Located in the Sycamore Public Library
103 E. State Street
Sycamore, IL 60178

Tuesday and Thursday

Our History: Counterfeiters in DeKalb County

The Chameleon

Ebenezer Gleason, (alias Stephen W. Porter, Ebenezer Foster, George Parmeter and Abraham Gleason) learned his counterfeiting skills in the small village of Dunham, Quebec.  Dunham was the near the undefined border between Canada and the United States, an ideal location for counterfeit activities in both nations.  An old township map will show the road of Cogniac which snakes into hill country so remote it became a haven for the counterfeiters, thus earning the distinction of being synomous with counterfeiting.  Ebenezer was adept at evading the police for his counterfeiting crimes, escaping the authorities many times.  In Philadelphia he set up his own company of counterfeit engravers and hired men and women who had been involved in counterfeiting in Canada and the United States. 

As his operation became more successful, and Ebenezer more brazen, he decided to target the Second Bank of the United States, located in Philadelphia.  The Second Bank “served as the country’s defacto central bank.  It owed its existence to a federal charter, and the national government deposited funds in its vaults for safekeeping, relying on the Second Bank’s many branches to serve as fiscal agents for the collection of taxes.” (1)  An all-out effort by the Bank resulted in the capture of Gleason and most of his gang.  Gleason was sentenced to almost twenty years in prison.  He and two gang members were sent to the Norristown Prison and housed together in a single cell from which they escaped, on November 22, 1830, by sawing through the metal bars on the window. 

By 1836 or 1837, Ebenezer Gleason was living in Genoa.  On the outside Gleason appeared respectable, but in reality he had “established a criminal outpost …. built on the clandestine commerce overseen by James Brown and his allies.” (2) DeKalb County had just been established and what law enforcement existed was concerned with small disagreements between individuals and totally unprepared for what was to happen.  Soon after his arrival in Genoa, Gleason was found in possession of a large amount of counterfeit money.  Because of his “respectability”, townspeople came to his defense.  “In ordinary affairs of life he never tried to pass counterfeit money, but he manufactured it and wholesaled it to his confederates.” (3)  He was implicated in a trial in Chicago but when authorities came to arrest him, he escaped through the corn stalks in his garden.  Much later, after evidence against him in this trial disappeared, he returned to Genoa and continued his life where he left it, marrying Lydia Strong.  His demise came in 1848.  A traveling doctor boarding with the Gleason’s and Lydia became romantically involved.  The two allegedly fed Ebenezer poison laced porridge.  Evidence during the trial was inconclusive and the couple escaped punishment.  They moved to LaSalle County.  Later, the doctor suffered the same fate as Ebenezer dying from suspected poisoning.  Soon after, Lydia also died.

William Taylor

As authorities became more adept at catching and prosecuting counterfeiters in the east, it seems natural that the gangs would move west with the growing population.  One of these men, William G. Taylor, a Cleveland merchant, became affiliated with another gang of counterfeiters lead by brothers James and Daniel Brown.  Together they produced thousands of dollars of bogus money and used the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to transport the counterfeit goods.  When caught in New Orleans, they turned on each other; but, in the end Daniel Brown died in prison, “William Taylor an exile, but James Brown emerged as the premier counterfeiter in the Middle West.” (4)

William Taylor’s exile took him to Genoa about the same time as Ebenezer Gleason.  Although undocumented, it is probable they knew each other.  DeKalb County’s first term of court included the criminal case against Taylor for passing counterfeit money.  The best account of the trial is in Past and Present of DeKalb County Volume One by Prof. Lewis M. Gross as follows:

“Taylor was supposed to be one of an organized gang that even at this early day was infesting the country, and swindling the honest citizens.  Not being ready for trial, he was retained in charge of the county until the next term.  After being comfortable boarded for several weeks by the Barber family the county commissioners ordered him to the Will county jail, at Joliet, which was then the nearest available place of confinement; and out of the scantily furnished treasure of the county they paid forty-five dollars to a guard for conveying him there.  When he was next brought out for trial he escaped from the guard and was seen no more in this section of the country; and when in addition this misfortune, the Will county jailor sent in a bill for twenty-five dollars for his board, it bankrupted the treasure; the commissioners indignantly refused to allow it and demanded the items.  After this dear experience in the capture of criminals it became the policy to overlook all crimes that were not too public and heinous, and when an offense had been committed that could not be overlooked, the county officers sometimes contrived that a hint should be given to the offender that he would probably be arrested, and that it would be expedient for him to leave the country before that event should occur.  In this way they rid themselves of the elephant.”

