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April 16, 2013

Treasure in the Minnesota State Archives

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 3:49 pm

In April 2011 a Library patron found an 1862 dollar bill in a Winona County District Court civil case file.  The case file itself is routine, so the real treasure is the dollar bill.  The well worn dollar bill was probably sent to the court to pay for a court fee, but for some unknown reason remained in the file.  The case files for this time period are tri-folded, and most likely the file has not been opened and used since 1868 when the case occurred.

This is an intriguing story and the researcher was very conscientious about informing the Library staff of her find.  The dollar bill was one of the first paper dollars bills issued by the federal government on August 1, 1862; both the Union and Confederate governments issued paper currency to finance the American Civil War.  The dollar bill is intact, in fair condition, but dirty and worn at the corners.  It actually feels like a paper towel or a piece of soft cloth.

Here is a photograph of a mint condition 1862 dollar bill.

Note the red engravings, and the reverse of the dollar bill is green, and that is where we get the term “greenback” for dollar bills.   The paper currency issued by the Union government was referred to as greenbacks, because the reverse or “back” of the dollar bills were printed in green ink.  And who is the distinguished gentleman pictured on the dollar bill?  That is Salmon P. Chase, the Treasury Secretary for President Abraham Lincoln.  He is well known to numismatists for his causing the motto “In God We Trust” to be adopted for our national coinage. The values of the greenbacks fluctuated during the war, and at times were only worth 40 cents in gold.

The case file in which the dollar bill was discovered is entitled Byron B. Northrup & Abram Hoagland v. H. T. Jewett.   According to the documents in the file, Mr. Jewett owed Northrup and Hoagland $562.50.  The documents, dated 1868-1869, include a summons and complaint, affidavits, and a statement of the Winona County Sheriff that Mr. Jewett could not be found in the county or in the state.  That’s not too surprising, since another document states Mr. Jewett was a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, but owned property in Minnesota.  Other Winona County court records preserved in the State Archives were examined, but apparently this case was never resolved, and Mr. Jewett never paid off his debt to Northrup and Hoagland.

But, this 1862 dollar bill which remained undisturbed in a routine court file, helps tell an intriguing story about an important period in our country’s history, and illustrates the treasures (monetary and non-monetary) that may be found in the Minnesota State Archives.

Charles Rodgers
Government Records Specialist

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