One thing I love about being Town of Newburgh Historian is hearing from people who have questions about our Town. Sometimes I have some answers and sometimes I need to begin digging and do some research. Most times one can find an abundance of information on those individuals who made their mark here. And, sometimes you can even find information and stories on those more reserved, quiet people by reaching out to our community.
So, how about we take a look at a real scoundrel, a counterfeiter, army deserter, spy, wounded warrior, and a vandal. Yup, we had those here in the Town, too, but all wrapped up in a single man? Wow! I was astounded when I learned of this! Imagine, someone of this ilk being allowed to settle and live here! A few months ago, a good friend asked me what I knew of the Machin Mint. This site is commemorated with a sign on Lakeside Road, just a little north of the Dan Leghorn Fire Department. A rather nice, but non-descript sign, simply stating that an early American mint had been located there, which I’ve driven by countless times. An occasional thought of obtaining permission to search the property with a metal detector was always quickly forgotten. Just thinking, could this be an upcoming episode of The Curse of Oak Island?
Thomas Machin was born on March 20, 1744, in Staffordshire, England. Growing up, he apprenticed with James Brindley, to learn the trade of canal building. Joining the British Army’s 23rd Regiment of Foot on February 17, 1773, as some records suggest, as an engineer and artillery expert, he journeyed to the Colonies in 1773. He served through 1775.
Apparently, military life, or at least English military life didn’t agree with him and he deserted! Life in the Colonies overwhelmed him and he realized he had found his true home. Records indicate he deserted on July 28, 1775. Shortly after, Thomas swore allegiance to General George Washington and the Colonial Government. His knowledge of the British fortifications was valuable to our cause if we to overcome the superior force.
There are also accounts, though they are not substantiated, that Thomas was also a member of the “Sons of Liberty” and participated in the Boston Tea Party! Imagine vandalizing a ship of the Crown! Another account states he was instrumental in planning the defenses for the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was wounded in the subsequent battle. If you have the time, there are a number of articles available which go into detail on many of his exploits.
Drifting ahead a bit, on March 3, 1787, Thomas Machin entered the competition for the New York State coining franchise. As luck would have it, on April 17, 1787, the state decided to drop the idea of having a mint. Someone with the attitude of Thomas would not be deterred. On the same day, he signed a contract with five partners to begin minting coins. His partners were David Brooks (a New York Assemblyman on the state monetary commission, reviewing the coining petitions), James Grier (a business partner of Brooks), Samuel Atlee and his son, James (James appears to have been a competitor for the coining contracts), and James Giles (a New York City attorney who had previously represented the other five in various, individual legal matters, introducing Thomas to the others).You can decide for yourself if any skullduggery was involved, or just everyone being part of an old boy network.
There is thought that an illegal minting operation was set up by the group in an abandoned brewery (owned by Samuel Atlee which went bankrupt in 1785) by James Atlee, producing illegal reproductions of British halfpences. On June 7, 1787, they entered into a contract with Reuben Harmon’s mint in Rupert, Vt. They did not have a legal franchise to mint coins and their only income was from this contract. How did they make a profit? They minted counterfeit British currency, of course!
As various minting operations in surrounding states failed, their equipment was relocated to Machin Mills. These copper coins were minted in 1787 and 1788, and possibly into 1789, or even early 1790. Apparently there is some evidence and opinions that the knock off British coins were minted with older dates, perhaps going back to 1778. You can still find these coins being offered for sale. I’ve considered purchasing one, myself, just for display. In a letter, dated October 14, 1790, James Atlee (he had been the first to leave the partnership a year or so earlier) discussed with Thomas what would be an equitable settlement and distribution of the assets of the mint since it was being dissolved. Perhaps sometime later on I’ll write a bit more in detail about the actual method of producing copper coins, which is very interesting.
Thomas obviously was a character! And a very sharp one with a brilliant mind. His intelligence and entrepreneurial sense was outstanding, though perhaps some of his techniques and views could be questioned. And, there is one thing which none of us can question. Let me explain.
Growing up here, my grandmother often took me to Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh to visit the museum and have a picnic lunch on the lawn. I always played on the cannons, imagining sending volley after volley off, stopping the British ships in their advance up the Hudson. I remember the toy cannon she purchased for me in their gift shop to this day. I was amazed at the strong iron links and wood which made up the chains which were stretched across the Hudson River to prevent the British from proceeding up North.
Well, on July 21, 1776, General George Washington commanded Captain Thomas Machin to proceed with great haste to Fort Montgomery and place himself under the command of Col. James Clinton and to act as an engineer in completing the works to stop the British.
I guess it takes someone with an imagination, coupled with thinking outside the box to come up with the idea of making a chain and stretching it across a river to prevent ships from getting past, stopping them beneath artillery batteries. If you take the time to read through the obstacles he faced to put his outrageous plan into place, it’s amazing! Sometimes, it takes a rascal and scoundrel to make things happen! Thank you, Capt. Thomas Machin!