Samuel Hagard was a well traveled man and a merchant by trade. He owned his own company, S. Hagard & Co, but also conducted business throughout the south for Charles N. Bancker Merchants & Partners – a trading firm operated by an amateur astronomer and botanist from Philadelphia.* There is no record of why Hagard stopped in Huntsville, but cotton seemed the most likely product from 1820’s Alabama that might interest a financier from Philadelphia.
Colbertson Griffin was a laborer in Madison county. As we’ve seen time and again many nineteenth-century workmen could not adequately maintain themselves and turned towards some form of crime to supplement their income. Griffin proved little different. When Samuel Hagard passed through town Griffin might have noticed his nicer clothes or ready cash. Maybe the fact that he was new attracted Griffin’s attention. All we know is that on August 9, 1823, Colbertson Griffin accosted Samuel Hagard and took from him various notes worth about seventeen dollars.
Prior to 1863, states established and regulated their own ‘wildcat’ banks that might issue all forms of paper currency. So although it was technically American money many of the stolen notes were signed by bank presidents and cashiers from Nashville and Shelbyville in Tennessee, the Bank of North Carolina, the Bank of Augusta, Georgia, and the Planters and Merchants Bank of Huntsville. Each note listed the name of the original person that the bank issued it to along with the words “or bearer” so as to make them useful for trading; so during the early nineteenth century a cursory glance at someone’s money might reveal far more about them than it does today with our standardized bills.
Of course, it didn’t help Colbertson Griffin’s case that he wore a stolen coat while robbing Samuel Hagard. Apparently on February 1, 1823, Griffin assaulted another man named Samuel and stole from him “one blue cloth coat of the value of forty five dollars of the goods & chatels of one Samuel Coltart.” Coltart reported the crime shortly afterwards but may have not recognized the original thief or he knew Griffin did it but the sheriff proved too lazy to arrest him.
Either way, Colbertson Griffin reasoned that six months was long enough to hide the coat and decided to show it off when he came across Samuel Hagard’s money. For his crimes Griffin received a total of forty lashes and four-and-a-half hours in the stocks spread out between “the 20th, 21th, and 22nd” days of November 1823.
The State of Alabama v. Colbertson Griffin, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 243-244 (1823).
The State of Alabama v. Colbertson Griffin, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 247 (1823).
* The Banckers were apparently Loyalists during the American Revolution and moved from New York to Pennsylvania after the war. Their family papers can be found at the New York Public Library. http://archives.nypl.org/mss/192