This very interesting document, issued by the justice of the peace of Hebron, Connecticut, instructs the keeper of the jail in Hartford to hold a prisoner accused of counterfeiting until he can be brought to court. The document is addressed “To the Keeper of ye Goal in Hartford in the County of Hartford” and states that “Whereas Nathan Baxter, on ye 22nd of Feby 1763, was brot before me Alexdr Phelps one of his Majesty’s Justices of ye peace for sd County, by a Lawll writ to answer to ye Complaint of Isreal Marcy &c Grand jurors of our Sovreign Lord ye King & for sd County, wherein they Complain & Say that ye sd Nathan is Guilty of Stamping or otherwise Counterfeiting Several Sorts of Coin ...”. He continues by saying that “... sd Nathan Should become bound to ye Treasr. of sd. County with two Good & Suft. Suretys ... of Ł500 on lawll money payable to sd. Treasr. upon Condition that ye sd. Nathan fail to make his personal appearance Before the Supr Court to be held in Hartford ...”. The document concludes with the order to “... Receive the sd. Nathan & him Safely Keep untill he be Discharged by ordr. of Law”, followed by the date - “Feby. 22nd 1763 - and the signature of “Alexdr Phelps Just of Peace”. The Honorable Alexander Phelps, the issuer of this document, was born on January 6, 1723/24 at Hebron, in Tolland County, Connecticut. He married Anna Phelps on July 20, 1749, but she died after giving birth to twins on April 18, 1750 (both children died before their mother). Phelps then married Theodora Wheelock on January 9, 1751/52, with this pair siring eight children (at least three lived to adulthood). Alexander Phelps died on April 19, 1773 at Lyme, Grafton County, New Hampshire at the age of 49. The verso bears two period ink notations, obviously done for ease of filing. This piece would make a superb addition to any early American coin collection, especially one having a contemporary counterfeit included.
Counterfeiting was a serious offence at this time, with large quantities of spurious coins plaguing virtually every economy. Base metal coins are the most commonly encountered counterfeits, while clipped silver pieces (where small amounts of metal are removed from each coin an individual handles) appear with fair regularity. This problem continued, and actually escalated, with the issuance of paper money (this was much easier to produce than coinage). The situation became so bad that many early colonial currency issues bore the warning “Tis Death to counterfeit” or similar sentiments. This situation seriously undermined the emerging United States government, and sadly, has not disappeared today.
Considering its age, and the nature of the piece, this document is in surprisingly nice condition. Three vertical storage folds are present, with some weakening of the paper near the top and bottom edges. The document is executed in period ink on high quality watermarked paper. Some minor fading is noted, but all of the words are fully legible (modern transcription included with document). The paper has toned to a light tan color (somewhat darker on the verso), with some minor ink show through from the back to the front. The edges are all ragged, with some small tears noted for accuracy (a 1.25 inch piece is missing at the upper left, though this does not touch any words). Overall dimensions are approximately 7.50 x 7.75 inches. Documents of this type are rarely offered on the market, and with all of the interest in early American coins, this piece should be a bargain. The first we’ve ever handled.