Rebel currency was made in Lee

Saturday January 5, 2013


The rumor mill spewed reams of gossip about one of the town’s paper mills. It was August 1863. The Civil War was going hot guns. Federal forces were bombarding Charleston Harbor. The Confederates were about to pound Morris Island.

And someone in Lee was manufacturing currency paper for the South.

The Lee Gleaner, Josiah A. Royce, publisher, in the Aug. 6 issue acknowledged something was afoot. The newspaper quoted from a Pittsfield rival: "A firm in Lee has been caught manufacturing bank note paper for the Rebels. The Provost Marshal has gobbled up the lot. It had ‘C.S.A.’ wove in on each bill in water colors. It was made by hand."

That statement was inaccurate in its details, the Gleaner said (note the wacky description of a watermark). But, "There can be no doubt to whom this refers, since there is but one firm in town -- Messrs. G.W. Linn & Co. -- that manufactures handmade bank bill paper, and we are unwilling to believe that they would knowingly manufacture paper for the rebels, or in any way aid those in rebellion against our government; and we have been informed from a source entitled to confidence, that no such paper as is referred to above, has been shipped from this town, that no arrests have been made, as has been rumored, and no paper has been ‘gobbled up’ by the Provost Marshal."


Three weeks later, the newspaper had more of the story. A deputy U.S. marshal from Boston had "appeared in our village, with a splendid ‘turn-out,’ and invited two or three off our citizens to ride with them. They promptly accepted the invitation, and went to Boston with the officials, in order, as is supposed, that the authorities might learn the truth in regard to the rumors about the ‘C.S.A. paper.’"

George W. Linn, Prentiss C. Baird and William Brown appeared before the U.S. Commissioner’s Court at Boston, facing the charge of giving aid and comfort to the rebels by manufacturing bank note paper having a watermark of C.S.A. in the center. "A nolle pros was entered in the case of Baird," the Gleaner said, "that he might appear as a witness."

Turn the suspects on each other! Just like on TV’s "Law and Order."

Linn had formed Linn & Dean in 1855. He hand-made banknote paper at a mill on the Lake May (Lower Goose Pond) stream. Elizur Smith for a time joined Linn in the enterprise, then P.C. Baird entered the firm in 1863. Linn had the manufacturing know-how, Baird the finances -- having just sold a large jewelry business.

At the Boston hearing, A.H. Bicknell, the deputy U.S. marshal, testified he had learned of the CSA paper in June from Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. "Linn told him he was manufacturing it on an order from Manahan & Miller of New York, who represented that it was to be used to counterfeit the rebel currency, and that they had consulted the authorities at Washington, who made no opposition," the Gleaner reported. "At first the pulp was not right and a part of the paper already manufactured was destroyed. The visit of Mr. Bicknell and a letter received at the same time from the New York firm, with a request to telegraph when the pulp was ready that they might send a man to see whether it was right, and a request to keep mum and not use any names, led Mr. Linn to suspect that all was not right, and he avowed his determination to make no more paper. The molds bearing the C.S.A. mark were kept subject to the order of the marshal."

Manahan & Miller was a paper wholesaler in Manhattan.

Bicknell testified he believed Linn’s story. But an unnamed individual asserted Linn had made 9,000 sheets of paper with the watermark after Bicknell left. Linn was held on $3,000 bond and directed to appear before a grand jury in September. Brown worked for Linn, and though there was no direct testimony as to his involvement, he was held on $1,000 bond.


I couldn’t find a followup story in the Gleaner, but the Pittsfield Sun for Oct. 22 said: "The grand jury of the United States Court at Boston has refused to find a bill against George W. Linn of Lee, for manufacturing paper for the rebels."

Byron Weston of Dalton in his history of Berkshire papermaking for the Berkshire Historic & Scientific Society in 1895 told the ending, "I believe the New York firm set up their purpose as a patriotic one, as they intended to counterfeit the confederate money and ruin the credit of the concern by flooding their own territory with worthless notes. The patriotism may not be very apparent, but such was the excuse made."

Brown died in 1875. Baird in 1864 wisely had converted the mill to produce paper shirt collars. He died in 1890. Linn, who had moved to New Jersey, died in 1900. The Confederacy lost the war.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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