New Boston Historical Society
New Boston, New Hampshire
NH Bank 10 Dollars
Detail of a Ten Dollar Banknote printed in New Boston

Counterfeiters Arrested in New Boston!
Part 2: The Search Continues

In Part 1 of our story, four men were arrested in the New Boston home of John Lynch, in possession of counterfeit money, copper plates, and a printing press. That was in April of 1804. The men were put on trial and imprisoned in Amherst, NH; by this time the number of counterfeiters seems to have grown to seven or more. The men escaped from jail in June of 1804, and we want to know how, and what happened next!

State of New Hampshire Archives and Records Management
Research Room records box
The Archives in Concord has the 1804 Court Records for Hillsborough County.

Our historical crime sleuth Jennifer M. Allocca continued her investigation in the research room of the State of New Hampshire's Records & Archives Management Building in Concord, NH. She requested a box of court records from 1804, and received the original handwritten documents. To her surprise, some of the original counterfeit banknotes had been kept as evidence!

How exciting it was to hold "banknotes" printed by the Call gang over 200 years ago, seized by authorities in the New Boston home of John Lynch! Jennifer could see the fine detail of the printing — banks intended that this would make the notes more difficult to counterfeit.

Jennifer Allocca
Jennifer placed the banknotes in special archival-quality plastic envelopes.
Each was slightly larger than a modern dollar bill.


One of the court records Jennifer found was "A List of Persons now in Amherst Goal — April 24th, 1804." (The word for "jail" seems to have been written variously "gaol" or "goal" in documents and newspaper articles, according to the whim of the writer.) The names of men imprisoned for counterfeit money were: David Call and John Lynch are not on this list. In fact, to date we have found no record that John Lynch of New Boston was ever arrested for counterfeiting, or any other crime. Jennifer did find the indictment of David Call for his April 4, 1804 arrest for counterfeiting, and he is one of the counterfeiters who escaped from the Amherst jail in June 1804.

John Stewart was in jail for counterfeit money and also for "Breaking [into] Dr. Luke Lincoln's Store." Dr. Lincoln was both a medical practitioner and a New Boston businessman. His brief biography in Cogswell's 1864 "History of New Boston" reads:
Dr. Lincoln succeeded Dr. Eastman ; was a pleasant man but not very skilful ; was an enterprising citizen, built a store and mills, but, becoming intemperate, met with reverses, and left town.
"Intemperate" in this context meant that he indulged in alcohol to excess. Dr. Lincoln was not a lucky man; Jennifer discovered that in February of 1804, Dr. Lincoln lost his only daughter, age 9, in a tragic fire. This was not long after his New Boston store had been "broken open" by John Stevens in December 1803; "cash and notes to the amount of 1,000 dollars were taken." It is no wonder that the poor man took to drink.

Jennifer left the Archives with scans of more than 100 pages of court documents. The handwriting is legible, but we expect that it will take weeks to review the pages and interpret their contents. We believe that one particularly interesting document will shed some light on the arrest of the New Boston counterfeiters in April of 1804. This page will be updated as we learn more.

Escape from Jail
The Historical Society of Amherst, NH tells us that the Old Jailhouse
in this photo was built in 1811 from the stones of the previous jail.

Back at home in New Boston, Jennifer scoured on-line newspaper archives for more clues about the counterfeiters. This time she found physical descriptions of the men who escaped from the Amherst jail in June of 1804: Note: The description of John Silver mentions neither a wooden leg nor a parrot. We have found no connection between our counterfeiter and the pirate Long John Silver of "Treasure Island" fame, except that Captain Flint, another counterfeiter who was arrested in April 1804, also shares his name with one of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirates. Flint was arrested in Danvers, MA.

The Key to the Escape?

The article in The Vermont Gazette adds an interesting detail to the story of the New Boston counterfeiters' escape: "a pewter key, which was used in unlocking the outer door, was found a few rods from the gaol, between that and the bridge below the prison." (The old jailhouse was located on what is now called Old Jailhouse Road, near today's Amherst Town Hall; the nearest bridge was where the Manchester Road crossed Beaver Brook.)

