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Mountain Home Magazine

The Man Who Broke the Bank

Feb 17, 2017 03:20PM

It would have been a perfect Hollywood ending. The handsome young man heard the sheriff pounding on the door of his posh home in a classy neighborhood of Philadelphia. The jig was up. Face filled with fear, his eyes were the size of his fine china saucers. His trembling hand reached for the pistol in the bureau. He took a deep breath and raised the handgun to his head. Then, he calmly placed the barrel into his mouth and squeezed the trigger. If only that fatal shot were the end. The real end to the story would be a bigger mess than the brains splattered on the bedroom wall.

A personable and charming young chap had arrived in a small town along the newly formed “Pennsylvania State Road” in 1836. He landed with not much more than a pretty bride and child in tow. The dashing dandy took Towanda by storm. Within months he had convinced some well-heeled prosperous people to invest in a bank. They were so pleased with his idea that he was named to the board of the bank, given shares, and named Cashier of the Bank of Towanda.

The young man went by the moniker John P. Boyd. Folks assumed that he was a close relative, maybe even the son, of the famed Col. John P. Boyd, the hero of Tippecanoe. The famous Boyd was the second in command who saved William Henry Harrison’s bacon; was the soldier who was promoted to general in the War of 1812. When asked if he were related, Boyd simply flashed an enigmatic smile. Folks took that as gospel.

So who was Boyd? He cut a handsome figure and the locals loved him. His presentation to the public exuded an assurance in his capabilities. Nobody was really sure of his background but the newcomer was impressive. To quote an early history,” Mr. Boyd had come...to Tioga and Bradford counties some three or four years since. He was a man of about 35 years of age, with a gentlemanly, but plain and business-like exterior, exhibiting extraordinary tact and readiness in matters of business, and a good degree of common sense, apparently, in the management of his enterprises. Although comparatively a stranger, so plausible was his address that he soon gained the confidence of wealthy men, who entrusted him with means to enter largely into the lumber business, and afterwards into the iron business, and coal land speculations in Tioga County.” He was a loving family man with a wife and children. He persuaded many to invest in his manufacturing and business ventures.”He had several large mills near Covington, a furnace at Blossburg, and was engaged in many of the most prominent schemes for improving these two places.” He teamed with S. S. Cleaver and L. C. Levalley to purchase the tannery in Covington. Boyd and Cleaver operated a huge lumber firm in Covington.

In 1841, John G. Boyd built a grand hotel in Blossburg, the Seymour House. Everyone assumed that it was named in honor of Horatio Seymour, an early incorporator of the town. Seymour had just launched a political and business career and he would be thrice elected governor of New York and be the Democrat standard bearer in the presidential election in 1868 won handily by Civil War hero Ulysses Grant. Later evidence surfaced that had some folks speculating that the large inn across from the railroad depot was, in fact, named after Mr. Boyd’s alter ego. An early history details the seeming incongruity of the hotel taking up most of a block. The railroad had barely arrived, there were few houses, and the town looked very much like an army camp. Most of the inhabitants were living in tents. Some folks were starting to build homes but most Blossburg residents at the time were young single men hoping to find work in the coal mines, lumber yards or foundry.

From his very responsible cashier’s position, he convinced the Towanda Bank board that he could secure better lending rates from the big banks in Philadelphia. He established himself in that city and the bank funneled fortunes to him. It took some time for the bank to recognize that their dollars had simply disappeared.” He still, however, secretly continued his fraudulent issues of Towanda relief notes in Philadelphia, until a short time previous to the tragic close of his career.... Previously to his late dismissal as the cashier of the bank, it was ascertained that he had, as the signing officer of the relief issues of that bank, put out some thousands of dollars on his own account. The Penn Township Bank, one of the losers by this fraudulent issue, and by some of his other transactions, had commenced a suit against him...” The police in Philadelphia were alerted and, as the police were about to arrest him, Boyd committed suicide. Investigations disclosed that Boyd was known in the City of Brotherly Love as Henry Seymour. It was stated that “Henry Seymour represented himself as a drover having large transactions with the interior counties, and often spoke of his intimate friend in Covington, Mr. John G. Boyd.”

The account continues, “About two years since, he had married an interesting young lady at Trenton, New Jersey, and was keeping house with her at the time of his suicide in Philadelphia. He had furnished this house splendidly; had settled upon his wife a farm near Germantown, worth about $8,000, and had made many munificent presents to her relatives. But it appears that all this time he had another wife, a most estimable lady, at Covington, Tioga Co., by whom he had several children, and with whom he was living on most affectionate terms, whenever his business called him to that vicinity...So adroitly was the deception maintained, that neither of these unfortunate ladies ever suspected the least impropriety in his conduct, or alienation of his affections.”

Towanda, Covington and Blossburg were shocked by the revelation of Boyd’s secret life and subsequent suicide. The extensive lumber establishment of Boyd & Cleaver carried on without him. His tannery was closed and the building used for the post office. His foundry in Covington was abandoned; the foundry in Blossburg was taken by his creditors. Others took over his coal interests in Blossburg with many investors losing out. Within the year, the Towanda Bank failed.

Boyd was investigated post-mortem. The charges included fraud, theft, and bribing elected officials including a U. S. senator and Governor Porter, both Democrats. The revelations about him led the state legislature to set up a committee to investigate charges of bribery and corruption by the U. S. Bank. The bank had “furnished some $130,000 (well over three million today) to effect legislation to their benefit.” Boyd had assured the bank that he could bribe officials. The most noted locally was State Senator Robert P. Fleming of Williamsport. Hearings were held in the state capital and everyone was exonerated. It was determined that Boyd never knew Fleming or the other men he stated he could bribe. In fact, he pocketed the bribe money. Of course the Democrats blamed their political rivals the Whigs, for suggesting that Democrat law-makers were guilty of accepting bribes. They launched the investigation, found no wrongdoing by their colleagues and then vili ed Boyd. The official report labeled him “an infernal scoundrel...a miscreant who could blast forever the reputation of a man...even Whiggery dare not do it.”

In Tioga County alone, his holdings were massive. The Orphans’ Court set up auctions of his possessions at the behest of creditors. The sale required four auctions, one in February, two in May of and one in September of 1843. Up for auction in February were: a house and barn in Lawrenceville; a tannery; half interest in a lumber concern that included all saws, running gears, and water rights; a hotel; a tavern; more than 330 acres in Covington and Richmond Townships, along with six houses, five barns, several orchards, woodsheds, shops, carriage houses, and livestock. Later auctions of Boyd’s holdings included: one-fourth interest in 210 town lots in Blossburg, one-eighth interest in thirty-eight town lots in Blossburg in forty-four assorted blocks, as well as the entirety of Block 16, an iron furnace, a three-story hotel (The Seymour House), and more.

Prominent New York investors lost fortunes. Locals were so embarrassed that Boyd had scammed them that it took several years to rebuild the communities of Covington and Blossburg. Towanda felt pain, too. His fraud executed on the Towanda Bank caused his name to be lost to history. So dastardly were his deeds, the powers that held sway in the area refused to allow his name to even be mentioned in Bradsby’s, A History of Bradford County. Boyd is barely mentioned in the 1883 and 1897 editions of History of Tioga County, and there is no reference to his illicit dealings. His was a “chapter” best forgotten.