The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 53, December 16, 2003, Article 12


  Dave Ginsberg writes: "Recently, I purchased a $5 banknote
  issued by The Farmers' and Merchants' Bank of Memphis, TN.
  The note, which features a central vignette of five figures
  surrounding five Type I gold dollars, is numbered (#3308),
  signed (by [unintelligible first initial] Clarke as Cashier and
  J. Fowlkes as president) and dated March 1, 1854, which
  leads me to conclude that this note was actually issued for
  circulation rather than being an unissued note, as so many
  Obsolete banknotes in the market are.

  In reviewing my copy of "Banking in the American South from
  the Age of Jackson to Reconstruction" by Larry Schweikart
  (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), I
  discovered that this bank has a particularly colorful history.
  According to Mr. Schweikart (who is a Professor of History
  at the University of Dayton and the author of two other books
  on banking history), "Jeptha Fowlkes, a physician turned financier,
  was elected a director [of the bank] together with Seth Wheatley,
  Joseph Watkins. . ., and General Levin Coe on January 6, 1847,
  and immediately began an intrigue against the other directors,
  especially Wheatley."  The bank was "forced to suspend
  operations in May 1847."  On January 26, 1848, "two eastern
  stockholders" began legal action and three days later, when the
  sheriff served an injunction against the officers of the bank, a
  mob formed and tried to take possession of the bank.

  "After two years of legal wranglings, the court appeared ready
  to turn the bank back over to Fowlkes and the directors.
  Opponents and creditors of the bank persuaded former director
  General Levin Coe, a prominent lawyer, to oppose returning the
  bank to Fowlkes.  [While Coe was regarded by some as the
  only man who could rescue the bank,]. . . others, including E.W.M.
  King and Alanon Trigg, regarded Coe as an enemy of Fowlkes.
  After making a court appearance, Coe and two friends ran into
  Trigg and one of his friends.  In the ensuing gun battle, (emphasis
  added) Trigg was killed and Coe suffered a fatal pistol shot in the
  back.  The deaths of Coe and Trigg and the turmoil surrounding
  the bank took its toll on popular support.  Although the bank
  remained convincingly solvent, its notes dropped to 25 percent
  discounts.  After six years the bank was dead."

  This information raises the question: "What exactly do I own?"
  Was this bank liquidated in 1847, as Mr. Schweikart states in a
  table of antebellum Tennessee banks and is suggested by the title
  of one of his sources: "Chronicles of the Farmers' and Merchants'
  Bank of Memphis (1832-1847), by Jesse the "Scribe", ed. by
  James Roper (Memphis, 1960) or did it resume operations?
  Mr. Schweikart, in the above paragraph, implies the bank's notes
  were still circulating in 1850.  Could new notes have been legally
  issued in 1854?  (Certainly, my note hasn't seen much, if any
  circulation.  Although the edges are a bit worn, the note doesn't
  appear to have any folds.)  This note could not have been printed
  prior to 1849 (as gold dollars didn't exist then), but was it printed
  by a bank that was on its last legs, or was it printed and distributed
  by criminals in order to defraud those who didn't know that the
  bank had ceased operations years before?  Was Mr. Fowlkes'
  signature forged or was he in fact guilty of "pilfering, swindling,
  and perjury" as Mr. Schweikart says he was accused of by the
  editor of the Memphis Eagle?

  I'd appreciate hearing from anyone familiar with this bank, or who
  owns a Counterfeit Detector from the period that mentions these
  notes.  Please contact me at ginsburg.d at

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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