In the first installment of the Nauvoo Counterfeiting series, we learned about Edward Bonney’s checkered history prior to his arrival in Nauvoo and why his legal troubles likely motivated him to make a good impression on Joseph Smith. Whatever Bonney did, it worked. He was immediately invited to join the newly-created Council of Fifty in April 1844, one of only three non-Mormons to ever belong to that body.
For today’s post, we’re going to look a bit deeper into Edward’s older brother, Amasa Bonney. As I explained in the last post, Amasa Bonney’s wife, Adaline Works, was the younger sister of Miriam Works, Brigham Young’s first wife. Like Brigham Young, Amasa was also trained as a carpenter.
Amasa was likely exposed to Mormonism around the same time as his in-laws, in the early 1830s. It’s not clear when he was baptized, but we know that Amasa and his wife moved from their home in New York to Ohio sometime between November 1833 (when their son was born in Rochester) and March 1836 (when Amasa was ordained an elder at Kirtland).
Kirtland Safety Society
Amasa Bonney was an early shareholder of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank. He subscribed to twenty shares in November 1836. Amasa paid slightly less than the required $0.26 per share, suggesting that he may not have been financially secure. Later recollections indicate, however, that Amasa was an enthusiastic supporter of the new bank notes.
[Joseph Smith]’s brother Bill [William Smith], Leonard Rich, Julius Granger, Amasa Bonney, and his brother-in-law, Mr. [Lorenzo Dow] Booth, would know of Mormons moving to Kirtland from the East and would intercept them and say they were going East, and induce them to exchange their Eastern money for Mormon money, which they could use in Kirtland. Many were swindled by them.Statement by Mrs. Alfred Morley in Alfred Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism, 1888.
Another Kirtland resident remembered Amasa Bonney purchasing horses with the Kirtland Safety Society notes.
[Joseph Smith] employed Amasa Bonney to buy horses with Mormon money. I saw an old farmer when he came to Kirtland with seven fine horses for Bonney, who placed them in Johnson’s tavern stable. He went to the bank and obtained his pay in Mormon money. He soon learned that it was worthless and returned and demanded the horses, but was refused. He cried. Father [John] Gould said Bonney ought to go to the penitentiary. The horses were sent East and sold for good money.Statement by James Thompson in Alfred Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism, 1888.
The Kirtland Safety Society was never chartered by the state, but it’d still be considered more akin to “wildcat” banking than counterfeiting. However, many people at that time saw little difference. In May 1838, the Maumee City Express reprinted this from the Cleveland Herald, “The Detroit Free Press thinks their wild cat currency about equal to ‘Bogus.’ Precisely what we have thought and said from the first[.] We look upon the bogus coiners and the ‘Wild-Cat’ bankers, as co-laborers in the ‘improvement of the currency,’ and leave the Free Press to decide whose ‘humble efforts’ are more commendable.—Clev. Her.“
While other church leaders and members were accused of cavorting with nearby counterfeiters in Summit and Portage counties of Ohio, I haven’t found any solid contemporary evidence to link Amasa Bonney with these groups.1 A letter addressed to Amasa Bonney later in Nauvoo, though, suggests he may have been more involved than what the historical records show. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One curious interaction took place in September 1837. Church member Jared Carter approached the Kirtland high council with a complaint against Amasa Bonney and Oliver Olney. Carter charged that he had loaned Bonny and Olney $4,000 (apparently in Kirtland Safety Society bank notes) and they had breached their contract. They had agreed to pay back Carter the $4,000 in the Kirtland bank notes, or 25 cents on the dollar with regular currency. Bonney and Olney were declared at fault, and were disfellowshipped until they made good on their debt.
From Kirtland to Nauvoo
It’s unclear if Amasa ever repaid Jared Carter. When most of the Saints removed from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri, though, Amasa Bonney opted to move closer to his younger brother, Edward. It appears that Amasa resided in the town of Elkhart, Indiana, for a little over a year.2
Amasa purchased his property in Elkhart from his maternal cousin, Thomas J. Babcoke. If you recall from my previous post, Babcoke’s brother-in-law (his wife’s brother, Charles West), was a well-known counterfeiter in the Rock River Valley of Illinois. Amasa subsequently followed the same cousin to Farmington, Iowa, and lived at Babcoke’s property down there for a time.3 Unlike Edward, Amasa didn’t seem to have any obvious run-ins with the law.
Amasa & Adaline Bonney moved to Nauvoo by May 1842. They rented a unit on Kimball Street that had been built by Ebenezer Robinson, Adaline’s brother-in-law. In September of that year, Amasa received his Elder’s license, and was sent on a mission to New York. It appears that he served near where he was raised, in Cortland County, and even helped organize a branch in Caroline, New York.
A Letter for Amasa Bonney
And now we come to the meat of this post. In August 1843, a soldier stationed at Fort Adams in Newport, Rhode Island, penned a letter to Amasa Bonney in Nauvoo. It’s not clear whether Bonney ever received the letter, but, luckily for us, the letter ended up in the Church’s archives. On the surface, the author of this letter seems to be asking for more information on Mormonism. When you dig a little deeper, though, it becomes clear that he was probably asking Amasa Bonney for something else.
