The Indubitable Branch

The Bank of the State of Tennessee blazed into glorious existence after the Panic of 1819; the price of cotton plummeted, the Creek removal coupled with the entrance of Alabama as a state meant that land became cheap instead of scarce, and the entire southeast seemed on the verge of economic collapse. The people of Tennessee felt the stinging need to manage their money. The bank did brisk business across the south for eleven years before promptly falling apart in 1831, because it was suddenly the Jacksonian era and nobody, least of all Tennessee, was going to have any more of this centralized banking nonsense.

However, there was an older bank. One founded all the way back in 1807. A Tennessee State bank that few appreciated or loved. A state bank so far removed from the daily struggles of Tennessee that Tennessee itself only owned five percent of the bank’s total worth. On July 3, 1818, that detested bank issued about two hundred dollars worth of bonds from its headquarters in Knoxville to a man named D. Deadrick. Deadrick lived in Jonesborough, the oldest city in Tennessee, and apparently his bonds made their way into the hands of Thomas Watson and Thomas Garner in Huntsville, Alabama.

Except those bonds never saw the bitter air of Tennessee.

For they were forged.

Thomas Watson forgery
Poorly forged.

Thomas Watson and Thomas Garner lived as yeomen in Madison county. They tilled the land, probably dreamed of one day becoming important planters, and knew very little of counterfeiting when they attempted it; all four of the bills they passed off had the same serial number. Yet there were those who knew these things, so on July 16, 1821, when they attempted to use the bills, the merchants of Huntsville let forth a great cry and alerted the constabulary that Watson and Garner wished to “defraud the President Directors & Company of the state Bank of Tennessee.”

Of course, both men were immediately arrested.

Now, long time readers will notice something significant about this case. We already have a record of Thomas Watson. Although he and Thomas Garner faced trial, Watson apparently possessed more entrepreneurial spirit, as only he managed to escape from the Madison county jail and the clutches of constable Cottrell.

Cottrell formed an impromptu posse, hunted him up and down the county for three days, and proceeded to torture him within an inch of his life.

Perhaps these actions informed the jurors’ decision. For at the Madison county courthouse, on the first Monday in September, twelve men proclaimed “on their oath” that they found Thomas Watson not guilty.

I’m sure it was a great consolation.


The State of Alabama v. Thomas Garner & Thomas Watson, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 176-178 (1821).

You can learn more about the various State Banks of Tennessee here.



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