Southern Illinois History Page

Sturdivant the Counterfeitor

Reprinted in Springhouse Magazine

    HEROD, Ill. (April 1998) — James Hall devotes two pages to Sturdivant in his Sketches of History, Life and Manners in the West, published in 1835.

    At a later period [that is, after Mason's time], the celebrated counterfeiter, Sturdivant, fixed his residence on the shore of the Ohio, in Illinois, and for several years set the laws at defiance. He was a man of talent and address. He was possessed of much mechanical genius, was an expert artist and was skilled in some of the sciences. As an engraver he was said to have few superiors; and he excelled in some other branches of art. For several years he resided at a secluded spot in Illinois, where all his immediate neighbors were his confederates or persons whose friendship he had conciliated. He could, at any time, by the blowing of a horn, summon some fifty to a hundred armed men to his defense; while the few quiet farmers around, who lived near enough to get their feelings enlisted and who were really not at all implicated in his crimes, rejoiced in the impunity with which he practiced his schemes. He was a grave, quiet, inoffensive man in his manners, who commanded the obedience of his comrades and the respect of his neighbors. He had a very excellent farm; his house was one of the best in the country; his domestic arrangements were liberal and well ordered.
    Yet this man was the most notorious counterfeiter that every infested our country and carried on his nefarious art to an extent which no other person has ever attempted. His confederates were scattered over the whole western country, receiving through regular channels of intercourse their supplies of counterfeit bank notes, for which they paid a stipulated price — sixteen dollars in cash for a hundred dollars in counterfeit bills. His security arose, partly from his caution in not allowing his subordinates to pass a counterfeit bill, or to do any other unlawful act in the state in which he lived, and in his obliging them to be especially careful of their deportment in the county of his residence, measures which effectually protected him from the civil authority. Although all the counterfeit bank notes with which a vast region was inundated were made in his house, that fact could never be proved by legal evidence. But he secured himself further by having settled around him a band of his lawless dependents who were ready at all times to fight in his defense; and by his conciliatory conduct, which prevented his having any violent enemies. He even enlisted the sympathies of many reputable people in his favor. But he became a great nuisance from the immense circulation; and although he never committed any acts of violence himself, and is not known to have sanctioned any, the unprincipled felons by whom he was surrounded were guilty of many acts of desperate atrocity; and Sturdivant, though he escaped from the arm of the law, was at last, with all his confederates, driven from the country by the enraged people, who rose, almost in mass, to rid themselves of one whose presence they had long considered an evil as well as a disgrace.

    For more on the Sturdivants in Southern Illinois' history check out Ron Nelson's research on The Raid on Sturdivant's Fort and his second story To Find a Fort.
    Springhouse Magazine originally published all three articles in their April 1998 issue and are reprinted with permission. For back issues of Springhouse, contact publisher Gary DeNeal.
    Author Ron Nelson can also be reached via the web.
Created April 24, 1999 by Jon Musgrave © 1999