Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Kirsten Wood

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Kenneth Lipartito

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Jenna Gibbs

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Comittee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Martha Schoolman

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


counterfeit, counterfeiting, police, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Ohio River, Mississippi River, vigilante, capitalism, banking

Date of Defense



During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States lacked a national currency and individual states chartered banks that issued much needed and sought after paper currency into their local economies. Counterfeiters, men and women who created and passed fake currency, exploited the bewildering array of paper money and the chaotic financial world of the nineteenth century United States to obtain goods through illegitimate means. Historians have already explored the presence of counterfeiting in the colonial United States and in the New England States, including its existence along the nation’s border with Canada during the nineteenth century. This dissertation argues that counterfeiters operated along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their presence reveals insights into the region’s counterfeiting underworld, the urban and rural efforts to deter counterfeiting, the power of nineteenth-century U.S. cities, and the infrastructural power of the American state. Through newspapers, penitentiary reports, judicial records, pardons, and criminal confessionals, the dissertation argues that the counterfeiting networks found along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from the 1840s, until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, rivaled the scope and scale of counterfeiting found in the New England States. The dissertation also reveals the previously unknown efforts of the urban and rural communities along the rivers to police counterfeiting through judicial and vigilante means. In particular, the dissertation argues that the professional police forces in Cincinnati and New Orleans allowed the state to effectively police counterfeiting in the region. In turn, the lack of counterfeiting’s consistent punishment in the Deep South along the rural Mississippi River resulted in the use of violence and vigilantism to rid the area of counterfeiting. Through its reconstruction of counterfeiting and policing along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the dissertation argues that counterfeiters participated in an underground capitalist economy that knit the North, Midwest, and South into a shadow economy that urban police and rural vigilantes attempted to destroy.





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