June 2020 - Welcome
Our Total Collection
Coins by Grade
Coins by VAM
The Aging VAM 1D
Devolving VAM 5
1881 The Mint & NO
One and Done
Two and Through
Click on year to expand
David M. Bradford, Jr.
Post Mint Events
As we ended the year and look back a lot happened and 2020 is proving to be quite busy, even with the COVID quarantine.
We have five coins to send to Leroy for analysis and that needs to get going in January. Hopefully there is a little something new in the group.
We have twenty coins to send to JB for VAM analysis and photography, but like everyone else the world seems to be in slow motion right now.
New Orleans and Louisiana
Any time I think about the history of the Mint in New Orleans I get a little flashback to a trip my wife and I took many years back. We did a nice riverboat cruise up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Natchez, Mississippi.
Along the way we stopped in Baton Rouge and took a tour of the old State Capital where they show off the bullet hole in the wall where Huey Long was shot. And they tell the story of how Huey wanted a new Governor's Mansion and the legislature refused. So he brought convicts from a local prison and literally beat the existing mansion to the ground, thereby forcing the legislature to fund a new one.
As our guide informed us: "Here in Louisiana politics is one of our only forms of entertainment. We have had some honest politicians from time to time, but they don't last because they aren't entertaining."
I don't know about the overall accuracy of her statement, but reading and studying the lives of the Mint Superintendents gives some weight to her observations.
And with that backdrop starts the study of the Mint Superintendents at New Orleans. We begin our discussion with David M. Bradford, Jr., the first Mint Superintendent who served from 1837 to 1839.
Unfortunately many of the newspaper and other articles studied here are not sourced beyond Ancestry.com and cannot be footnoted other than to that source. Where more detail is available it is provided.
The New Orleans Mint
Andrew Jackson's distrust and disdain for banks of all kinds led him to veto the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States in 1832. Following this decision Congress authorized the creation of three southern mints in Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans. From Jackson's perspective this gave a balance of economic power to the South and somewhat neutralized the large banking concerns in the North.
New Orleans was particularly important because of its port and the amount of bullion that did and could flow through it. Charlotte and Dahlonega were important because of gold strikes and the need to covert bullion into coins.
The design and construction of the Mint can be a complete study, but it was completed and began operation on March 8, 1838.
The top job in any Branch Mint was that of Superintendent. It was top paying and wielded a reasonable amount of authority and influence with local and Federal authorities.
But for us the question here is: "How did David M. Bradford, Jr. become the Mint's first superintendent?".
David M. Bradford, Sr.
The elder Bradford was a successful lawyer and Deputy Attorney General for Washington County, Pennsylvania. He as also one of the organizers or a prominent figure of the "Whiskey Rebellion" that George Washington put down in 1794. It seems that he acquired his honorary "General" title from the Whiskey Rebellion and not the Revolutionary War. After the Whiskey Rebellion a general pardon was issued for the participants, except for Bradford.
His Whiskey Rebellion service was described in a letter in 1794 as follows: "David Bradford assumed the office of major-general; mounted on a superb horse in splendid trappings, arrayed in full martial uniform, with plumes floating in the air and sword drawn, he rode over the ground, gave orders to the military, and harangued the multitude. Never was a mortal man more flattered than was David Bradford on Braddock's Field. Everything depended on his will. The insurgents adored him, paid him the most servile homage in order to be able to control and manage him."
Though stories conflict over the exact route, David Bradford, Sr. moved into Louisiana to avoid prosecution and acquired several thousand acres of land in a grant from the Spanish Government. As in Pennsylvania, he became a successful planter in Louisiana which may have given him influence in our story. He had family connections on the Federal level through his wife and later his children. The family connections to political figures continued for several generations, which also plays into this narrative.
Whiskey Dave was later granted a pardon by John Adams in 1799 for his participation in the rebellion.
One newspaper account of his life is one we might all like to avoid. "He was a vain, shallow man, with some talent for popular declamation, which in the present state of the public mind might be productive of mischief. Fortunately he had not the capacity to form any deep consistent plan which looked beyond the present moment with foresight of all consequences."
Not the best epitaph for anyone!
Today Whiskey Dave is somewhat of a folk hero with festivals, memorabilia, home tours, and annual remembrances and celebrations of the Whiskey Rebellion.
