Timothy Dexter

Last updated

Timothy Dexter
Timothy Dexter.jpg
Dexter in 1805
Born(1747-01-22)January 22, 1747
DiedOctober 23, 1806(1806-10-23) (aged 59)
Resting place Old Hill Burying Ground, Dexter Family Plot, Newburyport
Occupation Entrepreneur
Known forUncommon good fortune, eccentricity
Notable work A Pickle for the Knowing Ones (1802)
Spouse
Elizabeth (Lord) Frothingham
(m. 1770)
Children
  • Nancy Dexter
  • Samuel Dexter

Timothy Dexter (January 22, 1747 – October 23, 1806) was an American businessman noted for his eccentric behavior and writings. He became wealthy through marriage and a series of improbably successful investments, and spent his fortune lavishly. Though barely educated or literate, Dexter considered himself "the greatest philosopher in the Western World", and authored a book, A Pickle for the Knowing Ones , which espouses his views on various topics and became notorious for its unusual misspellings and grammatical errors.

Contents

Biography

Dexter was born in Malden [1] in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He had little schooling and dropped out of school to work as a farm laborer at the age of eight. [2] When he was 16, he became a tanner's apprentice. [3] In 1769, he moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts. [4] He married 32-year-old Elizabeth Frothingham, a rich widow, and he then bought a mansion with the money. [4]

At the end of the American Revolutionary War, he purchased large amounts of depreciated Continental currency that was worthless at the time. [4] At the war's end, the U.S. government made good on its notes at one percent of face value, while Massachusetts paid its own notes at par. [4] His investment enabled him to amass a considerable profit. He built two ships and began an export business to the West Indies and Europe.[ citation needed ]

Being a member of the upper class, Dexter decided to pursue a career in local politics. However, many of those in power were not very keen on allowing someone as uneducated as Dexter to have a position in politics. Eventually however, the Malden local government would bestow upon Dexter the position of the official informer of deer, despite the fact that, at the time, there were not any deer in Malden.

Because he was largely uneducated, his business sense was considered peculiar. He was advised to send bed warmers—used to heat beds in the cold New England winters—for resale in the West Indies, a tropical area. This advice was a deliberate ploy by rivals to bankrupt him. His ship's captain sold them as ladles to the local molasses industry and made a handsome profit. [5] Next, Dexter sent wool mittens to the same place, where Asian merchants bought them for export to Siberia. [2]

People jokingly told him to "ship coal to Newcastle". Fortuitously, he did so during a Newcastle miners' strike, and his cargo was sold at a premium. [6] [7] On another occasion, practical jokers told him he could make money by shipping gloves to the South Sea Islands. His ships arrived there in time to sell the gloves to Portuguese boats on their way to China. [6]

He exported Bibles to the East Indies and stray cats to Caribbean islands and again made a profit; Eastern missionaries were in need of the Bibles and the Caribbean welcomed a solution to rat infestation. [2] He also hoarded whalebones by mistake, but ended up selling them profitably as corset stays. [2]

While subject to ridicule, Dexter's boasting makes it clear that he understood the value of cornering the market on goods that others did not see as valuable and the utility of "acting the fool". [8]

New England high society snubbed him. Dexter bought a large house in Newburyport from Nathaniel Tracy, a local socialite, and tried to emulate him. [2] [4] He decorated this house with minarets, a golden eagle on the top of the cupola, a mausoleum for himself, and a garden of 40 wooden statues of famous men, including George Washington, William Pitt, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, and himself. The last had the inscription, "I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western World". [1] Dexter also bought an estate in Chester, New Hampshire.

Despite his good fortune, his relationship with his family suffered. He frequently told visitors that his wife (who was actually alive) had died, and that the woman frequenting the building was simply her ghost. [2] In one notable episode, Dexter faked his own death to see how people would react, and about 3,000 people attended Dexter's mock wake. When Dexter did not see his wife cry, he revealed the hoax and promptly caned her for not sufficiently mourning his death. [4] [9]

Writing

At age 50, Dexter authored the book A Pickle for the Knowing Ones , [lower-alpha 1] in which he complained about politicians, the clergy, and his wife. The book contains 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but without any punctuation and with unorthodox spelling and capitalization. One section begins: [8]

Ime the first Lord in the younited States of A mercary Now of Newburyport it is the voise of the peopel and I cant Help it and so Let it goue

The first edition was self-published in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1802. Dexter initially distributed his book for free, but it became popular and was reprinted eight times. [3] The second edition was printed in Newburyport in 1805. [10] In the second edition, Dexter responded to complaints about the book's lack of punctuation by adding an extra page of 11 lines of punctuation marks with the instruction that printers and readers could insert them wherever needed—or, in his words, "thay may peper and solt it as they plese". [11]

Legacy

"Lord" Timothy Dexter House, Newburyport, Massachusetts. Timothy Dexter House, Newburyport, MA.jpg
"Lord" Timothy Dexter House, Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Dexter attempted to burnish his own legacy by enlisting the efforts of Jonathan Plummer, a fish merchant and amateur poet, who extolled his patron in verse: [8]

Lord Dexter is a man of fame;
Most celebrated is his name;
More precious far than gold that's pure,
Lord Dexter shine forevermore.

