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The Tiger

The Student News Site of Elmwood Park High School

The Tiger

The Student News Site of Elmwood Park High School

The Tiger

“Lord” Timothy Dexter

The largest case of dumb luck
Lord Timothy Dexter

We all had our moments in life where we felt something good happened to us out of pure luck, even if we didn’t deserve it, such as finding a hundred dollar bill on the floor, or perhaps you didn’t study for a test but happened to pick the right answers. For Timothy Dexter, a man from 1700’s America, it was becoming the richest man in the country at that time.


Timothy Dexter was born in a poor family living in Malden in the province of Massachusetts Bay on January 22, 1747. He barely had any education given that he dropped out from the second grade at the age of 8. In 1769, Timothy moved to Newburyport. Seeking wealth, he decided to marry a rich widow, Elizabeth Frothingham, and then used the money to buy a mansion in Charlestown. Dexter wanted to rise in social status given that he was in the same category as powerful men at the time. He decided to send numerous petitions for him to be in public office. After being denied several times, the Malden government decided to give him the title of “Informer of Deer”. His job was to look around the city and count how many deer there were, and every time Timothy would end up with the same number because there were no deer in Malden.


Continental Currency

During the American Revolutionary War, the United States decided to issue what was known as continental currency in order to fund the war effort. Continental currency was basically an IOU promising to gain some value after the war, however due to rapid printing, it quickly lost value. During the war numerous soldiers came back paid with continental currency, thereby having not enough to pay for even basic needs. In order to boost “public confidence and do a good deed”, rich Americans such as John Hancock and Thomas Russel bought back the bills with backed currency (Priceonomics). Seeing this, Dexter collected all of his (and his wife’s) savings and purchased as many bills as possible. (This was seen as a beyond dumb move since he’s betting his entire life savings on the bills being repaid, which was highly doubtful.) To everyone’s surprise, when the constitution became officially valid by the 1790’s, continental currency could be traded in for Treasury bonds at 1% face value. Dexter, who essentially bought massive amounts of the currency for pennies, immediately became insanely rich. He then moved back to Newburyport where he bought a fleet of shipping vessels which he planned to use for his international trade business.



After Dexter’s success, his peers decided to give him terrible investment ideas, the first one being to ship warming pans to the west Indies (known today as the Caribbean). A warming pan was a long, brass pan to put hot coal in and then slide under the bed in order to warm it, which is, of course, useless for people living on the already warm islands. Upon delivering exactly 42,000 pans, the people living there didn’t really understand what the pans were used for, so Dexter sold the pans as giant ladles to the nearby molasses industry, making an even greater profit than before. When he returned to the Americas, he was then told to “ship coal to Newcastle”, which back then was an idiom for doing something pointless since Newcastle was the world’s largest distributor of coal at the time. Dexter, who didn’t know what an idiom was, proceeded to buy as much coal as he could and ship it to Newcastle. By the time he arrived in Newcastle, through sheer, perfect timing, the coal miners went on strike and he made yet another profit. He then decided to buy a large portion of whale baleen (which back then was called whalebone and was used to make clothes usually for women, such as corsets), 340 tons to be exact, for no apparent reason. However, it was such a large amount that he unknowingly monopolized the market.


Later Life

Dexter, wanting to gain attention, would spend his money later on an expensive chateau, where he would commonly throw huge parties; on a personal poet who he forced to write poems about how great he is; and on 40 statues of famous American heroes, one of which was of himself with the words “I am the first of the east, the first of the west, and the greatest philosopher of the western world” written on it. Dexter knew nothing about philosophy, let alone contributed to it.

Despite being incredibly successful and living comfortably, his relationship with his wife got worse, outright hating her. In fact, whenever a guest would come over he would tell them that his wife died a long time ago and that the woman inside was just her ghost. After finally finding out his peers might actually be against him, he decided the best course of action was to fake his death, “letting his family in on the hoax” (Priceonomics). On the day of the funeral, he realized that his wife wasn’t crying for his “death”. For not properly mourning him he secretly followed her to the kitchen where he would then beat her with a cane, which caused enough noise for the mourners to rush into the kitchen to see the person that was supposed to be dead was actually caning his wife. Oddly, Dexter continued the day like any other normal day, as if the fake funeral never happened.

Later, Dexter wrote a book titled “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones”, which was an autobiography about his opinion on politics and the clergy and how much he hated his wife. The book is known for its terrible grammar given that Dexter was illiterate. Readers complained about the lack of punctuation in which Timothy responded by dedicating an entire page to just punctuation so that “the readers can place them whenever they would feel like it”.

The following is an excerpt to show how poorly the book was written:

“To mankind at Large the time is Com at Last the grat day of Regoising what is that why I will tell you thous three kings is Rased Rased you meane should know Rased on the first Royal Arch in the world olmost Not quite but very hiw up upon so thay are good mark to be scene so the womans Lik to see the frount and all people Loves to see them as the quakers will Com and peape slyly and feele glad and say houe the doue frind father Jorge washeton is in the senter king Addoms is at the Rite hand the present king at the Left hand father gorge with his hat on the other hats of the middel king with his sword king Addoms with his Cane in a grand poster Adtetoude turning his fass towards the first king” (Dexter 1).

Dexter died on October 23, 1806, and his body was placed to rest on an old hill. This time, his funeral was real.


The Strange Life of “Lord” Timothy Dexter, Zachary Crockett, 9 Jan. 2015,
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Patryk Lowisz
Patryk Lowisz, Staff Reporter
Hello, my name is Patryk Lowisz, I am a sophomore at Elmwood Park High School. This is my first year on staff for The Tiger.
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