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HENRY MEIGGS (1811-1877)
San Francisco Swindle, 1854

Daily Alta California, 8 October 1854


$1,000,000 Comptroller's Warrants Forged!




The city was thrown into a tremendous state of excitement yesterday afternoon, by the discovery that stupendous forgeries had been committed in City Comptroller's Warrants, all the circumstances tending to fix the guilt upon a man who, until within a day or two past, has stood high in the estimation of the community.

Yesterday morning rumors became prevalent that Henry and John Meiggs had left the city. It was known that the former had failed to meet his liabilities, and there was therefore some reason to be given why he should have made such a sudden disappearance. But this did not account for the departure of his brother, who, it was generally supposed had gone with him, until about three o'clock in the afternoon, the rumors which had been gathering strength through the day assumed a tangible form, and Henry Meiggs stood charged before the community with having forged or caused to be forged City Comptroller's Warrants to the amount of about half a million of dollars, and with making an overissue of stock in the California Lumber Company, of which he was President, to the amount of three hundred thousand dollars more.

On Friday morning, Mr. Park, the Attorney of Messrs. Adams & Co, took one of the thousand-dollar pieces, which had been hypothecated by Mr. Meiggs to ex-Mayor Garrison, and ex-Comptroller Harris, both of whom declared the signature genuine. Messrs. Adams & Co. by this time, began to suspect that the securities which they held to the amount of $40,000 were forged, and early in the afternoon became satisfied of the fact.

Dr. Crowell a few days since received through R. S. Clyde, broker, fifteen thousand dollars' worth of scrip with the note of Henry Meiggs, on which he loaned $6000. Yesterday morning, after the rumors of Meigg's departure became prevalent, Dr. Crowell went to the office of Page, Bacon & Co., where the scrip was deposited, and taking one of the pieces, proceeded to the office of ex-Mayor Garrison, and showing him his name with which the scrip was countersigned, asked if it was his signature. He replied that it was, upon which Dr. Crowell went to ex-Comptroller Harris, and asked him the same question in regard to his signature, and received an affirmative reply. Upon examining the registry, it was found, however, that the numbers and dates did not agree, upon which Dr. Crowell was convinced that the Warrants were forged.

The following advertisements appeared in the evening papers, and all who had previously known nothing of the matter soon became informed of the facts.

[ From the Evening Journal. ]

We would caution the public not to purchase any City Comptroller's Warrants of any description until we are able to announce the result of some investigations we are making with reference to $20,000 worth, which we have received of Henry Meiggs as security for borrowed money. We have reason to suspect that Mr. Meiggs has forged large sums of them, on which he has obtained loans, and has now absconded as the day of detection was approaching. Adams & Co.

[ From the Evening News.]

Notice to the Public— Having learned that a Promissory Note is in circulation. dated San Francisco, July 27th, 1854, for Fifteen Thousand Dollars, payable at eighty days, to the order of H. Meiggs, and purporting to be made by us, we give notice that such note has not been made by us, and that we will not pay the same — the signature, "Wm. Neely Thompson & Co," to said note being a forgery. Wm. Neely Thompson & Co.

The publication of these notices created a tremendous excitement on Montgomery street, and the doors of the brokers' offices and the street corners were soon thronged with people, all anxious to ascertain the particulars. By four o'clock in the afternoon $253,000 worth of the forged scrip had been identified at the Comptroller's office. The forged note, above spoken of, was in the hands of Mr. Luning, a broker, who had $56,000 worth of the forged scrip. The warrants are in thousand and five-hundred dollar pieces, and purport to have been drawn on the street assessment fund, most of them dated in July. A portion of them are upon the old plate, and others upon a new plate, expressly got up for street assessments. The signatures are executed in the most perfect manner, which is exemplified by the fact of their having deceived even the purported signers. Some of the certificates are filled up, with an evident attempt at counterfeiting the writing of the clerk, while others are filled up in the handwriting of Henry Meiggs, without any attempt at concealment. Some of the warrants lacked the Mayor's, and some the Comptroller's signature. The scrip has not been thrown into the market for sale, but has been hypothecated, and loans obtained upon it, generally at the rate of fifty cents on the dollar. It is supposed that large quantities of it have been remitted to the Atlantic States.

