It was in 1808 that Seth Wyman Jr. of Goffstown entered a new sordid phase in his life of crime—passing counterfeit money. He was 24 years old, and a hardened criminal who had escaped from jail and had a bounty on his head.
His specialty was thieving, and he was proud of his abilities. He was proficient in breaking into stores in the middle of the night when he could have the pick of the inventory. He stole from dwelling places, preferring just to walk in and take the chance that he could evade any occupant. When staying in boarding houses, he would steal from the managers and from his fellow boarders. His favorite items to swipe were bolts of cloth imported from England; hats, gloves, coats, and other clothing; watches; and woodworking tools. He also stole money at every opportunity.
After he had acquired his first supply of counterfeit money from a man in Goffstown, Wyman and 28-year-old Wealthy Chandler moved to Boston with their two small children. There was no federal paper money at this time, so there was a profusion of bank-issued bills in circulation, with no standardized design. Store owners had to be on constant alert to avoid accepting counterfeits.
Wyman’s fake bills imitated legitimate money printed by several New England banks. He had taken steps to artificially “age” the bills, so that they would not look as if they had just come off a printing press. On his first day in Boston, Wyman had some success in paying for goods with the bills, but on a few occasions his money was refused, and he was asked, “Where did you get this counterfeit money?” Wyman would appear to be shocked by this turn of events, and would make up a story of having innocently received the money in some transaction somewhere.
Later that same day, when Wyman returned to his boarding house to pick up more counterfeit bills, he was in for a pleasant surprise. He wrote in his 1843 memoir that Wealthy came in “loaded with goods, which she had taken in exchange for counterfeit money. I had let her into the secret when we were in Goffstown, and she proved an able and successful coadjutor, passing quite as much as I could, as a woman was not easily suspected of being engaged in such business.”
Wyman and Wealthy disposed of around $100 in bills that first day in exchange for valuable merchandise they could later sell. Wyman had also shoplifted goods from some of the stores to add to their pile of illicit loot. In the following days the couple managed to visit nearly all of the shops in Boston, and their trunks were filled to overflowing.
When their landlady began suspecting that they were up to no good, Wyman and Wealthy settled with her. They sent their trunks to New Hampshire by stage coach for safekeeping, with plans to retrieve them later. The family then went to Salem, Mass., where Wyman and Wealthy continued to pass counterfeit money. At their boarding place, Wyman encountered three men from Boston who were in town to buy a boat. He wrote in his memoir, “They had a curiously formed little dog with them, no larger than a cat, and I resolved to get possession of him if I could.” The next day Wyman and his family left Salem with the stolen dog.
The next several weeks found Wyman and Wealthy traveling to Goffstown to pick up more counterfeit money, and then back to Boston to continue their operation. As Wyman was under threat of arrest in Goffstown for committing the crime of adultery, he decided that it would be wise for he and Wealthy to marry. Their daughter Caroline was 2, and son Columbus was 1. As Wealthy’s husband, Nathaniel Chandler, had died in 1806, there were no impediments to their union.
On Dec. 16, 1808 Seth Wyman Jr. and Wealthy Loomis Chandler were married in Boston. Wyman wrote, “…after getting the certificate, we went to passing counterfeit money as fast as possible.” They disposed of $350 in bad money, and then returned to Goffstown, this time with “with the determination to give it up for the present.”
Next week: Will Seth Wyman Jr. now settle down and lead an honest life?