The missing and massive RVA ‘Manchester Diamond’

Posted at 12:05 AM, Nov 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-24 10:01:56-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Diamonds are forever, unless you're talking about the infamous "Manchester Diamond," aka the "Dewey Diamond."

It had a sparkly life of its own - until it disappeared.

Back in 1854, laborer Benjamin Moore found it while leveling the lot at the northeast corner of Perry and 9th streets in Manchester, across the mighty James River from the state capitol.

Geologists believe it may have washed down from the mountains many, many years ago.

A jeweler appraised the faintly greenish-white diamond with great transparency at $4,000, roughly $115,000 in today's money.

The New York papers heralded the discovery of the largest diamond found in North America!

Enter Philadelphia mineralogist Capt. Samuel W. Dewey, who likely rushed to Richmond upon hearing the news. He was able to buy the walnut-sized diamond of 23.75 carats for half its value.

Capt. Dewey was a character!

He was the Whig sympathizer who famously sawed off the wooden head of an Andrew Jacksom figurehead attached to the bow of the USS Constitution during a wild rain squall in Boston Harbor in 1834.

His diamond wasn't perfect. It had a flaw on one side.

So in 1885, according to legend, Dewey took it to New York and Henry D. Morse, the metalsmith and jeweler famed for his facet designs that endure today. Morse earned a staggering $1,500 to cut the diamond down to its 11.5 carat soul.

Next into the diamond's path stepped John Morrissey, one of the greatest names in bare-fisted prize-fighting. He was a nigh unstoppable, but weathered some brutal beatings that made his wife beg him to stop.

And so he did in 1858, right after "Old Smoke," as he was called, whipped John Heenan for the heavyweight championship.

That's when Morrissey bought the diamond for $6,000 and, I believe, made it into a ring to give to his long-suffering wife.

Morrissey, known as an Irish mob boss, then opened up and ran a string of very popular, high-end gambling houses, including Saratoga Springs and its horse racing track.

He was a tall, imposing figure, a sharp dresser known for good manners and humility. His wife was resplendent, according to one account, in black velvet, lace and diamonds.

His tough but courtly presence led him to serve two terms in U.S. Congress during the Tammany Hall era. He later was elected to two terms in the New York senate, but the flashy and popular millionaire died of pneumonia at age 47 in 1878.

An estimated 20,000 people lined up for his funeral procession in Troy, which was written up in the New York Times.

And that's where the Manchester Diamond disappeared. Glass copies are - or were - in collections at the Smithsonian and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

In 1928, an even larger diamond - 34 carats - was found just across the state line in West Virginia by a boy playing horseshoes with his dad.

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