George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Jay, 11 March 1791

From John Jay

New York 11 March 1791


I have the Honor of transmitting to you herewith enclosed, a Packet which I received last Evening from Ab. Ogden Esqr. the Attorney of the united States for New Jersey District. It contains three papers.

(1)A Letter from Mr Ogden to me, mentioning the apprehension of a Doctr Freeman, on a charge of forgery &ca and his offer of giving Evidence against others, on an assurance of Pardon.1

(2) Freeman’s Confession.2

(3) A Memorandum of what passed on the subject between Mr Ogden & Freeman, & Freeman’s Counsel.3

Had you been at such a Distance, as that an Application for your orders, would have been attended with Delays which the circumstances of the case would not admit of, I should have taken the Liberty of giving Mr Ogden the advice he requests. If Freeman be used as a Witness, I think a Pardon will be proper. As it is probable that the State of the Roads detains you still at Philadelphia, it appears to me most delicate & proper to lay these papers before you; that thro’ the Attorney General or in any other manner which you may prefer, your Pleasure on the Subject may be made known to Mr Ogden.4 With perfect Respect & Esteem I have the Honor to be Sir your most obedient & very humble servant

John Jay

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

For the background to this document and its several enclosures, see William Lewis to GW, 7 Mar. 1791.

1The enclosed letter from Abraham Ogden to Jay, dated New York, 10 Mar. 1791, reads: “Great Impositions have been in the Course of this Winter, practised upon many of the Citizens of this State by the Exchange of Counterfeit Certificates for true Certificates.

“The Principal Felons are, One Gilman now in Goal at Philidelphia, One Smith also in Goal at Philidelphia, one Amos Parker in Goal in the County of Somerset in this State, One Clarkson Freeman in the Goal of Newark in this County of Essex, and one Lewis Freeman not yet apprehended. From their Mode of practising upon the unwary and unsuspicious, it was extremely dificult to point such positive Testimony against any One Individual; as would be sufficient to convict, upon a charge, affecting life—After the most full Investigation of the Facts, I was clearly of Opinion, that it would be necessary to make Use of some One of the Felons against his accomplices—Hence I was very ready to accept of the proposal of Clarkson Freeman; when he applyed to me, by his Council Mr Elisha Boudinot, to make a Confession—The Terms upon which he made that confession, were by me reduced to writing, and delivered into Mr Boudino⟨t’s⟩ Hands—A Copy is herewith inclosed—The Principal Facts related by Freeman are corroborated by the Testimony of the several Persons defrauded—His confession appears to be candid in every Part: except—that he does not fully relate his own Participation, in the several Frauds committed by the Gang. His Character is such in this State, that I beleive his positive Testimony corroborated by the Presumptive Evidence of the defrauded Citizens of this State, will be abundantly sufficient Capitally to Convict the accused—His Confession is not yet signed by him; I took it down from his Lips, and sent it to him this Morning to peruse and sign—I would not take his Deposition to the truth of it, until I received your directions on that Head. Freeman says that the Ink was washed out of the small Certificates, by a Composition of Aqua Fortis, Caput Mortuum, and fair Water—That this Wash was gently brushed over the writing with the Feathers of a Goose Quil, and then the Certificate instantly immerged in boiling Water; In a moment taken out, and dried between the Leaves of a Clean Quire of Paper. To prevent the Ink from Running on this Paper, it was sized with the common sizing Used by Paper Makers—That after being thus sized, the Counterfeit Certificate was written; and then to take out the sizing again, the written Certificate was a second time immerged in Boiling Water; instantly taken out, and dryed as before; which compleated the Forgery—He adds that a small Quantity of Copperas, dissolved in Ink after it is made, will effectually, prevent this Wash from taking Ink thus prepared, out of any kind of Paper whatever. I sent Yesterday by Express to Robt Morris Esqr. District Judge of this State a Copy of Freeman’s Confession—Amos Parker was yesterday to be examined by Judge Morris—He may possibly disclose some further Scenes of Villainy—Dr Freeman thinks that the Counterfeit Certificates of Bancker (mentioned by him, in his Confession, to be secreted in the House of the Widow Hewit) are yet to be found in the place where they were left by him—Because Parkers Confinement in the Goal of Somerset, has prevented his going to New York to get the Blanks of those Certificates filled up by Crane—Freeman further informs that this Parker came from N. England last Fall, at the request of these Cranes, Prisoners at New York—That he was supported by them at New Brunswick; in order, that he might be at Hand, to prove on their Trials an Alibi, if any Indictments should be found against them in New York—That he (Parker) had free access to them in Goal at New York, and was an Old accomplice with them in all their Villanies” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

2Clarkson Freeman’s confession, with the heading “The voluntary Confession of Doctr Clarkson Freeman made this seventh & eighth Day of March 1791,” relates how Lewis Freeman first involved him in the conspiracy in the fall of 1790 and describes the methods used by the counterfeiters to exchange counterfeit securities for genuine ones. A securities trader, Clarkson Freeman admitted that he had purchased securities of low face value for the gang to alter and sell for higher amounts and had passed complete counterfeits written on forms printed by the gang. Freeman told Ogden that he understood these forms were printed by Francis and Abonijah Crane and others somewhere in Vermont (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

3In the enclosed memorandum, dated Newark, 7 Mar. 1791, Ogden attests that Clarkson Freeman had called for him to hear his voluntary confession of guilt. Ogden noted that he had informed Freeman that he could not give any assurance of pardon, but that he would transmit the confession to the chief justice of the United States with a favorable representation of the circumstances (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters).

