Imagine this, the village idiot through sheer dumb luck becomes one of the most wealthy men around. Sounds pretty farfetched? Well, I supposes it’s time you hear the tale of Lord Timothy Dexter.
Welcome back to the 18th Century Podcast. I am your host, Cj. In today’s episode, we’ll be looking at the life of an interesting fellow, Timothy Dexter. Imagine this, the village idiot through sheer dumb luck became extremely wealthy. This episode was inspired by the Youtuber Sam O’nella. If you haven’t seen his video yet, I highly recommend watching it. I’ll provide a link to the video on the script page for this episode. This episode will be a bit on the shorter side. If you’d like to read the script for this episode and its citations, go to 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. Alright, let’s get into the early life of, Timothy Dexter!
PART 1 EARLY LIFE
Lord Timothy Dexter was born on January 22nd, 1747, in a town called, Malden. Malden was a little north of Boston. His family originally hailed from Ireland. He was from a poor family. His family would labor on a farm and Timothy grew up working at the soil. He received very little in the way of education as well. When he was 8 years old, young Timothy went off to start his career working on a farm. He quit his job when he was 14 and moved down to Charleston, South Carolina. He would end up becoming an apprentice of leatherwork for garments. When he was 16 he headed back up to Boston and continued his apprenticeship. Though the trade he was taking up was considered to be lower class, the business was doing well. Those he apprenticed under became masters of Moroccan leather which was in high demand. When he turned 21 Timothy Dexter had completed his apprenticeship. As was the custom of the time, those he apprenticed under gave him a Freeman Suit, which he sold for $8.20. Timothy then moved to Charlestown neighborhood, which was a part of Boston. He found himself a neighbor to the likes of John Hancock and other wealthy individuals. He would set up shop, and just before The Boston Tea Party occurred, he met a woman named Elizabeth Frothingham. Elizabeth was a wealthy widow and a mother to four. Our boy Timothy charmed this woman to the point of marriage. He would set up his new shop in his wife’s home. He did want to improve his station in life by moving up the social ladder. So, he made the logical move to go into politics. Just a reminder that this man dropped out of school at the age of 8. He petitioned surrounding communities for a seat in Public Office. He kept asking and asking. Eventually, the town of Malden got sick of him asking for a Public Office, so they invented one for him. At this point in his life, young Timothy was given the government position of Informer of Deer. Under his new Office, Timothy was required to keep track of the local deer population. However, the last known deer in the area had died 19 years prior to the creation of his Office. Happy that he had fulfilled a public service, Timothy Dexter wished to expand his wealth.
PART 2 THE HIGH LIFE
After the Revolutionary War had concluded, Timothy came up with the brilliant scheme of buying up Continental Dollars. Which if you didn’t know, the Continental Dollars went belly up during the war. That’s where the phrase, “Not worth a Continental” came from. Some of the wealthier men during the time took it upon themselves to buy up some of the worthless bills in an attempt to restore trust in the currency. Timothy looked at what his peers were doing and decided to do the same. However, he didn’t just purchase a few Continentals, no he spent all of his money and his wife’s money on worthless pieces of paper. His purchases were for pennies on the dollar. Anyone back then would tell you that it was a dumb decision at the time. Yet after the Constitution was ratified, the new Federal Government bought up old Continentals in exchange for Treasury Bonds for 1% of face value. Since Timothy purchased the Continentals at a fraction of the cost, he made a killing off of the Treasury Bonds and his wealth skyrocketed. His wife and himself were living in the town of Newburyport Massachusetts at this point. Newburyport was a coastal town where there was less divide between the upper and lower classes and people would mingle amongst themselves. Timothy Dexter wasn’t very liked in Boston, but he faired better in Newburyport. Though he would remain unpopular with his neighbors given his poor manner of speech and his conduct. Even though he wished for acceptance of the upper class, he never exactly got it. Timothy wanted to live in style, at his newfound home. He ordered the construction of a chateau overlooking the waters. He invested a portion of his wealth into a fleet of shipping vessels. Outside his chateau, he ordered the construction of 40 statues of important American figures. He also ordered the construction of a statue of himself, with the words inscribed below it saying, quote, “I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western world” unquote. Yet Timothy had contributed nothing to Philosophy at this point in his life. Due to embarrassment, his wife eventually moved out of their home, but still somewhat stuck around him. Timothy’s son wanted to be around his father more so the two of them lived together. They would regularly throw massive parties. His home, by some, was comparable to the likes of a brothel. Now, we’re going to take a short break, and when we come back, we’re going to take a look into Timothy Dexter’s Business dealings. Don’t go anywhere.