Most of the loans upon these warrants have been effected within the last fortnight; and it is said by the best judges that the warrants are struck off on the genuine plates, which must therefore have been obtained possession of. Among the incidents connected with this affair is the following: — On Monday last, Mr. Meiggs went to Henry Haight, Esq., of the house of Page, Bacon & Co., and told him that be must have $50,000, and offered him as security warrants for double the amount. Mr. Haight informed him that he could not do it; upon which Mr. Meiggs offered to double the security — that is, to hypothecate his warrants at the rate of twenty-five cents on the dollar. Mr. Haight still said he could not spare the money then, but if he could wait till Friday, he would let him have it. There is a large amount of this scrip on which money has been obtained in small sums. One young man, a bar-keeper in the Bank Exchange, we understand, had $3000 of it. MacKenzie, the Constable, had $1300; and Mr. Matthews, ex-Tax Collector, Smyth Clark, Esq., and Charles P. Duane, all had some of it. It is said that the washerwoman of Mr. Meiggs had two thousand dollars of it. Many have loaned all the money they had in the world upon it, and will thus be ruined.

One Frenchman, it is said, has $40,000, which be purchased at the regular market price. A boy is said to have had $1000, another poor boy $1700, and a mechanic, in this city, $5000.

On Monday last, Mr. Meiggs purchased from Messrs. Abernathy, Clark & Co., the barque America for $10,000, which cleared on Thursday for "Ports in the Pacific," and, it is supposed, that on Wednesday night Mr. Meiggs, with his family and his brother, John, sailed away in her. We are informed that on Friday evening the barque was still in sight from Point Lobos.

It is stated that on Thursday night Mr. Meiggs employed a porter to carry two large carpet-bags heavily loaded with what is now supposed to have been gold coin to Jackson street wharf, from whence it was taken to the barque, and it is supposed, that he has carried off three or four hundred thousand dollars. The lumber stock, which has been overissued, has most of it been hypothecated at from twenty to fifty cents on the dollar.

It is, of course, impossible at this time to obtain anything like a correct list of the losers in this transaction. We have made out a partial list, but as it cannot be expected to be correct and might do injustice to some of the parties, we have concluded not to publish it till it can be correctly ascertained.

It is stated that within the past week or two, a partner of Cryder, a notorious forger, has been seen in constant communication with John Meiggs. R. S. Clyde, a broker, through whom Mr. Meiggs had effected several loans upon the forced scrip, was yesterday afternoon arrested, but it appearing that he had been merely negotiating it for others, he was discharged. Messrs. Godeffroy, Sillem & Co had a judgment against Mr. Meiggs of $200,000. The estimate of loss by the whole transactions of Meiggs stands about as follows:

Extent of liabilities at the time of failure, $800,000; Forged Comptroller's Warrants, estimated at $1,000,000; Overissue of stock, $300,000.

This is one of the most beautifully concocted and executed frauds, the development of which ever broke upon a community. It scarcely seems possible that Henry Meiggs, who a few days since stood so high in the estimation of the people of San Francisco, who has been so long entrusted with her interests in the capacity of a member of the Common Council, should have been so blackly guilty as he has proved himself to be. He has probably sailed for South America, and the law will probably never reach him, but the pangs of a wounded conscience, if he have any, must haunt him till the day of his death. With all his ill-gotten wealth, he is more a subject of pity than envy. We sicken at the picture, and leave remarks upon the whole transaction to a future time, when the whole affair will be in a more tangible form.

Source: California Digital Newspaper Collection, http://cdnc.ucr.edu
Page created: 9-IX-2018
Last updated: 9-IX-2018