4At GW’s instruction Tobias Lear forwarded Jay’s letter and its enclosures to the attorney general, with a note dated 16 Mar. 1791, asking Randolph to report on them as soon as convenient (DLC:GW). Randolph’s report, which has not been found, was apparently delivered to GW on 17 Mar. 1791. On that date GW wrote to Jay: “I have had the pleasure to receive your letter of the 11th instant, and the papers therewith transmitted. The Attorney-General, to whom they were referred, has reported an opinion, of which the enclosed is a copy” (ALS, DLC:GW).

Clarkson Freeman was remanded to the jail in Newark pending testimony in the anticipated trials of his confederates. The New Jersey counterfeiting ring described in Clarkson Freeman’s confession, in which Henry Smith, one Gilman (known to Clarkson Freeman as “Flax Hair”), and Lewis Freeman were principals, apparently was connected to the counterfeiting ring led by Francis Crane and his brother Adonijah Crane, which had been operating in New York and Connecticut for some years. The federal government had been involved in efforts to suppress the Crane ring since 1789, when Connecticut authorities arrested Ephraim Willard, a member of the gang (Alexander Hamilton to Jeremiah Wadsworth, 8 Nov. 1789, Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 5:503–4). At that time the Crane ring was known to be involved in counterfeiting New York bank notes, a matter that GW thought should be referred to New York authorities (Wadsworth to Hamilton, 17 Dec. 1789, ibid., 6:15–16; see also GW to David Forman, 21 Jan. 1790). Some aspects of their operation evidently were conducted in Vermont, which was not admitted to the Union until March 1791. By March 1790 it was apparent that the Crane ring was also counterfeiting U.S. securities, which prompted Hamilton to ask Congress for a supplemental appropriation to provide rewards for their apprehension (Report on Supplementary Appropriations for the Civil List for 1790, Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 6:280–82). By the end of August 1790 some $1,060 had been disbursed to Wadsworth for the apprehension and imprisonment of the alleged counterfeiters (see Authorization for Tobias Lear, 30 Aug. 1790). Francis Crane, described in Clarkson Freeman’s confession as being in jail in New York, apparently was apprehended about this time and released; he was arrested once more at the beginning of April 1791.

As a consequence of evidence obtained from Henry Smith and Clarkson Freeman, Francis Crane and Israel Fuller were arrested in New York at the beginning of April, but the evidence was insufficent for a grand jury to indict them. Crane immediately applied to the U.S. circuit court for discharge but was denied (Richard Harison to Hamilton, 8 April 1791, Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 8:251–53). Two of the accused New Jersey counterfeiters, Lewis Freeman and Amasa [Amos] Parker, were indicted by a grand jury on 7 April 1791 (DNA: RG 21, Minutes of the Circuit Court for the District of New Jersey, 7 and 12 April 1791). The rest of the accused either were released or escaped from prison.

The Crane ring thereafter resumed its counterfeiting operations. On 20 July 1792 Benjamin Tallmadge, postmaster at Litchfield, Conn., wrote to Hamilton informing him of the arrest of one Jackson, a member of the Crane ring, who had offered to disclose the gang’s hideout: “a Den or Cavern of a rock in the State of N. York, near the North river . . . with only one Entrance, which is by a Trap door from the Top. This Door is supported by large hinges, & covered with Turf, Green Ivys &c, & has been in the same Situation ever since the peace, & has never yet been discovered. In this place are kept the Implements for extracting the Ink & counterfieting public Securities; also a plate with which they strike off bank bills &c.” Tallmadge wrote that Jackson “declares to me that he knows of immense Sums having been sent out & put off lately in different parts of the Continent. He says (what would be very natural to suppose) that they have Agents in different parts of the Continent who are continually purchasing up final Settlement Notes & other public Securities of small nominal amot. which they make into larger Sums, & these together with their other Counterfeit paper, are sent abroad & sold to the people” (Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 26:677–79).

Clarkson Freeman was the last of the alleged counterfeiters to be imprisoned. Abraham Ogden put off requesting a pardon for him, and some six months after confessing, Freeman escaped from the Newark jail and fled to Canada. On 5 Sept. 1793 his father, Abraham Freeman, petitioned GW from the “Western territory,” to allow Clarkson Freeman to return to the United States without fear of imprisonment or prosecution (DNA: RG 59, State Department, Petitions for Pardon). The matter was referred to the secretary of state, who made inquiries of Robert Morris, district judge for New Jersey (see Jefferson to GW, 16 Nov. 1793, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). Morris wrote to Jefferson on 4 Nov. 1793, informing him that Freeman had been “apprehended with difficulty and danger to the officer” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). No further action was taken on the petition at this time.

The case was revived in 1795, and Ogden recommended to then Secretary of State Timothy Pickering that a pardon be issued (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 245–46; Ogden to Pickering, 18 Nov. 1795, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). No action was taken on this recommendation. Instead, the administration sought to have Freeman apprehended by British authorities in Canada and extradited to the United States, on the grounds that, as Pickering noted to GW on 3 June 1796, “the reciprocal delivery of murderers & forgers is expressly stipulated in the 27th article of our treaty with Great Britain.” Apparently at the request of the United States, Lord Dorchester had made inquiries about Freeman, and Pickering reported to GW that “Ld Dorchester’s information respecting James Clarkson Freeman is correct—He was convicted of forgery in Jersey, broke jail, and fled to Canada, some four or five years since” (DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters). No further evidence of Freeman’s fate has been found.

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