Saturday, 25 August 2007

Silver-tongued Swindler

Around the year 1790 there flourished among the residents of Bethel township, Pennsylvania, USA a noted swindler named George Savin. He was a man of talent, possessed a winning address and was a thorough master in quick and correct discernment of character. This enabled him for a long time to prey upon the purses of his credulous neighbours with impunity. The following is from a legal case at Harrisburg Assizes October 1798 before Justices Yeates and Smith which will explain the character of his swindling operation. Ironically it is not George Savin who is on trial but an un-named defendant who appears to be in league with him.

The plaintiff declared that whereas George Savin was indebted to him for £100, the defendant promised to accept him as his debtor instead of George Savin on 2nd of July 1790 promising to pay him the said £100 within six weeks or sooner. The evidence from the trial is thus:

Savin was an artful swindler, and gulled a number of ignorant persons to deliver to him various sums of gold and silver, under the pretence that he would double the amount by some chemical process in a short period. He first received, as if reluctantly, some small sums, and delivered to these people in his so called bank a few days afterwards genuine Spanish dollars, apparently new, doubling the sums which they had paid him. When his fame was sufficiently known and the avarice of the weak people in the neighbourhood was highly inflamed, he soon got into his custody considerable sums and then decamped privately in the night from his haunt, a retired (secluded) place 12 miles from Reading, and concealed himself in Dauphin county.

To his latter hiding place he was pursued by the plaintiff and one Francis Umbehocker, two of his dupes, who offered a reward for apprehending him. The person whom they made use of for this purpose ingeniously held out to the defendant the lure of having £200 in specie (coin) at home, ready to be put into Savin's bank, if he (Savin) should come to his house and receive it for multiplication. Some strong suspicious circumstances were shown against the defendant as being in connection with Savin. The latter first came to the house, in pursaunce of the scheme, about ten o'clock at night of the 2nd of July 1790. the plaintiff and Umbehocker lay concealed in the barn and were notified of Savin's presence. On their appearance Savin was alarmed, and desired them to walk upstairs with him. On a signal the defendant also appeared, and some altercation occurred; but afterwards on being informed of their respective demands, he became security for Savin's appearance at his house the next morning before day. Thither they all cameon the 3rd of July, 1790, and the defendant promised to pay the plaintiff his demand against Savin, £100, within six weeks from that time, or sooner, and as Savin owed to Umbehocker $303.11, to pay him $100 down, and the residue on the Tuesday following, at the same house in Dauphin county. Whereupon Savin was set at liberty.

Source: History of the Counties of Dauphin and Lebanon (Edge)

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