Hello, Lovelies! Welcome to this week’s bonkers episode featuring Tiffany’s new hero in life (besides Celine Dione), Lord Timothy Dexter! We had so much fun discussing his crazy antics and what we would do if we had that much disposable income (plans that absolutely involve wooden statues of each other).
In this blog post you’ll find Rebecca’s notes, the video that inspired Rebecca’s topic, and the commercial Ashley sang during the episode. (Sorry guys, did not include the Google search Ashley did mid episode, ya’ll are on your own for that one)
Apologies in advance for the timeline. Many sources had conflicting timelines.
Born in the late winter months in 1748 (mixed sources on the month, but they seem to agree that it was the 22 day), in Malden, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, was a man who had a knack for being on lady luck’s good side.
Timothy Dexter came from a poor family that immigrated from Ireland around a century previously. He received little education as a growing up and received his first job as a farm hand at the age of 8.
By his early teens, Dexter left the farm managed to receive an apprenticeship with a leather dresser, moving to Boston to start working towards mastering the craft.
While generally considered a career path for the lower class, Dexter’s teachers in Boston had monopolized the art of working with “Moroccan Leather”, a material that was in high demand for the fashion influencers of the time. While it didn’t bring home a ton of bacon, it was still a lucrative job
In 1769, at the age of 21, Dexter had completed his apprenticeship and decided to go into the leather making business himself, specializing in gloves and moosehide breeches.
It was during this time that a couple things happened, and the timeline gets a little murky, but there’s a few things we know for sure. He did initially set up his own leather-working business and located it in Charleston, which was known in Boston for its leather goods.
Dexter met, charmed, and married Elizabeth Frothingham, a wealthy, 32-year-old woman with four children. It was in her house that he ultimately decided to set up shop for his leather business.
BTW, Rebecca found the commercial Ashley was talking about:
Elizabeth was mocked for marrying a much younger man who was also a couple social tiers beneath her. Despite that, Dexter was able to save a bit of money with his craft.
It quickly became apparent that Dexter was attracted more to Elizabeth’s wealth than herself and Dexter quickly became a pain to his more affluent neighbors, which included John Hancock (Governor of the commonwealth) and Thomas Russel (one of the richest men in the county).
Having married into money, he was not considered among his peers to be “one of them”, a fact Dexter worked to disprove.
Part of this included Dexter pestering these local gentleman for a seat in public office. And by pestering, I mean submitting petition after petition to the Malden, MA governing body until, probably just to get him to be quiet, created a position for Dexter.
This position was called “Informer of Deer”. Some of his duties involved keeping track of the town’s fawn populations. Those who appointed Dexter to this position conveniently left out the fact that Malden’s government records noted “the last deer had disappeared from the Malden woods nineteen years before.”
Either way this satisfied Dexter. Now that he no longer needed to pursue a public office, this allowed Dexter time to multiply his wealth. He started with the Continental Dollar.
Though around $250 million worth of this currency was manufactured, vendors were skeptical of its actual value and therefore many decided not to accept the currency (and it was kinda overprinted).
“In November of 1776, $19 million in Continental currency had been issued and one could still buy $1.00 worth of goods for $1.00 in paper. By November of 1778, $31 million had been issued, and it took $6.00 in paper to buy the same amount. By November 1779, $226 million was in circulation and it took $40.00 in paper to buy $1.00 in goods.”
During the war, soldiers had been paid with this next to useless currency. Dexter’s neighbors, including Hancock and Russel, started buying the currency to build up public confidence.
Dexter took note of what his neighbors were doing, and, in an ever going quest to gain approval from his influential neighbors, started buys Continental Dollars too. And he bought a lot of them. Gathering both his and his wife’s savings, he bought all he could for fractions of pennies on the dollar.
This investment was bad enough to give economists of today nightmares, but this is where Dexter’s luck started to kick in. When the Constitution was ratified in the 1790s, the Continentals were allowed to be traded in for US treasury bonds for 1% face value. While this was done mostly for Alexander Hamilton who had also had quite a bit of this currency, Dexter made bank.
Despite his newfound, astronomical wealth, Dexter still couldn’t break into the inner circle that was his elitist peers. Despite the fact that Dexter was considered crude, distasteful, and had a habit of not being able to keep his mouth shut during inopportune moments, Dexter was convinced his rejection was because his neighbors were just stuck up.
This caused Dexter to pack up his wife and her children and move to Newburyport, MA.It was here that Dexter purchased cream colored horses, a coach that had his initials carved on the side, a fleet of shipping vessels (some sources say he built 2), and then built a lavish chateau looking over the sea. No expense was spared on this chateau, right down to the 40 giant wooden statues Dexter had commissioned that graced the property.
These statues included people important to United States history, such as Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, to the goddesses of Fame and Liberty, and of course, one of himself. His statue came complete with the inscription:
“I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western world”
Reminder, Dexter did not have much of an education and has not contributed anything to the world of philosophy, let alone read any great works in that field.
Oh, and these statues cost $2,000 a piece. What cost $2000 in 1800 would cost $30,437.01 in 2019. The statues together cost more than the estate.
“It made the bumpkins stare,” writes Samuel L. Knapp, “and gave the owner the greatest pleasure.”
As expected, Dexter’s neighbors were not pleased with the fact that Dexter was doing a helluva job on their property values, so they fed Dexter with bad investment advice every chance they could get with the hope that they could bankrupt this eccentric man so he would go away.