PART 3 BUSINESS
Welcome back. We’ll continue the second half of this episode with the Business dealings of Timothy Dexter and his later life. Timothy was making plans to break into international trade. His neighbors wanting to bankrupt him decided to give a helping hand with some business advice. They told him to sell bed warming pans to the West Indies, a very tropical and warm location. Timothy was happy with this advice and purchased about 42,000 of these bed warming pans for shipment. His neighbors and other merchants were laughing at him for taking such foolish advice. When his shipments arrived at the West Indies, the locals didn’t have much need for them as bed warming pans, but they were sold off and used as ladles to sugar and molasses plantations. Timothy sold out at a markup of 79%. The ships returned and Timothy had expanded his wealth greatly. Another business venture he indulged himself in was rounding up stray cats and shipping them to the Carribean. Which the cats were purchased to catch mice and Timothy walked away making a profit. He also had the idea of purchasing large amounts of whalebones, but as luck would have it, corsets were becoming in greater demand in France at the time so he sold off the whalebones to be used in the construction of corsets, thus making a profit off of this venture. One of his neighbors wished to make Timothy out to be a foul. His neighbor instructed Timothy to ship coal to Newcastle. Unbeknownst to Timothy, Newcastle was a large coal mining town. His neighbors thought this would do him in for sure. Besides, what idiot would ship coal to a coal-mining town? Well, our boy Timothy bought up tons of coal and had it shipped to Newcastle. But when the shipment of coal arrived at this coal-mining town, all the coal miners were on strike. Timothy sold his coal at a premium price. Another venture involved selling Bibles. Here’s what he did, he bought Bibles at wholesale at the low cost of 12% under half price, which would have been around $0.41 each. He had them shipped off to the West Indies to be sold. He had the people of the West Indies informed that if they wished to get to Heaven, ever family had to get a Bible. He had 21,000 units to sell and by the end of it, Timothy profited about $47,000.
PART 4 LATER LIFE
Timothy would continue his lavish expenditures throughout his life. He would gain notoriety for his antics as well. Though he was looked down on by upper society, it didn’t faze him. As the years went on his drive for more and more attention grew. He would get an assortment of local friends but few were genuine. Some were even as eccentric as himself but without the wealth. Wanting to change things up a bit he moved to Chester, New Hampshire for a time. While he was there he gave himself the title of “Lord” and began to refer to himself as Lord Timothy Dexter. During his time in Chester, he would pursue women. He was also beaten up by a lawyer. After the stint with the lawyer, he moved back to Newburyport. He purchased a new estate for himself. Becoming more aware of his own unpopularity, he decided to fake his own death to see what the populace truly thought of him. He paid for an elaborate tomb for himself and he also commissioned a coffin for himself made from fine mahogany wood. He wanted to test it out and he ended up sleeping in the coffin to much comfort for several weeks. His wife and children where let in on this scheme and a couple of trusted men as well. He instructed his family to act the part and treat it as if it were a real funeral. On the big day, about 3,000 people were in attendance. Expensive alcohol was served. People were mourning his “passing” and his daughter seemed distraught. The only one who seemed not playing their part was his wife. He followed her into the kitchen away from his hiding spot and began beating her with a cane for not mourning enough. Eventually, some of the partisans wandered into the kitchen and saw a supposedly dead man beating his wife. Timothy then went on to the rest of the people and partied like he never pulled the stunt. After some time, he realized he was getting older and he decided to write his memoirs titled A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress. It was 24 pages long and it was published in 1802. He expressed many of his thoughts within it. And he gave the book away for free at the start, but it gained popularity and there were several reprints ordered. The book is famous for its misspellings and overall poor grammar. In the first edition, there was no punctuation anywhere in the book. After many complaints about the lack of punctuation, he added another page to the second edition of the book where the entire page was 13 lines of punction. He commented that people could now put the punctuation anywhere they pleased. Towards the end of his life, he became more generous. In his will, he had his estate divided up between his wife and children. He also gave a portion of his wealth to his friends. Lord Timothy Dexter would depart from this world on October 26th, 1806. A man with his luck was probably welcomed into the loving arms of Providence.
Wow! What a guy! I did not expect to discover a man with such an eccentric life. Again, I’d like to thank the YouTuber, Sam O’Nella for making a video about Timothy Dexter. On the script page for this episode, I will post Sam’s video for you to check out. The script and citations for this episode and all other episodes can be found at 18thcentury.home.blog that’s 1, 8, t h, century dot home dot blog. Type the numbers don’t spell them. If you’d like to support the show, please share it and leave a review. I’ve been your host Cj, and thank you for listening to this episode of the 18th Century Podcast.
Biographical Sketch of Lord Timothy Dexter, http://www.lordtimothydexter.com/Biographical_Sketch.htm.
Chalakoski, Martin. “Timothy Dexter Sold Coal to Newcastle, Faked His Funeral, Caned His Wife for Not Weeping.” The Vintage News, 30 Jan. 2018, http://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/01/23/timothy-dexter-2/.
Crockett, Zachary. “The Strange Life of ‘Lord’ Timothy Dexter.” Priceonomics, 9 Jan. 2015, priceonomics.com/the-strange-life-of-lord-timothy-dexter/.
“Timothy Dexter, the Ridiculous Millionaire Who Sold Coals to Newcastle.” New England Historical Society, 27 Aug. 2019, http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/timothy-dexter-ridiculous-millionaire-sold-coals-newcastle/.
Here’s a secret bonus that wasn’t mentioned in the podcast episode, here’s a link to, A Pickle For The Knowing Ones: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/43453/43453-h/43453-h.htm