Fort Adams Newport R.I.D. D. T. Benedict letter, Ft. Adams, Newport, Rhode Island to Amasa Bonney, Nauvoo, Illinois, Church History Library
August 10th 1843
Mr Amasa Bonney
It is a long time since I have heard from you, but the reccollection [sic] of my visit to your settlement will not soon fade from my mind, And the interest I feel for you personally and the associations with which you are surrounded prompts me thus to address you. As soon as you recieve [sic] this I hope that you will write me, and let me know how you prosper in your spiritual
concernsand temporal concerns[.] I have been about two & a half years a soldier in the United States army and have, and have the same time yet to serve. I have of late felt a great interest on the subject of religion, and knowing nothing in the belief and practice of the sect to which you belong contrary to Christianity I feel desirous to know something positive. Therefore I wish that some of the preachers of your belief, who are in other sections of this country, and who meet with great success, might visit this place. Can you inform me how I cand where I can procure publications setting forth your belief? If you would[,] you would confer a great favour on me, and also upon others here with whom I am acquainted, and who are seeking the light. I have no objections to your showing this communication to any of the brethren who may feel disposed to help us.
I remain sincerely yours
D. D. T. Benedict
So, here are the questions we need to answer to understand what’s likely beneath the surface:
- Who was D. D. T. Benedict?
- How did Benedict become acquainted with Amasa Bonney?
- If Benedict wasn’t talking about religion, what was he requesting?
Who was D. D. T. Benedict?
Daniel D. T. Benedict was born in 1813 at Halfmoon, Saratoga County, New York. At the age of twenty-eight, he enlisted for a five-year term in the U.S. Army at Sacket Harbor, New York, in February 1841. This is consistent with the letter where Benedict stated that he’d been a soldier for two and a half years and had about the same amount left to serve.
It appears that Benedict was itching to get out of the army. Only a few months later, in February 1844, he requested to be discharged from the military due to disability, and his request was granted. He apparently did not impress his commanding officer who later testified, “in addition to being now physically disqualified, he never has shown the requisite qualifications for a soldier.” Ouch. Benedict later petitioned for the “pay and other emoluments to which he would have been entitled had he remained in the service for the full period of his enlistment, with interest thereon up to this time .” The petition was rejected.4
Benedict’s wife, Eliza Ann, was a medium in the early days of the Spiritualist movement, but it does not appear that Benedict himself was particularly religious. He worked in the claims business, living off the commissions and fees he received while attempting to recover land bounty pensions, Revolutionary War pensions, and foreign inheritances. He died by suicide in Scotland upon the threat of arrest for unethical practices. A notice of his death, published in the Boston Daily Globe, was not kind.
DEATH OF A SWINDLER.—Six or seven months ago, people in various parts of the New England and Middle States received letters from England and Scotland, signed “D. D. T. Benedict, claim agent,” announcing that they were heirs to immense fortunes in the “old country,” and stating that, on the receipt of a certain fee, he would communicate further in regard to the great wealth they would surely inherit. Many were foolish enough to send the amount demanded, and, of course, now find themselves so much out of pocket. A recent issue of the Glasgow Mail states that Benedict, who was sojourning in that city, committed suicide by taking opium, last Christmas. It appears that complaints of Benedict’s proceedings had been made to the American consul, and also to the city authorities, and the police were working up the matter. Choosing death to exposure, the sensitive swindler took the fatal step in the manner already stated. We trust the claims of the numerous families in New England who are “living in hopes” of something from the “other side” rest upon a more secure foundation than the promises of such a fellow as this Benedict.“Death of a Swindler,” The Boston Daily Globe, 18 Jan. 1873, p. 4, col. 6-7.
How did Benedict become acquainted with Amasa Bonney?
Benedict offered a couple clues in his letter. First, we know it’d been awhile since they interacted, long before Benedict joined the army in February 1841. Benedict also mentioned visiting Amasa Bonney’s settlement. Which settlement?
It’s easy to assume that Benedict was referring to Nauvoo, but since we can’t confirm Amasa’s residence in Nauvoo prior to May 1842, I’m skeptical. I’ve tracked some of Benedict’s activities in New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island. An expedition to Nauvoo, a frontier town along the Mississippi River, would’ve been a significant detour.
A likelier possibility is that Benedict interacted with Bonney during the Kirtland period. One of the few pre-1841 mentions of Benedict I’ve been able to find is a note in a Cleveland newspaper. “D. D. T. Benedict” was on a list of letters waiting at the Cleveland post office as of October 1836.5 We know that Amasa Bonney resided in Kirtland at that point, just twenty-two miles northeast of Cleveland.
The fact that Benedict wrote this letter in August 1843 also suggests their connections were in the northeast. Amasa served a mission in his old stomping grounds in southern New York at the end of 1842 into the first half of 1843. It seems likely that word of Amasa’s new residence in Nauvoo passed among mutual acquaintances until it reached Benedict in Rhode Island a few months later.
