Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mary Peck Butterworth –Colonial Counterfeiter

Mary Peck, born in 1686, was a member of one of the first families of Rehobeth, Massachusetts. Her marriage to John Butterworth, a well-known house builder, was looked upon as a good match.

Some say that Mary, even before her marriage, was well on her way to becoming the most successful female counterfeiter in history. At the peak of her “career” she was counterfeiting eight different types of bills. Her method was ingenious. She would dampen a starched cotton cloth and lift the ink from a genuine bill to the cloth by using a hot iron. She would then use the iron to transfer the pattern to a blank piece of paper, later inking the counterfeit bill with quills specially made by her brother. The transfer cloth was then burned in the fireplace, destroying all evidence.

At least three of her brothers and one sister-in-law were engaged in the counterfeiting ring, and she employed a number of “passers,” people who got the money in circulation, including a deputy sheriff.

Mary’s business boomed for seven years without a hitch. By this time, her counterfeit bills were having an impact on the economies of three colonies–Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Authorities became suspicious when John built a large, expensive house for his family, presumably from her counterfeiting proceeds.

She, along with other family members, was arrested, and although one of her brothers and a sister-in-law testified against her before the Grand Jury, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.

It is assumed that Mary mended her ways, and lived the rest of her life as a model citizen. She died at age 89 in 1775. She had, however, made more than £1,000 worth of fake bills during her “career.”

1 comment:

  1. She is my fifth great-grandmother. I am pleased that her story is coming to light but I was hoping to have more details. Is that possible?