PART 7: BANKRUPT – THE CONSEQUENCES OF FREDERICK BESSELL’S WILD TIME IN WINDHAM
In a manila file box, held in the collections of the Phillips Library, of the Peabody Essex Museum, are contained all of the claims to Frederick Bessell’s fortune, which were part of his bankruptcy proceedings. In the Prince Family papers, 1732-1839, in Box 1, Folder 11, is referenced “Frederick Bessell bankruptcy.” 1823-1825. Many of the petitions for payment are made by local people, with recognizable names, from the Windham area. There are thousands of dollars in claims! What is truly amazing is the astounding amount of credit, that the good people of Windham and surrounding towns provided to Frederick Bessell.
The claims provide an interesting glimpse into Frederick Bessell’s time in Windham, by detailing the items he purchased, and the various services provided to him while at his camp.
Commonwealth of Mass. August 24th, 1824. Mr. Frederick L.A. Bessell to Abram Pratt Jr. For a short knife: $13.00. November 30th to a silver mounted knife: $60.00. November 30th to a large smooth bored gun: $25.00…
Among the claims are found receipts for copious amounts of alcohol, including, wine, rum, port and brandy.
Then there are the receipts for uniforms, verifying Morrison’s account that Major Dudley used the camp for military training. Among the items in a claim from Amherst, Jan. 10, 1825. Mr. F.L.A. Bessell to Thom. M. Benden. To making a blue uniform coat: $10.00; 5 1/2 yards of gold lace: $9.63; gold chains: $3.50; 6 1/2 …black silk: $8.00; 1 pair of black silk wings: $9.00. 3 yds. Blue cloth: $27.00. 6 gilt buttons: $6.84; The cost of Major Dudley’s coat is as follows: Material Total: $107.85. Labor: $40.00; Gold Wings: $11.00; One brown..$4.00 for a total for $162.85. Must have been a damn fine coat!
Then there were other bills. One has to wonder, if knowing that Bessell was a wealthy man, that they didn’t gouge a little bit with their claims. 1824: Mr. F.L.A. Bessell to William Manning: July 19: Most of Mr. Manning’s bills are mostly for labor and carting material back and forth from Massachusetts to Windham. To horses, wagon and expenses to Windham: $15.00; 2 small wagons, horses and expenses to Ditto: $16.00; …to Windham 6,8 Mr. Manning’s time and expenses: 10.00; Sending man to Windham for you, horse expenses: $3.00; … Merrill’s bill for painting Gig omitted 1823—$14.00; J Sadlers Bill varnishing and ornamenting sleigh: $5.00; 2 pair of lamps 10.00 12.00 – $22.00… Total Bill for $264.87
Then there is this: F.L.A. Bessell to Robert Barnet. August 1824. Among the miscellaneous charges are: To washing $3.50; To washing: $8.17; to Altering pantaloons: .70; to ribbon: $4.17; Sewing silk ribbon: $1.98; Making window curtains @ 4/6 $5.25; …to Making night gown: $1.75; To Making bed pillows: $2.00…etc, for a total of $37.75.
Attorney J. Thom represented most of the local claimants. In 1824, Isaac A. Smith made a claim for 9 spoons, plate: $2.25; A pair of gold sugar tongs: $25.00; 1 Patent Flute & Flageolet: $10.00 plus other items for a total of $37.75. Bessell played the flute.
The most reasonable claim was from N.W. Pillsbury who worked many days for Bessell and charged just $1.75 per day for his labor with a yolk of oxen.
One of the largest claims was from Thomas and John Nesmith who were demanding repayment and damages of $300 “for delivery of goods, wares and merchandise.” They operated the store at the Center. Frederick Bessell’s wild time in Windham led to bankruptcy and he became a man without a fortune but as we will learn later, nothing could extinguish his longing for adventure.
The savage murder of Captain Joseph White, while he slept in his bed, in Salem, Massachusetts, was the crime of the 19th century. It happened in April of 1830. You’ll remember that Frederick Bessell was Captain White’s clerk on the voyage to the Orient. The crime would become the inspiration for various writings of Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. There were thirteen stab wounds and a massive blow to the head, involved in his death. “The possibility that more than one assailant might have been involved and that a conspiracy might be afoot fueled unease. Salem residents armed themselves with knives, cutlasses, pistols and watchdogs, and the sound of new locks and bolts being hammered in place was everywhere. Longtime friends grew wary of each other. According to one account, Stephen White’s brother-in-law, discovering that Stephen had inherited the bulk of the captain’s estate, ‘seized White by the collar, shook him violently in the presence of family’ and accused him of being the murderer.” Since nothing was stolen the murderers motive was unclear. Later it was discovered that the murder was a conspiracy between J.F. Knapp. J.J. Knapp and George Crowninshield. The plot was to murder Captain White, then steal his will, so that when he died without a will, the bulk of his estate would go to the Knapp relatives. Little did the conspirators know, that the most recent will, leaving all to Stephen White, was held securely in his lawyer’s office. At the gathering of the White heirs, just after the murder, we hear the last report of Frederick Bessell. “Stephen White and his four children—son Joseph, the Harvard student, and three daughters, Harriet, Caroline, and Ellen—sat with Eliza Story White and her three daughters, Charlotte, fifteen, Mary, eighteen, and the very pregnant Mrs. Elizabeth Gray, twenty. Stephen’s brother John White was there, and Frederick Bessell…”