Some of his social contemporaries considered him very unintelligent; his obituary considered "his intellectual endowments not being of the most exalted stamp". [4] [12]

The Probate Office valued his estate at $35,027.39 (roughly equivalent to $711,182in 2021). [13]

Dexter's Newburyport house became a hotel. [2] Storms ruined most of his statues; the only identified surviving statue was that of William Pitt.

Lord Timothy Dexter House, as seen on October 22, 2022 Lord Timothy Dexter House, as seen on October 22, 2022.jpg
Lord Timothy Dexter House, as seen on October 22, 2022

In 1984 Prof. William Quill, who was raised on Johnston Street in Newburyport, purchased Timothy Dexter's House for $200,000 and restored it. [14]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newburyport, Massachusetts</span> City in Massachusetts, United States

Newburyport is a coastal city in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States, 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Boston. The population was 18,289 at the 2020 census. A historic seaport with a vibrant tourism industry, Newburyport includes part of Plum Island. The mooring, winter storage, and maintenance of recreational boats, motor and sail, still contribute a large part of the city's income. A Coast Guard station oversees boating activity, especially in the sometimes dangerous tidal currents of the Merrimack River.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John P. Marquand</span> American novelist

John Phillips Marquand was an American writer. Originally best known for his Mr. Moto spy stories, he achieved popular success and critical respect for his satirical novels, winning a Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley in 1938. One of his abiding themes was the confining nature of life in America's upper class and among those who aspired to join it. Marquand treated those whose lives were bound by these unwritten codes with a characteristic mix of respect and satire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mayflower Compact</span> First governing document of Plymouth Colony

The Mayflower Compact, originally titled Agreement Between the Settlers of New Plymouth, was the first governing document of Plymouth Colony. It was written by the men aboard the Mayflower, consisting of Separatist Puritans, adventurers, and tradesmen. Although the agreement contained a pledge of loyalty to the King, the Puritans and other Protestant Separatists were dissatisfied with the state of the Church of England, the limited extent of the English Reformation and reluctance of King James I of England to enforce further reform.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ipswich, Massachusetts</span> Town in Massachusetts, United States

Ipswich is a coastal town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 13,785 at the 2020 census. Home to Willowdale State Forest and Sandy Point State Reservation, Ipswich includes the southern part of Plum Island. A residential community with a vibrant tourism industry, the town is famous for its clams, celebrated annually at the Ipswich Chowderfest, and for Crane Beach, a barrier beach near the Crane estate. Ipswich was incorporated as a town in 1634.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timothy Pickering</span> American statesman and secessionist (1745–1829)

Timothy Pickering was the third United States Secretary of State under Presidents George Washington and John Adams. He also represented Massachusetts in both houses of Congress as a member of the Federalist Party. In 1795, he was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Mather</span> English colonial Congregationalist clergyman

Richard Mather was a New England Puritan minister in colonial Boston. He was father to Increase Mather and grandfather to Cotton Mather, both celebrated Boston theologians.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tristram Dalton</span> American politician (1738-1817)

Tristram Dalton was an American politician and merchant from Massachusetts. He served a single term as one of the first United States senators, from 1789 to 1791. He was for many years one of the leading citizens of Newburyport, Massachusetts, but lost most of his fortune due to ill-timed and mismanaged investments in the real estate of Washington, D.C.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Maudslay State Park</span> Massachusetts state park located in Newburyport

Maudslay State Park is a Massachusetts state park located in Newburyport. The park is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It is available for weddings and other programs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Appleton (politician)</span> American businessman and politician

William Appleton was an American businessman and politician from Massachusetts. He was a trader, shipowner, and banker, and served as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts from 1851 to 1855, and again from 1861 to 1862.

Joseph Stevens Jones was an American actor, playwright, theater manager and surgeon. He is the son of Captain Abraham A. Jones and Mary Ann Stevens.

