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General John Stark and the Eureka Counterfeiting Ring

When the workmen were tearing down the old Wells & Newell’s Store in Springfield, Vt. in the early 1800s, they discovered a cache of money hidden in a wall – both counterfeit and real. It was, they believed, the remnants of

seth warner and the battle of bennington

General Stark at the Battle of Bennington (NYPL)

the Eureka counterfeiting ring -- a band of Tory sympathizers who hoped to pass their counterfeit money off on General John Stark and his soldiers as they passed through toward the Battle of Bennington.

John Stark

John Stark

The story, as retold many times, goes like this:

In the summer of 1777, a group of men were working their way through New England, pouring phony pewter coins and passing fake paper money to unsuspecting victims. The state of official currency during the American Revolution was dicey, creating opportunities for counterfeiters.

The bills from the old store walls bore the image of an Indian in a canoe travelling down a raging stream. They carried the legend: “Pass Me Along.”

This band of counterfeiters had holed themselves up in the tiny town (not even a town, really) of Eureka, Vermont. The area gets its name from the small schoolhouse located there. Four families had built the school in colonial times. And the school got its name from David Searle, a young graduate from Yale College who had set off for the frontier. Upon reaching Fort No. 4 in western New Hampshire, he learned that a small school nearby was lacking a teacher.

Searle traipsed through the wilderness until he found the building and shouted, ‘Eureka!’ The name caught on.

As the legend goes, our counterfeiters were busily drinking and pouring phony coin late into the night. They made up a little ditty to celebrate their expected boon:

Our money bright

Buys rum at night

For the weary soldier boy

 

For what care we

And what care he

If it is all alloy

 

From daylight to dark

We’ll cheat old Stark

Yankee Doodle do.

 

Eureka, however, was like any small town. It wasn’t so easy to keep a secret. The young daughter of a friend of General Stark overheard the song, and it stuck in her head. Out gathering her cows one morning, the girl saw Stark’s soldiers coming down the road. Rushing to meet him, she told Stark he had enemies in the house at Eureka.

Forewarned, Stark seized the counterfeiters and most of their bogus cash – missing only a small portion hidden in the walls. He proclaimed it a good omen for the battle that was coming.

Exactly how true is the tale? Tough to say. There certainly was money found in the walls of the old store. And there certainly were counterfeiters during the Revolution.

One large-scale counterfeiting operation was centered in Londonderry, N.H. – Stark’s own hometown. It was organized by Tories hoping to destabilize American currency, and one of the leaders of that ring was well known to Stark: It was his own brother. But that’s another story . . .

One comment

  1. Molly Landrigan

    Loved this one….looking forward to his brother’s story!

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