One neighbor advised Dexter to sell warming pans (those things used to warm beds during the winter in the 1800s) in the West Indies (located in the carribean, and has average temperatures between 81 and 86 degrees fahrenheit)
Despite the constant chuckles from literally everyone, Dexter purchased 42,000 warming pans and set off for the West Indies. When he got there and realized the weren’t selling, he rebranded them as ladles and sold them to the owners of sugar and molasses plantations.
Due to demand, Dexter was able to mark up the price 79%, and then returned home.
At another time, one of his neighbors advised Dexter to ship coal to Newcastle (which was and still is a big exporter of coal… but Dexter didn’t know this).
When Dexter arrived he found the mines in the middle of a strike, and thus sold all his coal and came home that much richer. His riches allowed him to do what he wanted to earn money.
During one venture, Dexter gathered all the stray cats he could find, and shipped them to the Carribean. Turns out they had a rat infestation, welcomed their new furry friends, and willingly paid for them.
There was one point Dexter went to Boston, purchased 340 tons of whale bones, eventually becoming the only source for this key component for ladies corsets at the time, and sold them at a 75% markup.
Not all of his endeavours were harmless. One account tells of Dexter buying wholesale Bibles at $0.41 cents each and informing the West Indies that they would all go to hell if each family did not have a bible. He sold $47,000 work of the Holy text.
By the end of the 18th century, Dexter’s eccentricity had become well known across the Eastern states. This didn’t bother Dexter, since he considered all attention good attention.
His goal was to become a nobleman, but was continuously rejected by his peers, who were able to sense his lack of education and manners by his regular antics.
One source noted that Dexter was a drunk, often being drunk in the evening and hungover in the morning. This caused Dexter to conduct most of his business in the morning.
Eventually, Dexter’s antics started getting the wrong type of attention. While they stayed married, their marriage deteriorated to the point that Dexter started telling people that she died, and that it was her ghost that lived in the house.
They did have two kids, a son and daughter. One was described as a drunk and the other was described as a raving mad drunk.
Considering the estate to the aesthetically embarrassing, Dexter’s wife decided it was time for her to live elsewhere in the neighborhood, so she moved out. Dexter’s son took her place and the estate turned into a party house, where the wine flowed freely and women came and went, and they essentially trashed the place.
Remember those statues? Each had an inscription at the bottom that Dexter like to have repainted often. One poor painter was instructed to change the inscription under Thomas Jefferson’s statue which read “Declaration of Independence”. Dexter insisted to have the inscription changed to “Constitution”, a point which the painter argued. Dexter the proceed to take out his Longrifle and took aim at the painter, narrowly missing. The painter changed it to constitution.
As part of his antics to be accepted, Dexter started acquiring a large library, despite reading no more than 10 minutes a day.
He upped his antics, and this included surrounding himself with those equally as eccentric, including Madam Hooper, a local rich widow who would give Dexter astrological advice in exchange for tea.
At one point Dexter hired his own poet laureate, Johnathan Plummer, a 20 year old boy who was selling halibut from a wheelbarrow in a market (and one source said porn? What was porn in the 1800s? Paintings of lady’s ankles?). After learning that Italian poets were crowned with mistletoe, Dexter constructed a crown of parsley for the boy since that was all that was available in his garden at that time.
But having his own personal poet wasn’t enough for Dexter’s ego. He would often take to the streets, asking innocent passersby is they knew of “the greatest man of the East”. No matter the answer, the victim would be subjected to a long-winded account of Dexter’s accomplishments.
It was around this point Dexter declared himself a lord. His staff quickly adjusted to Lord Timothy Dexter.
Reminder: Dexter had minimal education. So the book was riddled with misspellings, random capitalization, and had zero punctuation. The working title was “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones, or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress.” which didn’t make sense even after you attempted to read his book.
Realizing that noblemen rarely sold their memoirs, opting instead to hand them out as gifts to a select few, Dexter decided to stand by the roadside, handing his book out to all passersby.
Surprisingly, the book was popular enough for a second printing. After being hounded by his editor, Dexter added a full page at the end of punctuation marks, with instructions for the reader to “pepper and salt them as you please.”
Despite his antics, Dexter was dissatisfied with the amount of adulation received from his peers. So, like normal people do, he faked his own death to see how people REALLY felt about the amazing Lord Timothy Dexter.
The tomb was a well-ventilated and extravagant basement of a summer home. The coffin was constructed by the best cabinet-maker in the area using the finest mahogany one can buy. One source says apparently the coffin was so fine that Dexter took to sleeping in it for weeks afterwards.
He had a few trusted people organize the event, and fortunately he let his wife and children in on this prank, giving them strict instructions to act the part.
On the day of his funeral, 3,000 people showed up to the grand affair. Dexter watched gleefully from beneath a board of wooden planks. As expensive liquor flowed, Dexter was pleased to see his son mourning (albeit drunk), but was shocked to see that his wife’s face was smiling and dry.
Dexter then approached his wife in the kitchen, caned her and, when that caused a commotion causing other attendees to see what was happening, Dexter greeted them with a smile then proceeded to join in on the merriment.
On October 26, 1806, Dexter quietly passed away, for real this time, at the age of 59.
His estate was divided equally between his wife, children, and those close to him.
In 1815, a strong gale came through and blew down most of his wooden statues. The statues were then auctioned off, going for whopping prices that ranged between $0.50 and $5.
Even in death, society still did their best to separate themselves from Dexter. Newburyport’s Board of health claimed that the tomb Dexter had constructed years earlier was unsanitary. Lord Timothy Dexter was (finally) laid to rest in a cemetery.