Knights of the Golden Circle
The Knights of the Golden Circle (K.G.C.), a secretive organization created in 1854, proposed to establish a slaveholding empire encompassing the southern United States, the West Indies, Mexico and parts of Central America. Centering on Havana, this empire would be some 2,400 miles in diameter—hence the name Golden Circle. Leaders of the K.G.C. argued that their empire would have a virtual monopoly on the world’s supply of tobacco and sugar and perhaps cotton and have the strength to preserve slavery in the South from constant attacks by northern Abolitionists.
Like many other secretive societies, the K.G.C. had an elaborate ritual with codes, signs, and passwords, and complicated plans for its military and governing operations. Knights were grouped into three divisions—military, commercial and financial, and political—each of which was in turn divided into two classes. For example, the military division comprised the Foreign Guard, those men who wished “to participate in the wild, glorious and thrilling adventures of a campaign in Mexico” and the Home Guard, men who would support military efforts from home. Bickley created, on paper at least, an army of 16,000 men.
Secretive organizations such as the K.G.C. create an atmosphere of conspiracy, of claims and charges that cannot be proven true but cannot be proven untrue either. It should come as no surprise then that the K.G.C. has drawn the interest of numerous investigators who claim that it was a vast conspiracy that drew inspiration from groups such as the European Knights Templar, Scottish Rite Masons, and the Sons of Liberty. These investigators also allege that many famed characters from the Civil War era, including John Wilkes Booth and Jesse James, belonged to and acted under the influence of the Knights. Some argue that the Knights buried millions of dollars in stolen U.S. Army payrolls in locations across the Southwest, where the money (now worth billions) remained under guard into the mid-twentieth century and perhaps even now. These conspiracy stories associated with the Knights of the Golden Circle are now part of the historical record associated with the organization, but none of them can be reliably documented.