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This documentary will reveal George Trenholm as the real Rhett Butler through a backdrop of his plantations, mansions and shipwrecks.

This documentary will reveal George Trenholm as the real Rhett Butler through a backdrop of his plantations, mansions and shipwrecks. Read More
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Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on June 28, 2011.

About this project

THE PROJECT: In some ways, this project is fairly simple. It will be a short documentary tentatively titled Revealing the real Rhett Butler. It will be about a little known Charleston banker and shipping magnate named George Alfred Trenholm, who's Civil War blockade running efforts made today's equivalent of over three billion dollars in gold. He was brilliant, tall and handsome, and even President Davis praised his bravery. 

DON'T WORRY: The documentary will be shot with experienced cameramen, good quality digital movie cameras, proper lighting and scripts. The attached video plea was shot spur of the moment, with no script, and with an older model, inexpensive digital still camera only meant to take snippets. Your cel phone could probably do a better job. I am just excited and wanted to get this underway.

THERE's TREASURE: Among other things, this documentary will reveal where I believe the legendary "missing gold of the Confederacy" was hidden by Trenholm. Perhaps you might remember — in GWTW, Rhett was accused of stealing it. Trenholm, who was similarly accused and imprisoned, was not only head of the South's most successful blockade running company, he was Treasurer of the Confederacy and in charge of that gold when Richmond fell.

Could the missing Confederate gold have been hidden here?

BACKGROUND: As a teenager in the 1960s, I had found one of Trenholm's wrecked blockade runners, the Georgiana. I salvaged much of its wartime cargo of munitions, medicines and merchandise. While researching the steamer's cargo, I quickly realized that Trenholm was the historical basis for Rhett Butler. That excited me, but what I did not know for another quarter of a century was that I had stumbled on a closely guarded secret that Margaret Mitchell had taken to her grave.

When I finally realized that it was important literary discovery, and in some ways more important than the shipwreck and its multi-million dollar cargo, I spent two solid years doing nothing but researching George Trenholm, Margaret Mitchell and virtually every aspect of her Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Quite simply, by the time I announced my discovery to the world, I had proved the Trenholm/Butler connection beyond any reasonable doubt. That was in 1989. My announcement sparked news stories all around the world. Although I was approached by numerous Hollywood production companies wanting to do a documentary, they all more or less wanted my research and participation for free. They thought I should be happy with the "free" publicity. But that didn't seem fair to me, so we never reached a workable deal, and nothing was ever done. And, since that was before the World Wide Web, the story eventually petered out.

I hope this documentary will correct that.

These are just some of my many treasures. They are displayed on and next to some posters that were used in a museum display of my work. Note the pile of white glass buttons from the Georgiana, just to the left of the photo of me in my hat. 

Here I am out on the ocean after just finding another shipwreck.

Here is a sonar image that I made of the Georgiana wreck site using a Humminbird 1198-C. There is a second wreck, the blockade runner Mary Bowers, sitting across the Georgiana. 

At one point, Trenholm offered a reward to anyone who sank one of the Federal Blockaders. This old print shows the Housatonic being sunk by the submarine Hunley. The reward would have made the men rich for life. Unfortunately, the Hunley's crew was also lost. The Hunley's location remained unknown until I discovered it over a century later.

BETTING ON PUBLIC INTEREST: Although low budget, I now have friends who have the necessary equipment and skills and can do much of the work for a share down the road. So I know at least the basic story can be preserved through my documentary. And, if enough money is pledged (meaning far more than the minimum level), I can expand the scope, do some historically accurate reenactment, and tell Trenholm's story in the way it truly deserves.  If I do that, the enhanced documentary could even win some awards and run for years on cable. I believe that's exactly what will happen. I am betting on it because I am offering some great rewards and I know that besides those who loved the romance of Rhett and Scarlett in GWTW, there is now immense interest in the missing Confederate gold, shipwrecks, sunken treasure, blockade running and the Civil War in general.

After the War, Rhett was a banker, as was Trenholm. Here is Trenholm's bank.

BACK TO THE DOCUMENTARY (and how I will do it): Trenholm was involved in over 100 pieces of real estate and almost as many ships. Under my basic plan, I plan to use some of his more interesting mansions and plantations (and even some of his shipwrecks), as a backdrop, as I reveal more about the man who I have identified as the "real Rhett Butler." If the funding well exceeds the minimum needed, I plan to turn it into an hour long documentary, with recreations of scenes like the meeting between Rhett and Scarlett in jail — only in real life it was Trenholm in jail and, despite being under threat of execution, who comforted the beautiful young widow (with the "fast" reputation) as tears rolled down her face.

This is the Old Charleston jail where Trenholm was temporarily imprisoned.

These ships, known as the "Stone Fleet", were old whaling ships that had been loaded with stone and purposefully sunk in the approaches to Charleston Harbor by the Federal Fleet as part of their efforts to stop the blockade runners. 

