A Revolutionary Currency Crash – The Story of William Beadle

By the opening of the American Revolution, William Beadle was a successful merchant and patriot. He contributed to funds to aid the City of Boston while its port was closed by the British after the Boston Tea Party. In 1776, with the Revolution under way, the Continental Congress declared that Continental Currency would be its official paper money. It enjoined businesses from inflating prices, and ordered that Continental Currency be accepted at face value.

Continental Currency

Within five years, the Congress would print so much of the money to pay for the costs of the war that it would be forced to devalue it. The official devaluation ruin anyone who held large amounts of the currency. And that was what happened to William Beadle.

A great many businesses wrestled with whether or not to raise prices during the war. Most did increase their prices to some degree at least. Beadle, however, did not. And he continued to honor Continental Currency at its face value. As a result, he accumulated a great pile of currency.

After 1780, when Congress officially devalued the currency so that 40 dollars became equal to one dollar, the value of the Continental Currency continued to plunge to the point where it eventually stopped circulating.

The free fall in the value of the continental currency and hyper inflation in the American war years would have left Beadle much worse off – if he had lived long enough to see it through. Instead, he took matters into his own hands.

Beadle was born in London in 1730. He had come to Fairfield, Conn. and married into a well-established family. His wife Lydia and he moved to Wethersfield in 1773. By 1780, they had four children. - a son and three daughters.

With the war dragging on and his fortunes in ruins, Beadle began to formulate a plan. He thought it preferable to die rather than to go on living in abject poverty. As he had failed to provide for his children, he thought it better that they should die as well.

Beadle began constructing an unusual set of deistic religious beliefs to justify, or at least excuse, his plans. For nearly three years Beadle brooded over the best course of action. He convinced himself that he did have the right to kill himself and his children, but he was unsure about whether he had the right to kill Lydia, his wife.

On one occasion Lydia left on a trip to Fairfield and Beadle thought this was his chance to end it all. He began drafting his will. But she returned before expected. Beadle saw it as a sign that she should join the family in death. He wrote in his journal:

"I mean to close the Eyes of six persons thro' perfect Humanity, and the most endearing fondness & Friendship, For never did mortal father feel more of these tender Ties than myself. I really believe that the true God supports me. For while I am writing these very words and meditate on this intended deed, no singular anguish of mind affects me, and why should it? For my intentions are of the purest kind."

In November of 1782, Lydia told her husband of a dream she had. In it she saw a great many important papers that seemed to bear on her future, and they were dotted with blood. In another dream, she saw a vision of her children. They were dead.

William Beadle took the dreams as signs that his plan was approved by God. On December 11, 1782, Beadle wakened the family maid and asked her to go fetch the doctor. With her out of the house he slit the throats of his wife and children. With the family dead, Beadle went to his study and placed a pistol in each hand. Pressing the muzzles of the two pistols against his temples, he pulled the triggers and ended his life.

In his will, Beadle directed that his useless pile of Continental Currency be retained for seven years in case it ever regained its value.

Had he lived, Beadle would have seen what value his currency retained. Congress would eventually pay its war debts in the 1790s, exchanging Continental Currency for treasury notes, paying one penny on the dollar to buy back the currency.

Connecticut was outraged at Beadle's actions. His fellow townsmen refused him a burial in the cemetery, instead dumping his body by the Connecticut River and his story was sermonized many times as an example of the evils of Deism.

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  1. Pingback: Joseph Dudley and the Private Bank That Sank Him - New England Historical Society

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