out of one of the “National Treasure” movies.
A stolen historic document lost to time, only to be discovered more than 70 years later at an auction.
Only thing is, unlike the Nicolas Cage movies, this document isn’t a link to some sort of world-altering conspiracy.
Instead, the 1780 letter from Alexander Hamilton to Maj. Gen. Marquis De la Fayette in Rhode Island simply said “enemy” forces were coming to Rhode Island, putting the French forces in danger. The date of the letter points to the end of the Revolutionary War. De la Fayette was a French aristocrat who aided Americans during the war. Hamilton was one of the founding fathers of the United States.
The Hamilton letter, court papers say, is now in the possession of the FBI. The US attorney in Massachusetts filed a complaint with the US District Court there Wednesday requesting the document be returned back to Massachusetts.
The letter, according to Massachusetts court filings, was stolen from the state’s archives by an archive employee between 1937 and 1945. Documents from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and Benedict Arnold, along with others, were also stolen, according to court filings. The court papers do not specify what happened with the other documents except that they were recovered later.
The employee was arrested in 1950 and it was found that the documents had been sold to rare book dealers. The documents also had their index reference numbers removed or razored off, court papers said.
The Hamilton letter was discovered in November at an auction house in Alexandria, Virginia. A family in South Carolina was selling the letter and other documents.
Thanks to Founders.com, a historical documents database run by the National Archives and The University of Virginia Press, a researcher with the auction house saw that the Hamilton letter was listed as “missing” in the Massachusetts archives. The auction house then called the FBI.
The South Carolina family who sold the document – which had a value of at least $25,000, according to court papers – believed their now-dead relative, who was a document collector, got the documents from a rare book dealer in the late 1940s, court papers say.
CNN has reached out by email to the Massachusetts Archives, but has not heard back.
CNN’s Taylor Romine, Laura Ly and Mimi Hsin Hsuan Sun contributed to this report.