IMPORTANT: After reading this, please check out all the pledge options. Not only can you be listed as an Associate Producer, you can get some authentic Civil War shipwreck buttons to wear on your shirts. Just imagine, you can actually wear an exciting part of history! I salvaged the buttons from the Georgiana. Have fun with them. You can truthfully tell your friends that they were once owned by the "real Rhett Butler."

These are some of my Rhett Butler artifacts.

ABOUT ME: For those who don't know me, I found my first shipwrecks at age 12 and went on to become one of the pioneers of underwater archaeology. I am president of the Sea Research Society and VP of the International Diving Institute. I find shipwrecks and sunken treasure for a living. My discoveries have ranged from the Spanish pirate ship Diamonde to the Civil War submarine Hunley. I have worked on all types of wrecks, ranging from Spanish galleons to Great Lakes freighters. To learn more about my work, look me up in Wikipedia or just Google "E. Lee Spence."

NOTE: My original Facebook page is already maxed out at 5000 friends, but you might want to look at my pictures of treasure, etc. and if you pledge via any option, I will be glad to confirm friend you on my new Facebook page.

TWEET THIS: I am a newbie on Twitter, so I desperately need your help to get the word out. Please follow me on Twitter. I am HunleyFinder. If this project isn't fully funded you won't be charged but you also won't get your reward. So, don't just lay around like the guy pictured above, hit the Tweet button for this project and encourage others to pledge. Please do so now.

Here is a picture of the reward you will get with just a pledge of just $30. These certificates normally retail for $100 to $125, plus shipping. 


Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00 USD

    Pledge under this or any other option and get access to all the project updates that I post. And, I will confirm you, if you friend me on my new Facebook page at •••••••• I know the Facebook thing is not a big deal because, with similar interests, I would probably confirm you anyway. But, I just want you to know that absolutely every dollar is appreciated. If my new page maxes out, I will start another. •••••••• But, please read on, because, under some of the options listed below, I am offering some authentic Civil War shipwreck artifacts that were salvaged from a sunken blockade runner once owned by the "real Rhett Butler."

    0 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $2 or more About $2.00 USD

    If you pledge $2.00 or more (under this or higher options) your name will be included in my official published list of backers (unless you ask not to be included). There will be no mention or indication on the list of how much each person donated. The list will appear in an article I will do about this project on Sea Research Society's web site (, the list will also be linked to site’s article on the wreck of the "Georgiana." (This swift steamer was one of the real Rhett Butler's blockade runners).

    1 backer
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5 USD

    Under this option, if you pledge $5.00 or more, I will send you a link where you can download a set of 20 copyrighted images of shipwreck artifacts, treasure, and expedition photos (some with me in them), suitable for use on your computer as a background image or a screen saver.

    1 backer
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10 USD

    Under this option, if you pledge $10.00 or more, I will send you an embroidered 3” diameter patch, which will say “Revealing Rhett Butler— Documentary — Crew Member” and will only be available to supporters of this project. Please pledge an extra $5.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA.

    1 backer
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $15 or more About $15 USD

    Under this option, if you pledge $15.00 or more, you will receive a limited edition copy of the DVD of the "Revealing the real Rhett Butler" documentary produced for this project with its label personally signed by me thanking you (by name) “for your support.” •••••••• Besides the documentary, this DVD will have some special files relating to the missing Confederate gold and where I think it may still be found. So if you have dreams of finding it, this DVD could be the key. I actually think its there (or at least once was). However to do the search, I would probably have to ignore the property owner's rights and break a few laws. I am not willing to risk my reputation for that. And, I have yet to figure out a way to convince the property owner (a huge corporation) to let me search and keep a share, without divulging too much info. So I am just writing it off. But, we all have different ideas of right and wrong and, who knows, crossing over the line just might be worth it to you. But, if you find it legally, feel free to give me a small share!

    1 backer
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $20 or more About $20 USD

    Under this option, if you pledge $20.00 or more you will receive an official “Revealing the real Rhett Butler" Documentary crew member T-shirt, exactly like those, which will be worn by my crew. These will show that you were a part of the team that made this documentary possible. They will not be sold through stores. Please pledge an extra $5.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA.

    0 backers
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25 USD

    Under this option, if you donate $25.00 or more, I will send you 5 brass sewing pins (loose) that I found on the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner "Georgiana." •••••••• These pins are especially appropriate for this project because during the Civil War common sewing pins were in such short supply that they were "hoarded like precious jewels.” George Trenholm, who owned both the "Georgiana" and her cargo, was the real Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell's epic novel "Gone With The Wind," and blockade run pins were even mentioned a couple of times in the book. Rhett ran them in “at great risk to his life” and even gave some to Scarlett, who turned around and re-gifted them to Ashley, betraying both Rhett and Melanie. These pins were salvaged under the very first salvage license ever issued in South Carolina.
    •••••••• The pins will be sent loose in a protective envelope with a hand signed authentication letter telling their history. I will send 5 additional pins and an additional authentication letter for each additional $25 sent under this option. •••••••• Please pledge an extra $5.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA. •••••••• SEE THE NEXT OPTION for an even better way to buy these history laden shipwreck pins.