In Louisiana he also left a legacy with his plantation which he called Laurel Grove. Today it is known as Myrtles Plantation and is considered by some to be the most haunted house in America.
The documents of the day rarely list David Bradford as junior, and perhaps he had dropped that suffix after his father's death in 1808. But from my reading he was David M. Bradford, Jr., the son of "General" David M. Bradford.
After the death of the senior Bradford, our David Bradford, Jr. inherited a portion of his father's land and also became a planter. However, he seems to have had more interest in politics and the law than his land. Regardless, when your father is the larger than life figure of "Whiskey Dave" you have a lot to live up to and maybe a little to prove.
Born in 1796 he lived to the age of 48 and died in 1844. He married Amanda Davis in 1820, the sister of Jefferson Davis. Together they had nine children one of whom was named Jefferson Davis Bradford who went on to be appointed to West Point by President Franklin Pierce in 1856.
And it is this connection to the Davis family that seems to be the key connection for David Bradford in his rise to the job as Superintendent of the New Orleans Mint.
Jefferson Davis went to West Point and graduated in June 1828. He was assigned to an Army unit under Zachary Taylor, the future President of the United States. During his service he fought in the Black Hawk War and the Mexican-American War.
Jefferson Davis' connection with Zachary Taylor was further strengthened when he married Taylor's daughter Sarah Knox Taylor in 1835. Sarah unfortunately died of yellow fever or malaria only months after they were married. He then married Varina Banks Howell in 1845. She was the daughter of New Jersey Governor Richard Howell.
Davis' political career obviously had many more chapters, but for our story here he was a rising and influential figure in Washington politics during the era.
So we now have a situation where strong family and political connections open the door to opportunity for David Bradford, Jr. We know that Bradford ran for the U. S. Senate in 1826 but fell short in the voting. We also know that he favored the law and politics over the life of plantation management.
So it could be that with the strong connection to Jefferson Davis and indirect connections to Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, and Richard Howell, Bradford was given the job of the first Superintendent of the Mint in New Orleans.
The political figures involved may have looked at the Superintendent's job as one of relatively low political risk and a good favor to throw to David Bradford. We will never know, but it is certainly plausible with all of Bradford's connections.
Bradford became Superintendent in 1837, but was gone by 1839, so what happened? Well it was not just Bradford that was gone. Three key officers of the Mint were David Bradford, Superintendent; Edmond Forstall, Treasurer; and James Maxwell, Melter and Refiner. By 1839 Bradford and Forstall and been removed from office and Maxwell died. So there was a lot of turnover of key figures in this brief two year span.
Sometimes the smallest of incidents can lead to big problems, and so it went for David Bradford. We can pick up the details of David Bradford's demise as the Mint Superintendent from an article in the E-Gobrecht May 2017 issue (Volume 13, Issue5). It would appear that all the key officers and some employees were deposed during an investigation of the Mint's operations started by Director Robert M. Patterson. Thomas Slidell, the U. S. Attorney for New Orleans was appointed Commissioner to conduct the investigation. At least 345 pages of depositions survive, so there is plenty of information remaining to understand what happened.
Apparently a depositor, Damien Cass, brought a group of Mexican, Spanish, Portuguese, and American Dollars to the Mint melt or exchange for smaller denomination silver coins. The value expected by Cass was $200 but when he got home and counted what he had been given it was only $199.50. When Cass confronted the Mint about the discrepancy they could not tell if they had paid out the correct amount, or they might in fact owe Cass $212 and had paid that amount. Or based on later evidence was Cass given coins that were struck from light weight planchets? There were earlier events that drew the attention of the Washington Mint Officials, but this seems to be the event that kicked off the investigation.
Prior to this there had been heated communications concerning the production of half dollars with communications from Washington becoming more pointed. These events later kicked off more than a century of numismatic research trying to figure out how many 1838-O half dollars were struck and conclusions that Mint Officials in New Orleans were involved in covering up the exact number of coins made. This mystery seems to have been solved by Kin Carmody and published in an article in the John Reich Journal, April 2020. The article and a video are available at the Newman Portal and certainly worth reading and watching.
