William Legrand, a young man of good family from New Orleans who has taken up residence in a hut on Sullivan’s Island, near Charleston, South Carolina, because his family fortune is gone. He spends his time fishing, hunting, and searching for specimens of shells and insects to add to his collection. One day he finds a peculiar new beetle, gold in color, and a piece of old parchment. His behavior becomes very peculiar for about a month. Later, helped in his digging by his servant and the narrator, he uncovers a rich buried treasure. Legrand then reveals that he has played a joke on the narrator and Jupiter: Realizing that they thought he was going crazy, he led them on by acting peculiarly. Legrand’s solving of the cryptograph on the parchment shows that he has rare intelligence as well as a sense of humor.
Jupiter, a manumitted slave who once belonged to the Legrand family. After being freed, he stays as a servant and has followed William Legrand to Sullivan’s Island. He is devoted and loyal to his master, as much a trusted associate as a servant. Like the narrator, Jupiter is fearful that Legrand is losing his mind.
Lt. G–––, an army officer stationed at Fort Moultrie. He is a friend of Legrand and very much interested in entomology. He is fascinated by the gold beetle discovered on Sullivan’s Island by Legrand.