What does this key tell us about the escape? Pewter, an alloy of tin, is a relatively soft metal, and it seems unlikely that a professional locksmith employed by the Amherst jailer would choose pewter to make a key. Did someone else make an unauthorized duplicate key?

A "warded lock" c.1800 would be easier than a modern "tumbler lock" to open with a home-made key.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

We found a historical precedent. A biography of John Graves Simcoe by Fryer & Dracut tells how the British General Simcoe was captured and imprisoned by Americans in 1779, during the Revolutionary War. One of his cellmates made a key from a pewter spoon, using a wax impression of the jailer's key as a model. Unfortunately, when the men attempted to escape, the key broke inside the lock.

Does the more successful use of a pewter key in the Amherst jail escape indicate that the jailer was not complicit; that someone made a copy of his key? Or did the counterfeiters bribe the jailer to release them, and drop a duplicate key where they knew it would be found, to confuse the authorities?

Eight Dollar Banknote printed in New Boston

A Repeat Offender?

The physical descriptions of the escapees in The Gazette are helpful to us as we try to determine the eventual fate of the counterfeiters. When she began her research, Jennifer found an article in a Vermont newspaper from February 1810 which mentioned yet another escape involving a man named William Gilman:

"ESCAPED from the State's Prison, on the night of the 20th inst. four Convicts, by the names of Samuel Hemingway, Daniel Wilbour, William Gilman, and Ezekiel Flanders... Gilman is 27 years of age, 5 feet 7 and one quarter inches high, dark grey eyes, black hair and dark complexion." (The escapees wore prison uniforms made of green and red cloth.)

Compare that description to one from the 1804 Amherst jailbreak: "William Gilman about five feet six inches, fair countenance, black eyes and hair, about 25 years of age." It seems possible that this was the same man!

Our investigation continues. We still don't know what John Lynch's connection to the counterfeiters was — whether he was an accomplice, or an unwitting host. While looking for more information about the Mr. Lynch (who may have been a blacksmith at one time), we were intrigued by this entry in Cogswell's "History of New Boston":
May 22, 1855, Mr. John Lynch, in the west part of the town, was found dead in his pasture, the contents of a musket having passed into his head, accidentally, as was believed by his friends.
However, we found that our John Lynch died in 1840; it was his son John Lynch, Jr. who died in 1855 (or 1858, depending on your source), "accidentally, as was believed by his friends."


Anti-counterfeiting Measures

Counterfeit money was costly to the banks whose notes were replicated. To discourage counterfeiting, the banks used special paper for their notes, paper which ordinary citizens could not easily acquire. When the Call gang escaped from Amherst jail, newspapers reported that they left behind them manuscripts "of a taunting threatening nature. Among other threats... was one, that they would 'soon be in a situation to furnish the public with thousands, and perhaps millions' of this genuine paper money." Clearly the men did not expect to print genuine money; we read this to mean that they planned to print counterfeit money using genuine paper. How did they obtain this paper? We don't know whether it was bought or stolen; remember that at least one gang member (John Stewart) was a known burglar.

We mentioned earlier that the fine detail of the artwork and lettering was intended to make a banknote more difficult to counterfeit. Banknotes of the time were printed on one side only, using a process called "intaglio" (in-tal-yoh) in which the design is incised (scratched) into a copper plate. Ink is applied to the plate and then wiped off, leaving ink only in the valleys of the incised engraving. Paper is pressed into the plate, and the ink is transfered. (Contrast intaglio with the method used to print books and newspapers, where ink is applied to the top surface of blocks of moveable type.)

Mr. Tuck's papers in Part 1 of this story identified the engraver of the New Boston plates as a Mr. Peaslee or Peasley, probably a Massachusetts man. We know nothing more about him, at present, however his workmanship is impressive!

A Note to Our Readers

Please let us know if you have any information that may lead to the re-arrest of the New Boston counterfeiters! We offer a reward of eight dollars, which we'll print for you on our copying machine.