If Benedict wasn’t talking about religion, what was he requesting?
So we have a guy who wasn’t particularly religious, didn’t have “requisite qualifications for a soldier,” and later displayed a predilection towards unethical means of earning money. Also, the connection with Amasa Bonney was most likely from the Ohio period, when Amasa earned a negative reputation regarding his use of Kirtland Safety Society notes.
Given that background, let’s take a closer look at Benedict’s verbiage. For someone who claims to be interested in religion, there are glaring omissions of “God,” “prayer,” “bible,” “sin,” “repentance,” or any other typical indications of a born again/seeker experience. So what did Benedict say?
- “the interest I feel for you personally and the associations with which you are surrounded prompts me thus to address you.” – Benedict makes special note that he was interested in Bonney’s associates. Bonney was connected.
- “I wish that some of the preachers of your belief, who are in other sections of this country, and who meet with great success, might visit this place.” – Benedict wanted to be visited by Bonney’s associates who’d been greatly successful in their endeavors.
- “Can you inform me how
I cand where I can procure publications setting forth your belief?” – Benedict wanted to acquire physical documents.
- “If you would[,] you would confer a great favour on me, and also upon others here with whom I am acquainted, and who are seeking the light. I have no objections to your showing this communication to any of the brethren who may feel disposed to help us.” – Benedict had associates who were interested in what Bonney could offer. Benedict was also good with Bonney passing along the letter to someone else if Bonney wasn’t up for the new partnership.
It’s likely that the documents Benedict wanted were counterfeit bank notes rather than religious publications. He specifically wanted notes that others had successfully passed as legitimate currency.
The bigger question, though, is who were the “associations” that Benedict knew “surrounded” Amasa Bonney in 1843? Was Benedict aware that Bonney had family connections to the Rock River Valley counterfeiters in Illinois? Or had Daniel D. T. Benedict, a thousand miles away in Rhode Island, heard rumors of new counterfeiting operations in Nauvoo itself?
To be continued…
1In 1838, church leaders accused several dissenters of associating with the “Tinker’s creek blacklegs,” likely a reference to the group led by Jim Brown of Boston, Ohio. Other members of the Brown counterfeiting group included Jim’s brother, Dan Brown, William Latta (Bath Township), William G. Taylor (Cleveland), Abraham S. Holmes (Boston), Col. William Ashley (Boston), Jonathan de Courcey (Norton), Thomas Johnson (Norton), Joshua King (Portage), and Joseph Keeler (Portage). At least one of these men, Joseph Keeler, was Mormon. Mark L. Staker described the accusations of Mormon involvement with counterfeiters during the Kirtland period:
This witness (probably Luke Johnson) later recounted how Parrish robbed “the Kirtland Bank of twenty five thousand dollars at one time, and large sums at others” (Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, August 1838, 58). Then Parrish rode to Tinker’s Creek, a community in Independence Township, a long day’s ride west of Kirtland. Jim Brown, a notorious outlaw, lived along the creek, where he had a counterfeiting operation and used it to distribute bogus coins up and down the Ohio Canal. Parrish’s group arranged to buy “bogus or counterfeit coin” from Brown’s ring of “Tinker’s creek blacklegs.” Parrish apparently planned on using the counterfeit money to bolster the Kirtland Safety Society, but he ended up getting swindled out of his money while losing a carriage and horse in the deal. When his group arrived home with their heavy box of what they thought was counterfeit gold coin, they opened it to find sand and stones. Luke Johnson went down as constable in an attempt to help Parrish recover his loss. They took back the carriage and horse only to find Parrish in the custody of the county sheriff, hands bound behind his back, until he paid two hundred dollars “and if he had not paid it, he would have stood a chance for the work house” (Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal, August 1838, 58). Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Leonard Rich, and others then in opposition to the Prophet were accused of involvement in this scheme, and Cowdery was later charged with counterfeiting (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, 163, 166–69). However, it is not clear who originally provided the details of this accusation, how familiar they were with the actual events, and what their motives may have been in making the initial charges.Mark L. Staker, “Raising Money in Righteousness: Oliver Cowdery as Banker,” Alexander L. Baugh, ed., Days Never to Be Forgotten: Oliver Cowdery, (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2009), 143-253 footnote 186.
2Amasa Bonney purchased Lot 62 in the town of Elkhart in November 1837 and sold it in January 1839.
3Silas Heaight testified many years later that “Edward Bonney’s brother” resided at a house on Thomas J. Babcoke’s property in Farmington. I’m struggling to verify some of Silas’ other details, but it seems reasonable for Amasa & Adaline Bonney to have moved down to Farmington if most of the Latter-day Saints (including Adaline’s family members) had relocated from Far West, Missouri, up to Quincy, Illinois.
4Jonathan David Morris, Committee of Claims Report, No. 110, Index to the Reports of Committees. Thirty-First Congress, First Session—1849-’50.
5“List of Letters,” Cleveland Daily Advertiser, 13 Oct. 1836, p. 3, col. 6.