Facts uncovered and listed in surviving depositions in the Mint investigation included:
The weight of the testimony (together with earlier suspicions) was enough for the Washington officials to believe that the New Orleans Mint was either being grossly mismanaged or that new management was needed. This can also be coupled with a clash of management styles with Director Patterson being described as an authoritarian who would not have viewed any issues with suspicion.
Bradford and Forstall were removed from office at the end of the investigation and new management brought in as replacements. Forstall was considered to be the weakest link in the management chain and capable of little more than signing papers that were presented to him. If subordinates were "skimming" bullion from light planchets apparently he lacked the experience to detect it. Adding to the intrigue was the Chief Coiner, Rufus Tyler. He played a key role in the intrigue surrounding the issues but was a much better politician than Bradford. He escaped the reorganization but died in the yellow fever epidemic within a year.
Family connections may help open doors for you, but once you are there you have to be competent to keep a job. Apparently David Bradford was a poor choice for the Superintendent's job and it had started to show.
However, connections can help save you since no charges other than mismanagement were alleged. There was significant evidence of the minting of underweight planchets which could have resulted in profits for Mint officials or employees, and the heated exchange over the 1838-O halves added weight to all the other suspicions. Bradford was thought to be guilty of gross mismanagement or collusion with others minting unauthorized and underweight coins.
For David Bradford the end of his Mint employment was certainly not the end of his story. By 1843 Bradford was again practicing law. Some altercation or event preceded his issuing a duel challenge to John T. Mason. Mason refused the challenge because of Bradford's "advanced age." Accounts vary as to the exact events that unfolded depending on which side you were allied, but here are three accounts.
FATAL RECONTRE - From the last Vicksburg Sentinel we gather the particulars of an unfortunate affair which occurred at Richmond, in this State, last week, in which a man named Bradford was killed by John T. Mason. The circumstances attending this melancholy occurrence, as related to the editor of the Sentinel, are as follows. Mr. Bradford had challenged Mr. Mason to fight a duel, which was refused on account of the advanced age of the challenger. Some time after Bradford came into a billiard room, while Mason was engaged in a game, and reading the challenge aloud, denounced Mason as a coward, &c. He then left the room, and Mason proceeded to his residence, armed himself with a double-barreled shot gun, and came out into the street, where he met with Bradford, and after a few words had passed between them, the latter attempted to draw a pistol, when the former fired both barrels of his gun, which was charged with buckshot, and mortally wounded his antagonist. After receiving the wound, and while lying on the ground, Bradford fired his pistol and wounded Mason, the ball passing through his right arm and bruising his side. Bradford lived but a few minutes after being shot.
The persons who witnessed the fight were unanimously of the opinion that Mason was perfectly justifiable, inasmuch as he acted entirely on the defensive - so says the informant of the Sentinel.
We give place to the following communication, which the writer says is a true statement of the melancholy affair which we published a few days ago. It is not our intention to forestal [sic] public opinion. We gave the statement as related to us.
TO MESSRS. DIXON & CLAIBORNE:
Publishers of the Sentinel, &c.
Gentlemen: In your paper of the 18th inst., there appears a statement, headed "Fatal Rencontre" - that statement is false in every essential particular; improper, as it attempts to forestal [sic] public opinion in a case to be submitted to the proper tribunal for the investigation of crimes, and utterly wicked as it seeks to excuse a base and cowardly murder. Whoever your informant may have been, I hope for his sake, that his opportunity to know the truth was small. It is not true, that the deceased, Mr. Bradford, saw or had any communication with, or read aloud a challenge to John T. Mason, on the day on which the murder was committed.
Mr. Bradford was returning home when Mason, who was standing on the street with a double barrelled [sic] shot gun, hailed him as he approached towards him, (Mason,) asked "are you armed," and immediately fired, and after Mr. Bradford fell wounded, fired the other barrel and ran. Mr. Bradford, as he lay, drew his pistol, cocked it and fired at and wounded slightly the --- --- --- assassin who had got some thirty yards off.
A few minutes afterwards, Mr. B. expired.
The question of what really happened took another twist when John T. Mason was indited for murder by a grand jury.
On May 24, 1844 this account was printed in the Richmond [La.] Compiler
TRIAL AND ACQUITAL [sic] OF JOHN T. MASON ESQ.