The counterfeit money involved in William Taylor’s criminal trial.
Courtesy of The Joiner History Room

(1) A Nation of Counterfeiters, Stephen Mihm, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, p.1
(2) ibid, p. 178
(3) ibid, p. 178
(4) ibid, p. 181

Copying/Scanning/Mailing Pricing

$ .25/page......Photocopy by patron at JHR
   .50/page......Photocopies by JHR staff
 2.00/scan......By JHR researcher
 2.00/each......Photo quality prints
Scans will be emailed. To keep your costs down, we will try to get as much on one scan as possible. Photocopies by JHR staff and photo quality prints are sent U.S. mail only. Postage is also charged.
Sycamore True Republican, 1893

Our New Look

The Joiner History Room’s new website look was made possible by the Douglas C. and Lynn M. Roberts Family Foundation.  We are deeply grateful for their support.  The website was designed by Trittenhaus Design of Sycamore.  Many pages had to be transferred to the new look and we think they did a spectacular job.  Thank you to both organizations.

Donated Photo Needs Names

This picture was found in Kate Pierce's home in Malta.  It was donated to us by Diane McQueen.  We are looking for names of the individuals so we can properly add this to our archives.  If you can identify these people, please email us at JoinerHistoryRoom@DeKalbCounty.org. 

Joiner Room Honored To Be Part Of The DeKalb County Community Foundation

The Joiner History Room Endowment Fund was established in 2008 to honor Ralph Joiner and the first appointed DeKalb County historian, Phyllis Kelley.  If you wish to donate to our Endowment Fund, click here or send a check directly to The Joiner Room at the address above.

Images of Sycamore

The Mighty Maroons boys' baseball team had this formal portrait taken at the local M. F. Carlson studio, circa 1900.  Mascot Raymond Branen is front and center.  Team members, from left to right, are (second row) Will Sell and Rex Shield; (third row) Doug Langhorn, George Murray, Captain Charles B. Townsend, Earl Branen, and George St. Dennis; (back row) Harry Cornwell, Jim Branen, and Walter Wallmark.


The Mighty Maroons

*Picture and historical information used with permission of Sue Breese and the Joiner Room Staff.

See More Like This In Images of America-Sycamore Available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon and at Local Stores

Looking Back Index Available

The Midweek, a current DeKalb County area publication, has a column called "Looking Back" that has small snipits of local news dating back to the late 1800's.  Most items are one or two lines long, just enough to give you a flavor of what was happening at the time.  This index covers publication dates from the start of the column, mid-2010, through December 2012.  If you find an item of interest, e-mail the Joiner History Room with date of publication and page number.
Access Index

Burkhart Funeral Home Records

Funeral home records are often overlooked as a source of genealogical information.  Joiner History Room volunteer Fran Besserman diligently compared a hand-written list of Burkhart burials with obits available from other sources in our collection.  This may be the only record of a death.
View list here.


Adoptee Law Passed By Illinois Legislature

Since last year when the bill was signed, about 645 adoptees born in Illinois before 1946 have been issued their birth certificates. Starting November 15, 2011, those born after 1946 will be able to do the same thing. The law also allows birth parents to have their names redacted from any released birth certificate by filling out a form by Nov. 1. For more information see newillinoisadoptionlaw.com.

Birth, Marriage, Death and Naturalization Records

The DeKalb County Clerk's office has put online birth, marriage, death and naturalization records that meet genealogical guidelines.  You can print the document image for $3.00.   Their website is dekalbgenealogy.com.

New Malta Obituary Collection

“A Scrapbook of Obituary Collections, People with a Connection to the Community of Malta, IL”  Compiled by Dorothy W. Stoddard, December 2012.  3,274 obits.  These obits are not part of our online database.  If you are looking for an obit on someone from the Malta area contact the Joiner History Room. 

This collection is also for sale in printed ($80) and CD ($20) formats.  All proceeds go to the Malta Historical Society.

Can you help?

The Joiner History Room is seeking to add to its archives pre 1960 telephone books and city directories for the cities of Dekalb and Sycamore.  We are also interested in historical documents pertaining to DeKalb County.  You don't have to send the original historical document, copies will be just as good.  If you have such an item to donate, please email the Joiner History Room.  In the subject line enter "Item to Donate."  Thank you.