Hamilton’s adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds came to light on Nov. 16, 1792, when her husband and one Jacob Clingman were arrested on charges of “having Employed, Aided and abetted a certain John Delabar to defraud the United States of a Sum of money value near Four hundred Dollars, and having Suborned the said Delabar to commit a wilful and corrupt Perjury before George Campbell Esq. register for the probate of wills and Granting Letters of Administration.”
Here’s what went down: On April 23, 1792, Delabar, Clingman, and Reynolds filed a document in Campbell’s office swearing they were the “Heirs, Executors, and Administrators” of one Ephraim Goodenough, who was from Massachusetts, but had been living in Virginia since the war. A note in the margins of the forged document states that the administrator (Delabar) claimed to be the brother-in-law of the deceased.
As you can see in the document below--the actual one used to commit the infamous fraud--Delabar used his real name while his accomplices assumed the aliases of Isaac Hfty (signed Huty), blacksmith, and William Gurdin (signed Gurtin), cooper. Delabar also listed his occupation as cooper—one who builds barrels, for those unfamiliar with the crafts of yore.
Goodenough’s name had been chosen from a confidential roster of former soldiers in Virginia and North Carolina to whom the government owed arrears, land grants, and pensions—a list obtained underhandedly from a contact inside the Treasury Department.
The document shown herein is the actual one used to perpetrate the infamous fraud against Goodenough. The signatures below Delabar’s were forged by Reynolds and Clingman. The sloppiness of Hufty’s autograph suggests it was probably the one written by Reynolds, who was uneducated and, therefore, only marginally literate (as his letters confirm).
The forger of Hufty’s signature did slightly better on a like document dated May 8, 1792. This time, the alleged administrator was one Edith McKee of Dover, Delaware (Maria Reynolds, perhaps?). The purported deceased was Samuel Hodgings, who the government had granted 200 acres of military land to reward his seven years of service on the Virginia Line.
John Delabar also signed the application, making its unauthenticity assured. A warrant transfer found in the military archives verifies that, on Sept. 3, 1792, Edith McKee, whoever she really was, laid claim to one hundred of Hodgings’s allotted acres. Both falsified documents are shown herein.
Delabar’s signature appears on yet another Letters of Administration application, this one dated May 14, 1792 and naming Elizabeth Bennet (who signed a triangular mark instead of her name) as the executor of one William Morgen’s estate. The third signatory in that claim was Henry Spengler, a country blacksmith married to a Mary Delabar, likely a relation of John’s.
Because Isaac Hufty was a real person (a blacksmith late of the Pennsylvania Militia’s Sixth Battalion), the crooks might well have forged Spengler’s signature as well.
Elizabeth Bennet, also claiming to be from Dover, pretended to be the sister of Morgen, a pensioner who fought in the Virginia Militia. According to census and pension records, Morgen died in 1840, not 1782.
The warrants for the arrests of Clingman, Reynolds, and Delabar were sworn out by Oliver Wolcott Jr., the comptroller for the Treasury, who apprehended Clingman and Delabar first. Clingman then set up Reynolds by having a merchant whose books he once kept (and who’d refused to bail him out earlier that day) summon Reynolds to the house of Alderman Hilary Baker, where he, too, was taken into custody.
Thereafter, Reynolds and Delabar remained in jail while Clingman, free on bail, provided by an unknown benefactor, tied up the loose ends in his scheme to frame Hamilton for speculating. His first step in this process was to call upon another former employer, Speaker of the House Frederick A. C. Muhlenberg.
When Muhlenberg, accompanied by Aaron Burr, took Clingman’s case to Hamilton and Wolcott, he was told they’d be more disposed toward leniency if the accused would pay back the stolen money, surrender the list of veterans he’d used to commit the fraud, and give up the name of his contact inside the Treasury Department.
Muhlenberg later explained (truthfully or not) that, over the next three weeks, Clingman frequently dropped hints to him, “that Reynolds had it in his power very materially to injure the Secretary of the Treasury.” The Speaker, despite pronouncing Reynolds to be “a rascal,” enlisted two hard-core Jefferson allies in congress to help him conduct an “inquiry” into the accusations. These men were James Monroe, a “general” in the Jeffersonian conspiracy against Hamilton, and Abraham Venable, a boot-licking lapdog of “Old Uncle Tom’s.”
Hi, I'm Nina Mason, an author, investigative journalist, history buff, and self-professed Hamilton fan (not the musical, the historical figure). Herein, I will share interesting tidbits related to my investigation into my belief that the Reynolds Affair and duel with Aaron Burr were part of a larger conspiracy against Hamilton directed by Thomas Jefferson.