Thursday, August 23, 2012

A 1731 Counterfeiter named Tamsen Meserve

Tamsen Meserve is the wife of my 6x great grand uncle, Joseph Ham.  He was born 3 June 1678 in Dover, New Hampshire and killed in an Indian Raid on 28 September 1723.  Tamsen remarried to Joseph Tibbetts about 1725.  Joseph Ham, the first husband, is the brother of Mercy Ham, my 6x great grandmother, who married Richard Nason.  I blogged about the Ham family recently.  A sharp eyed reader, Paul Clark, saw that post and sent me a link to this wonderful story about Tamsen.    I’m posting the entire article here.

This story is full of names from 1731 New Hampshire.  Are you related to a MESERVE, HAM, TIBBETTS, BYRN, McVICKER, STYLES, PITNEY, CROFTSWAIT, or a BRADFORD?

This is a Ten Shilling Note from
Massachusetts 1776.
Note the warning across the middle! 

Story published by the Arlington Coin Journal Vol. II - No. 7, dated Sept.- Oct. 1973


"This month we want to tell you about Tamsen Meserve. She had the dubious distinction of being the only woman counterfeiter to ever darken New Hampshire's shores.

Tamsen was an outgoing woman, with no little amount of ambition, curtailed, perhaps, only by the times and the premise that woman in those early days were meant to be seen rather than heard.
In 1704 Tamsen married Joseph Ham of Dover with whom she lived a typical and somewhat conformist life for 19 years, until her husband's death in 1723.

Two years later, scarcely out of the mourning period dictated by the times, she remarried - this time a widower named John Tibbitts. This marriage followed much the same pattern as her first one. That is, until 1731 when things began to look up for Tamsen. It so happened that a William Byrn, a painter (and perhaps a laborer, too) came to Dover from Rochester, New Hampshire. Now after a short while, the folks in Dover began to think pretty highly of Mr. Byrn and so implored him to "keep School." As he put it, "learn their children to write."

William cottoned to this idea, accepted their offer, and was at once boarded at the home of John and Tamsen Tibbitts. Now, Tamsen, being a bright young woman, soon discovered that the new boarder had latent talents; that is, he could do a mighty nice flower drawing, and had the ability to pen beautiful script.
Believing that such talent shouldn't go to waste, Tamsen brought a 20 Shilling Mass. bill and a few other notes to Bryn, and with a bit of friendly persuasion, prevailed upon him to copy them.

News of Byrn's skill somehow reached the ears of John McVicker and Samuel Styles, and soon a partnership was formed with the gifted penman. McVicker and Byrne, never ones to use their heads, made a foolhardy mistake of delivering to Styles two documents bearing their signatures. In one they promised to give Styles one-fifth of all the money he could pass, and also pay his expenses, while the other one they swore "by the living God" to betray him neither by signs or word of mouth.

Meantime, Tamsen was busy in her own way, having passed off a 30 shilling New Hampshire bill to Sarah Pitney, while Styles passed a 3-Pound 10 Shilling note to Hannah Bradford of Portsmouth and another to Sarah Croftswait.

This threw Styles under suspicion and he was promptly arrested and he was promptly arrested and searched. His pockets produced nine counterfeit 3 pound 10 shilling bills, along with much more incriminating evidence-the two documents given him by McVicker and Bryn.

At this point things began to happen pretty fast; warrants were speedily issued and both of Style's accomplices were tossed into jail. They were soon joined by the Tibbets, and it didn't take long to discover that the gang had a plate and that the only give-away on the nicely stuck bills were the signings.

At the court hearing, both Styles and Byrn wre given the same sentence-pay a fine of 14 pounds, stand one hour in the pillory at Exeter, each to have one ear lopped off, and each to be jailed for one year without bail.

The Court, backlogged with work, didn't have time for the other prisoners, so McVickers was returned to jail and the Tibbitts were released on recognizance of 500 pounds.

Byrn, who began to feel sorry for what he had done, began to repent, though more than likely spurred by the thought of perhaps drawing a lighter sentence, decided to blow the whistle on his friends and made a full confession of the whole ugly mess. He claimed the bills were not made by a plate but his own hand and pen at the instigation of Tamsen; and bitter at Styles for his carelessness which brought on Byrn's arrest, he let loose with everything he knew about him, too.

The outcome was that Tamsen and her husband were charged with counterfeiting and passing, but at a Court of General Sessions, the king's attorney couldn't get a grand jury to indict them, so they were dismissed after paying court costs. McVickers, on the other hand, was convicted, fined 7 pounds, pilloried for one hour, had one ear cropped, and spent a year in prison.

Thus New Hampshire's only woman counterfeiter, Tamsen Meserve Ham Tibbitts, bless her heart, came out of that nasty counterfeiting business smelling like a rose!"

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Great story, I really enjoyed it. The punishment of havings an ear cropped of took me by surprise. I hadn't heard of that punishment before.

  2. Interesting story. As Tamsen Meserve Ham Tibbetts is an ancestor, my 6x great grandmother, in fact, I tried to verify this article and so far have not found any record of the article, the journal or the references used by the author to write the story. If anyone can send me the reference to the NH court records or other record references, I would be most appreciative. Contact: Charlie Ross, email:

  3. Interesting. I descend from William Ham so she's probably a distant cousin or many times great-aunt.

  4. I am a direct descendant of Tamsen's and her marriage to Joseph Ham. I have been trying for years to find the connection with Joseph Ham married to Nancy Cook of Barrington NH, who had a daughter Betsy, born 18 June 1820 in Stafford NH. Betsey then married my 3-times grandfather of mine, Joseph Sullivan TILTON. Let me quote what my great-great uncle George Henry Tilton wrote about her and the family in 1929, when he was in his 80s:
    "My mother you know was a HAM and daughter of Joseph HAM of Dover and Barrington NH. William HAM came in from England about 1634 and settled on what was known as Hams Point, on the river just above Portsmouth, "a fine place". (A ship yeard there now has spoiled it), large house and beautiful grounds and many acres of farm land. The different families later spread out some to Portsmouth others to Dover and engaged in all kinds of business. In 1717 occurred that dreadful Indian Massacre at Dover. My grand father's great grandfather Joseph was killed as was one of his children "an infant" - but his wife succeeded in getting to a garrison house though the indians captured one bo and two girls and took them to Canada. Some years later the mother made the trip to Canada and on snowshoes to ransom her children. They boy and one girl came back gladly but one daughter decided to remai and marry a French settler there. The brave mother was before marriage Tamsen Meserve daughter of Col Meserve a ship builder in Portsmouth. He was from the island of Jersey in the British Channel. So you see the Ham family in NH did suffer from Indians. (...)."

    I wonder about the date of the massacre as this would mean Joseph Ham died in 1717, which is not in agreement with other trees I have seen where he is said to have died in 1723 (there was still considerable Indian troubles then as well). Also, George Tilton was quite a genealogist in his own right and, I imagine, a bit of a gossip as well, so I wonder why he didn't mention the story about Tamsen the counterfeiter. Still, all is possible!

    Now, can anybody help me with the link between Joseph HAM and the Betsy HAM who married by 3xgrandfather? Has anybody heard of COOK in Dover or Barrington, hopefully a Nancy Cook?

    Other names in my direct NH family are CLOUGH, LADD, WHICHER/WHITTIER, GORRELL/GORIL and I am happy to share. Many thanks in advance

    Magdalena GORRELL Guimaraens

    1. Wow! Thanks, Magdalena for all your info. I hope someone else reads this and knows the answer to your question about your third great grandfather.

  5. I apologize for all the typos in my posting. Oops!