J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Counterfeiting along the Borderlands

Last April Brian Barrett published an interesting article on the New York History Blog about a legal dispute between Massachusetts and New York on the eve of the Revolutionary War.

The underlying issue was people in western Massachusetts making and passing counterfeit New York currency. One of the men caught up in the trouble was a West Stockbridge farmer named Ichabod Miller.
On December 20, 1772 at two in the morning, Ichabod Miller and his family were awoken by Albany County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Davids knocking down the door. Miller lived close to the New York-Massachusetts border, but on the Mass. side of the line. He later testified that in arresting him for counterfeiting, the Deputy Sheriff and his five-man posse smashed open his door with an axe, and shackled and removed him to the jail in Albany, where he contracted smallpox.

At the time, New York asserted jurisdiction over all residents west of the Connecticut River, part of a long-standing dispute between New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (and what would become Vermont). During examination by the King’s Attorney, Ichabod Miller invoked Massachusetts’ authority in the case. The King’s Attorney responded: “God Damn your Authority.” The King’s Attorney told Miller he would get a Massachusetts authority to endorse the Miller warrant after the fact. . . .

On March 9, 1773, the Pittsfield Inferior Court found against the Albany Posse and in favor of Ichabod Miller. The finding was that the posse assaulted, beat, wounded and abused Miller for a period of three weeks. He was awarded 150 pounds in damages, but the case was continued. On August 17, the court specified that only defendants Joshua Root, Icabod Squire Jr. and Abajiah Root were responsible for the damages, but again the case was continued.

A separate complaint filed by Miller against Joshua and Abajiah Root was presented in Inferior Court on March 1, 1774 and the jury awarded Miller an additional 45 pounds plus costs. Miller walked away empty handed again however, as the award was appealed to the Supreme Court in Northampton, MA.
Unfortunately for Miller, his case didn’t get though the entire Massachusetts system before Patriot crowds forced the county courts to close in the late summer of 1774 as a protest against the Coercive Acts. Lawsuits remained closed for the rest of the war, and when the courts reopened so much of society had changed that Miller’s case was moot.

Barrett’s article details several other men who were much deeper into the counterfeit scheme than Miller, who might even have been innocent.

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