    0 backers
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $30 or more About $30 USD

    Under this option, the pin (described above) will be attached to a handsome, hand signed, notarized, numbered certificate (actual a print with a background map of Civil War shipwrecks, suitable for framing) telling about the pin, its history, & its link to the “real Rhett Butler.” You can see one pictured on this page. Your order will be sent in a mailing tube via priority mail. •••••••• This is a super deal for you because I have already been selling these through the Sea Research Society's online store for $100.00 each. •••••••• For each additional $25 that you add under this option, I will send you an additional certificate in the same tube. Please pledge an extra $10.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA.

    3 backers
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    WEAR HISTORY! •••••••• Pledge $50.00 or more and I will send you a set of 12 buttons that I salvaged from the wreck of the Civil War blockade runner "Georgiana." •••••••• The buttons are about 150 years old and are still in “like new” shape. They are made of opaque white glass and I guarantee that they are absolutely authentic. •••••••• Wear part of history! You or a friend can sew them onto your favorite shirt or blouse. Depending on the shirt design, one set of 12 buttons should be enough to do one or more shirts. I have worn my "Georgiana/Rhett Butler buttons" for years and, even with regular machine washing and drying, I have never had one break on me. In fact they have outlasted my shirts and I have taken them off and used them again on another. These will be sent to you in a padded envelope with a signed authentication letter. •••••••• If you pledge more than $50.00 under this option, I will send you one more set of 12 buttons with an additional authentication letter for each extra $36.00 that you send. •••••••• Although I found quite a few of these buttons, most were lost when my house was totally destroyed in hurricane Hugo. Remember, these buttons were salvaged off a shipwreck sunk in 1863, so, the number is obviously limited. In an effort to insure that more people can enjoy them, I am putting an absolute maximum of ten sets of 12 buttons per order. I figure that will be more than enough for you to share with your family and friends. •••••••• Note: I have sold these Civil War buttons for considerably more in the past, by putting just one at a time on a decorative certificate (like I am doing with the pins), but wearing them is the way I prefer to see the remaining ones used. I think you will get a kick out of telling others about them. I know I certainly do. Please pledge an extra $10.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA.

    0 backers
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    Under this option, if you pledge $100.00 or more you will receive an official ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: "Revealing the real Rhett Butler" documentary T-shirt. And, you will get a gold bordered 8.5"x11" certificate (suitable for framing) stating that you were an associate producer of the documentary. You will also be listed in the alphabetical listing of associate producers in the crawl credits at the end of the documentary. These will show that you were an integral part of the team that made this documentary possible. They will not be sold through stores. Please pledge an extra $15.00 for shipping to addresses outside of the USA.

    0 backers
  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $177 or more About $177 USD

    Get the basics of all of the above for a single donation of just $177. You save $100.

    1 backer
  12. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000 USD

    Come dive with me. Pledge $1,000 and I will take you and one of your buddies out for an all day diving trip to the "Georgiana" and at least one other nearby Civil War shipwreck. The $1,000 price-tag, also includes a simple bag lunch on my boat and an evening of beer, wine or sodas while swapping dive stories at either your hotel room or mine. Special scheduling and open water diving certification are required. I will arrange a hobby license for you, so you can pick up artifacts, but please be advised, the State strictly limits the number you can pick up in a day and I adhere to it. This wreck is only a mile off shore and is in only 14 feet of water at low tide, but it is still a really tough dive. Most people aren’t up to it. The local dive stores don’t offer charters to this wreck. Its just too difficult and too dangerous. Visibility is generally worse than poor and is usually best described as “zero viz” or “black water,” so please don’t sign up for this trip unless you are sufficiently gung ho and experienced. Its takes a very special person to dive this wreck. I will do a lot of talking and explaining about how wrecks are found, so you will be getting a crash course on treasure hunting, but it won’t be an official wreck diving course. For those that do the dive and bring up at least one artifact, I will give them a signed certificate saying they have dived the “Georgiana” with me and lived to tell about it. Obviously, you will be required to sign a release of liability. I will furnish up to three tanks per person, backpack and weight belts, but you need to bring all other gear that you plan to use. My backpacks don’t have BCs, as I don’t normally use them when diving this wreck. If you aren’t comfortable diving without a BC, either bring one or let me know and I will arrange to rent or borrow one for you.

    0 backers

Funding period

- (30 days)