Selling, carrying, bringing, or taking coal(s) to Newcastle is an idiom of British origin describing a pointless action. It refers to the fact that, historically, the economy of Newcastle upon Tyne in north-eastern England was heavily dependent on the distribution and sale of coal and therefore any attempt to sell coal to Newcastle would be foolhardy as supply would be greater there than anywhere else in Britain.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John G. Palfrey</span> American clergyman, historian and politician

John Gorham Palfrey was an American clergyman and historian who served as a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts. A Unitarian minister, he played a leading role in the early history of Harvard Divinity School, and he later became involved in politics as a State Representative and U.S. Congressman.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">U.S. Route 1 in Massachusetts</span> Section of U.S. Route in Massachusetts, United States

U.S. Route 1 (US 1) is a major north–south U.S. Route in the state of Massachusetts, traveling through Essex, Middlesex, Suffolk, Norfolk, and Bristol counties. The portion of US 1 south of Boston is also known as the Boston–Providence Turnpike, Washington Street, or the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike, and portions north of Boston are known as the Northeast Expressway and the Newburyport Turnpike.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William S. Tilton</span> Union Army officer in the American Civil War

William Stowell Tilton was an American businessman and soldier who led a regiment, and occasionally a brigade, in the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. He and his men were heavily engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg, where Tilton's performance created controversy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hannah Flagg Gould</span> American poet

Hannah Flagg Gould was a 19th-century American poet. Her father had been a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and after her mother's death, she became his constant companion, which accounts for the patriotism of her earlier verses. Gould's poems were short, but they were frequently nearly perfect in their kind. Nearly all of them appeared originally in annuals, magazines, and other miscellanies, and their popularity was shown by the subsequent sale of several collective editions. Her work exercised a helpful influence in its day, but lacked staying qualities. The high-water mark of her verse was reached in the poem entitled "A Name in the Sand".

Matthew Cradock was a London merchant, politician, and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Founded in 1628, it was an organization of Puritan businessmen that organized and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although he never visited the colony, Cradock owned property and businesses there, and he acted on its behalf in London. His business and trading empire encompassed at least 18 ships, and extended from the West Indies and North America to Europe and the Near East. He was a dominant figure in the tobacco trade.

Thomas Wellman was born in about 1615 in England and died at Lynn, Massachusetts on 10 October 1672. He was among the early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and progenitor of the Wellman family of New England. At age 21 he traveled from London to Barbados in 1634 or 1635 aboard Hopewell as part of a mass exodus of Puritans called the Great Migration.

Samuel Lorenzo Knapp was an American author and lawyer.

The 75th Massachusetts General Court, consisting of the Massachusetts Senate and the Massachusetts House of Representatives, met in 1854 during the governorship of Emory Washburn. Charles Edward Cook served as president of the Senate and Otis P. Lord served as speaker of the House.

<i>A Pickle for the Knowing Ones</i> 1802 autobiography by Timothy Dexter

A Pickle for the Knowing Ones is an 1802 autobiographical book written by American businessman Timothy Dexter. The book uses unorthodox spelling and grammar conventions, and contains almost no punctuation. Dexter was a rich businessman and eccentric, known for gaining his wealth through lucky investments like sending coals to Newcastle at the time of a miners' strike. The book includes complaints about things such as politicians and the clergy, while Dexter praises his own glory and even says that he should be the emperor of the United States. The second edition is noted for containing pages of punctuation in the appendix.

References

  1. 1 2 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Dexter, Timothy"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 141.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Margaret Nicholas, The World's Greatest Cranks and Crackpots, ISBN   978-0-7064-1713-5, pp. 147–151.
  3. 1 2 The Reader's Digest Book of Strange Stories, Amazing Facts . Reader's Digest Association. 1975. p.  501. ISBN   9780276000805.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 History of Newburyport, Mass., 1764–1905. Vol. II. Chapter XXVII. Eccentric characters, pp. 419–431 and following. Accessed December 2019 via ancestry.com paid subscription site.
  5. Jim Stillman (November 15, 2006). "Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport, Massachusetts: Wealthy by Mistake?". Yahoo! Contributor Network. Archived from the original on July 19, 2012.
  6. 1 2 Knapp, Samuel L. (1858). Life of Lord Timothy Dexter: Embracing sketches of the eccentric characters that composed his associates, including "Dexter's Pickle for the knowing ones". Boston: J. E. Tilton and Company. Archived from the original on December 2, 2007.
  7. Nash, Jay Robert (1982). Zanies: The World's Greatest Eccentrics . New Century Publishers. ISBN   978-0-8329-0123-2.
  8. 1 2 3 Stephen Gencarella (May 1, 2018). Wicked Weird & Wily Yankees: A Celebration of New England's Eccentrics and Misfits. Globe Pequot. pp. 1–14. ISBN   978-1-4930-3267-9.
  9. Todd, William Cleaves. Timothy Dexter. Boston, Massachusetts: David Clapp & Son, 1886: 6.
  10. Currier, John J. (1906). History of Newburyport, Mass., 1764–1905. Newburyport: Dalcassian Publishing Company. p. 495.
  11. Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: p. 207. ISBN   978-0-86576-008-0
  12. Timothy Dexter obituary notice, Newburyport Herald, October 24, 1806.
  13. Todd, William Cleaves. Timothy Dexter. Boston, Massachusetts: David Clapp & Son, 1886: p. 11.
  14. Shea, Jack (January 29, 2018). "Man who faced challenge restoring Lord Timothy Dexter's mansion. Professor rebuilt legendary home".
  1. Also known as Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress.

Sources