The Revoluntionary College Project
chestertown 5 dollar bill

ABOVE - (click on image to enlarge) - Collection of Adam Goodheart

Red SwirlChestertown $5 Bill, 1861

In 19th-century America, private banks were permitted to print and circulate their own currency. This very rare five-dollar note was issued by the Farmers & Mechanics Bank of Kent County, located in Chestertown, and is dated March 1, 1861, little more than a month before the outbreak of the Civil War. It is signed by the bank's cashier, S.W. Spencer, and its vice-president, George B. Westcott. Westcott was a longtime trustee of Washington College, and one of the wealthiest citizens of Chestertown; he lived in what is now known as the Geddes-Piper House. He was involved in overseeing the construction of East and West Halls on the College campus.

The design of this banknote is a rich example of the iconography of idealized economic prosperity in 19th-century America. On the left, a mariner cradles his sextant as a merchant ship sails past. In the center, a farmer leads a pair of horses, harnessed for ploughing, to the sturdy village blacksmith; his plough, rake, and sickle (which perhaps need mending) lie on the ground to the left. On the right, a woman sits carding wool, a vivid example of how women's work was becoming recognized as an essential part of the nation's economic life. In the background behind her, a factory (probably a textile mill) is the engraver's only acknowledgment of the burgeoning technologies of mass production that, by 1861, were fast displacing the old world of independent artisans and yeomen that this banknote glorifies.

This banknote was engraved and printed in Philadelphia by the firm of Toppan, Carpenter & amp; Co., so the vignettes are probably standard ones. Bills like this were frequently counterfeited in the 19th century, so it includes a number of security features, such as the name of the bank and the denomination in microprint along the top and bottom borders. The reverse of the note is blank.

According to Frederick Usilton's 1916 history of Kent County:

"The Farmers and Mechanics' Bank was incorporated in October, 1849, with these directors: Geo. Vickers, George B. Westcott, James B. Ricaud, Richard Hynson, Hugh Wallis, William F. Smyth, P. C. Blackiston, Wesley Wiley, Daniel Collins, Thomas R. Browne, G. O. Trenchard, G. B. Westcott, president; S. W. Spencer, cashier. They started in the room occupied by C. H. Wickes, Esq., and a banking house was afterwards erected on the McClain lot. The statement in 1852 showed deposits of $15,037.37, and circulation $52,238.00; loans, $53,891.25. The Kent National succeeded the Mechanics' and closed its career in 1885, under the management of the late George B. Westcott. It paid handsome dividends."

 


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