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Thread: Timothy Dexter

  1. #1

    Timothy Dexter

    Why have I never heard of this absolute legend before?

    Timothy Dexter

    Timothy Dexter (January 22, 1747 – October 23, 1806) was an American businessman noted for his writing and eccentricity.


    Dexter was born in Malden in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. He had little schooling and dropped out of school to work as a farm laborer at the age of eight. When he was 16, he became a tanner's apprentice. In 1769, he moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts. He married 32-year-old Elizabeth Frothingham, a rich widow, and bought a mansion.

    At the end of the American Revolutionary War, he bought large amounts of deprecated Continental currency that was worthless at the time. At war's end, the U.S. government made good on its notes at one percent of face value, while Massachusetts paid its own notes at par. His arbitrage enabled him to amass a considerable profit. He built two ships and began an export business to the West Indies and Europe.

    Because he was largely uneducated, his business sense was considered peculiar. He was advised to send bed warmers—used to heat beds in the cold New England winters—for resale in the West Indies, a tropical area. This advice was a deliberate ploy by rivals to bankrupt him. His ship's captain sold them as ladles to the local molasses industry and made a handsome profit. Next, Dexter sent wool mittens to the same place, where Asian merchants bought them for export to Siberia.

    People jokingly told him to "ship coal to Newcastle". Fortuitously, he did so during a Newcastle miners' strike, and his cargo was sold at a premium. On another occasion, practical jokers told him he could make money by shipping gloves to the South Sea Islands. His ships arrived there in time to sell the gloves to Portuguese boats on their way to China.

    He exported Bibles to the East Indies and stray cats to Caribbean islands and again made a profit; Eastern missionaries were in need of the Bibles and the Caribbean welcomed a solution to rat infestation. He also hoarded whalebones by mistake, but ended up selling them profitably as corset stays.

    While subject to ridicule, Dexter's boasting makes it clear that he understood the value of cornering the market on goods that others did not see as valuable and the utility of "acting the fool".

    New England high society snubbed him. Dexter bought a large house in Newburyport from Nathaniel Tracy, a local socialite, and tried to emulate him. He decorated his house in Newburyport with minarets, a golden eagle on the top of the cupola, a mausoleum for himself and a garden of 40 wooden statues of famous men, including George Washington, William Pitt, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, and himself. It had the inscription, "I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western World". Dexter also bought an estate in Chester, New Hampshire.

    His relationships with his wife, daughter, and son suffered. He told visitors that his wife had died, despite the fact that she was still living, and that the woman who frequented the building was simply her ghost. In one notable episode, Dexter faked his own death to see how people would react. About 3,000 people attended Dexter's mock wake. Dexter did not see his wife cry, and after he revealed the hoax, he caned her for not mourning his death sufficiently.


    At age 50, Dexter authored the book A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, in which he complained about politicians, the clergy, and his wife. The book contains 8,847 words and 33,864 letters, but without any punctuation and with unorthodox spelling and capitalization. One section begins:
    Ime the first Lord in the younited States of A mercary Now of Newburyport it is the voise of the peopel and I cant Help it and so Let it goue

    The first edition was self published in Salem, Massachusetts in 1802. Dexter initially distributed his book for free, but it became popular and was reprinted eight times. The second edition was printed in Newburyport in 1805. In the second edition, Dexter responded to complaints about the book's lack of punctuation by adding an extra page of 11 lines of punctuation marks with the instruction that printers and readers could insert them wherever needed.


    Dexter attempted to burnish his own legacy by enlisting the efforts of Jonathan Plummer, a fish merchant and amateur poet, who extolled his patron in verse:

    Lord Dexter is a man of fame;
    Most celebrated is his name;
    More precious far than gold that's pure,
    Lord Dexter shine forevermore.

    Some of his social contemporaries considered him very unintelligent; his obituary considered "his intellectual endowments not being of the most exalted stamp".

    Dexter's Newburyport house became a hotel. Storms ruined most of his statues; the only identified surviving statue was that of William Pitt.

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  3. #2
    Lol. I gave a long speech to an old team of mine on Timothy Dexter. ��
    "And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works." - Bastiat

    "It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." - Voltaire

  4. #3
    Wow, good stuff!
    "If a man says he'll get something done, then he'll get it done. You don't need to keep reminding him every 6 months." --phill4paul

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