The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 23, June 8, 2003, Article 22


  Karl Moulton writes: "Here is a minor correction about
  the "Morris' Mirrors" item  in the May 25th E-Sylum.  In the
  1950 book, "Forgotten Patriot-Robert Morris" by Eleanor
  Young, the word used is "reflectors", not mirrors.   They
  were placed above and behind the cashier's cage, who
  used a series of overhead chains or belts to carry silver
  coin filled boxes back and forth to the vault.  The "mirrors"
  were not actually inside the vault.

  The Morris book contains much useful information about the
  early monetary needs of America.  It's a shame that Morris,
  who was the first person to be offered the Secretary of the
  Treasury position, eventually ended up spending three and a
  half years in the Prune Street Prison debtor's building called
  "the Wonder of the World".  It was a far cry from his beloved
  3 story brick mansion on High (Market) Street, which
  President George Washington had utilized during his 8 year

  On page 244 of the Morris book, one rather curious
  September 1798 letter, regarding the current yellow fever
  epidemic, written by Morris while in debtor's prison reads:
  "Our prisoners are gone, except the sick, Banks, Rittenhouse,
  and myself.  They all have the fever, but still I am not alarmed
  although in the house with it."

  My question is this, was Morris referring to David Rittenhouse,
  the first Director of the United States Mint?   Could he have
  ended up in debtor's prison in 1796 due to his extensive
  financial contributions to make that institution successful?  Is
  that why there was a memorial service for Rittenhouse  held
  nearly six months after his reported death?   If anyone has
  conclusive contemporary confirmation of David Rittenhouse's
  death, other than what's reported in the modern numismatic
  texts, I would certainly like to hear about it."

  [The earliest Rittenhouse reference in my library is "Memoirs
  of the Life of David Rittenhouse" by William Barton, 1813
  According to this work, Rittenhouse died at home on June 26,
  1796. -Editor]

  After passing this along to Karl, he added:  "Brooke Hindle's
  1964 book about David Rittenhouse describes a memorial
  service held on Saturday, December 17, 1796 at the First
  Presbyterian Church on High Street.  Dr. Benjamin Rush,
  perhaps Rittenhouse's most ardent admirer at the time, was
  the eulogist.

  It's just the timeframe of having Rittenhouse die in the
  Summer, and then having a memorial service in the midst
  of Winter some 6 months later, that struck me as being
  rather odd.  When combined with the Morris reference in
  1798, it becomes even more unusual.

  I don't want to rock the boat here, I merely want to have
  valid contemporary confirmation on the official timeframe
  of his death (meaning not from a later, secondary source)."

  According to Barton's 1813 work, Rittenhouse died on
  the morning of June 26, 1796.  Barton, who was
  Rittenhouse's nephew, was supposedly in the room when
  this happened.  However, according to Hindle, Barton's
  "Memoirs" book is "frustrating" because "he did select only
  the portions he liked and he deleted words and phrases" to
  located original Rittenhouse manuscripts.  Hence, the Barton
  book can't be considered as completely factual and is most
  likely biased to some degree.

  Does anyone have any mentions of Rittenhouse, other than
  the one in the 1798 Morris letter while at prison?  Considering
  the 6 month time delay, the possibility exists that Dr. Rush was
  attempting to protect the good name of David Rittenhouse
  when he had actually been sent to jail (albeit in poor health).
  The later Barton work would have naturally built upon this
  in order to achieve the same results.  I beg the question,
  did Rush and Barton collaborate on setting the "official"
  date of Rittenhouse's death?

  There have been other well-believed numismatic related stories
  handed down that are eventually found to be in error.  The
  one about Joseph J. Mickley going to the Mint in 1827 and
  getting four 1827/3/2 quarters for a dollar comes to mind.
  Could David Rittenhouse, like Robert Morris, both highly
  respected friends of George Washington, have gone to prison
  because of his benevolent contributions to our nations first

  If all of this is true, for Rittenhouse to have been reportedly
  buried beneath the floor of his observatory at his residence,
  means that when his house on Seventh St. was razed for
  making an overpass to downtown, we lost the marble slab
  and remains of one of our nation's most dedicated and
  influential citizens.  In any event, I'm proud to be the
  present owner of the original June 15, 1782 deed to David
  Rittenhouse's property."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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