Business and Labor

In 1770 Silversmith Samuel Casey Narrowly Escaped the Gallows

Samuel Casey was a talented, well-respected silversmith in Kingstown, R.I in the mid-1700s. He made teapots, tankards and porringers as well as hardware for furniture such as escutcheon plates and drawer pulls.

Described as a prosperous merchant, his luck took a turn for the worse in 1764 when he was about 40 years old. Casey had stoked a hot fire for working his forge. A beam at the back of the brick chimney caught fire. His house burned, destroying most of his belongings and his wealth.

After the fire, Casey began working in the attic of the Helme House, a historic home that today serves as the headquarters of the South County Art Association.

Samuel Casey, Down on His Luck

After the fire, Samuel Casey struggled. He was repeatedly hauled to court for non-payment of debts. Finally, in September 1770,  he was indicted on charges of passing counterfeit dollars. News of the scandal spread throughout New England.

samuel casey

Teapot by Samuel Casey at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College

In October, Casey stood trial. The trial lasted until eight o’clock at night. The jury would deliberate until 4 a.m. the following morning. It returned a verdict of not guilty. The judge in the trial, however, exercised an option not available today. He told the jurors that their verdict lacked logic and ignored the evidence. He directed them to reconsider and find Casey guilty. The jury returned a special verdict and the judge sentenced Casey to death.

Things got worse for Casey as he appealed his sentence.. Someone made a discovery while he was still in jail. In the part of Kingstown called Tower Hill, a set of tools was found that included dyes for stamping coins — counterfeit coins. Another set of tools was discovered in a nearby stone wall. The could make phony dollars, Spanish pistareens and Portuguese josephuses.

Freedom

With the evidence against him mounting, Casey finally had a bit of luck. Several days after the discovery, a gang of men with blackened faces assembled outside the Kingstown jail. They battered down the door to the jail with iron bars and pick axes. Inside, they smashed the locks and released four inmates, including Samuel Casey.

The silversmith didn’t wait for a second trial. Samuel Casey disappeared after his unexpected release and left Rhode Island. Historians suspect he died in 1773, probably in New York.

Today, Samuel Casey’s work can be found in museums such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Winterthur and the museums of Yale and Dartmouth College.

Thanks to Rhode Island, A Guide to the Smallest State, Federal Writers’ Project. This story updated in 2022. 

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