Our readers doubtless remember that in March last, we briefly announced the fact, that the late David Bradford, of this parish was killed in the streets of this place by Mr. Mason, who at the time arrested, taken before an examining court, and held to bail for his appearance at the May term of the district court.
On Wednesday the 8th inst., the grand jury returned to the court, a true bill against Mason for murder the next day he was arrested, a special jury summoned, and the case set for trial on the 15th. According to appointment the case was called, a jury empanelled [sic] and able counsel appeared both for the prosecution and the defence [sic].
For the State the District Attorney; Mr. Bonham, Mr. Boyle, of Bayou Sara, Messers. Wallace and Perkins of this parish. For the prisoner, H. S. Foote of Mississippi, D. S. Stacy of Vidalia, and Messrs. Shannon, Amonett, & Pierce of this place.
The investigation of the case occupied the time of the court for three days and a half, during which time, all the circumstances of the case, which were proper to go to the jury, underwent a patient and thorough investigation. Perhaps so great a display of learning and ability, has never before been witnessed in this parish in the investigation and argument of any case. Several of the gentlemen mentioned, made their first appearance before a jury in this cause, and so far as we have heard an expression of opinion, acquitted themselves with great credit.
Gen. Foote closed the argument for the defence [sic], and Mr. Boyle for the prosecution. They were both old and talented lawyers, and the collision of their minds may be compared to the grappling of two giants; but we cannot attempt a notice of their respective speeches.
At 11 o'clock, A. M. on Saturday, Mr. Boyle submitted the case to the jury, and after a short, but clear and impartial charge from Judge Willson, the jury retired to make up verdict. About three or four o'clock in the afternoon, the jury returned into court, and asked to be discharged, on account of their inability to agree upon a verdict, which request was refused by the court, and the jury ordered back to their room.
On Monday morning, soon after the opening of the court, the jury returned the following verdict:
"We the jury find the accused not guilty, in manner and form as charged in the indictment," or in other words, the jury pronounced the act excusable homicide. Great interest was manifested in this trial, and a very large of persons were present during its progress.
Obviously from the competing newspaper accounts opinions differed concerning the events. Today these type challenges and responses are out of our sphere of understanding.
David M. Bradford. Jr.
The Bradford Family
More Information Needed
It would seem to us that we have in the junior David Bradford a somewhat tragic figure. He grew up in the shadow of a father that had become a cult hero of the Whiskey Rebellion. He roughly followed his father's career path, which is not unusual. But for this unsuccessful planter who turned to the law and politics, he produced no better results.
His marriage could have given him the needed contacts and leverage to secure a better life, but instead it led to another failure. In all likelihood he had no management experience other than his farm, which would not transfer to the job of Mint Superintendent.
And then post Mint employment his life took an even more tragic turn resulting in his death.
He is buried in Warren County Mississippi.
After his death David Bradford's life continued to bring more trouble. There was a dispute over his land where twenty creditors claimed to be heirs and a court battle ensued over his land and assets.
In a story like this it is easy to lose sight of the family and the effect of such a tragic event. Amanda Davis Bradford lived until 1881 and suffered through the Civil War with no husband. David and Amanda had at least nine children.
At David's death they potentially had seven children at home.
Amanda went to live with her family in Mississippi for about ten years. Then she moved back to Kentucky to live with her daughter, Elizabeth White. Several of her sons fought in the Confederate Army and at least one was severely wounded, captured, and sent to Fort Delaware.
In a footnote to this story that is a bit confusing, she jointed a Jesuit Church in New Hope, Kentucky. Apparently Amanda Bradford is buried within the Trappist enclosure of the Gethsemane Abbey. Two of her children are buried with here there.
The value of digitized historical documents comes through loud and clear in following this story. Without access to those we would never have been able to uncover this data. For us the story would have been summarized as David M. Bradford - Superintendent 1837 - 1839.
During the course of writing this article we searched every source we could find for images of the Bradford family. Images often help bring stories like this to life and give us a better feel for the people.
But other than the image of "Whiskey Dave" we could not locate any. This seems unusual given the prominence of the family and the connection to Jefferson Davis, but we could not surface any.
If anyone has located images we would appreciate a copy so we can add them to this narrative.