Butterworth Mary Peck
Mary Peck Butterworth (1686-1775), wife of 2nd cousin 9x removed
Mary Peck Butterworth (1686-1775) was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. In 1711, she married John Butterworth, Jr. By the time of her marriage, she along with other members of her family were allegedly counterfeiting money (there are no existing court records which show that she was ever convicted for this crime, and all the records in this case are of unproven charges.). According to those who would later testify against her, Butterworth used starched cotton cloths to produce counterfeit bills, rather than the metal plates used more commonly in counterfeiting. By 1716 she had perfected a method of counterfeiting the 5 pound bills of Rhode Island. She used her fine needlework skills, attention to detail and organization acumen to counterfeit at least eight types of bills, without leaving behind the evidence of the crime in the form of copper plates, which were difficult to conceal or dispose of. Her new money was made by placing fine muslin on a genuine bill, transferring the image using a very hot iron to clean paper. The muslin was then quickly destroyed. One her brothers made the pens from crow feathers for lettering the bills. Other brothers and their wives were part of the kitchen workshop industry. Friends in Rehoboth, including the town clerk and members of the county court bought her bills for half the face value.
Colonial authorities knew of an extensive counterfeiting ring operating somewhere in the Rhode Island area throughout the later half of the 1710s and felt it was beginning to have a damaging impact on the entire colonial economy. In 1722 colonial authorities became suspicious of Mary Butterworth after her husband John purchased a large, expensive new home for the family. When one of the accomplices confessed to the governor, Mary’s house was searched but nothing was found. Two of Butterworth’s associates (her brother and his wife) turned state’s evidence and also testified against her. Ultimately however, the court dismissed all charges against her for lack of hard evidence. After the trial, it is assumed that Mary mended her ways and lived the rest of her life as a model citizen. She died at age 89 in 1775. She had, however, made more than £1,000 worth of fake bills during her “career.” Her husband, John Butterworth died in 1771 at age 92.
Why this young, married, Puritan woman may have taken up a life of crime in what would be considered a man’s field is unknown. But it seems Mary was so successful that she became probably the biggest counterfeiter in New England. In July 2007, the National Women’s history Project featured Mary Butterworth on their website as a “Pathbreaker” along with four other women, with the explanation that “they solved problems and dreamed of solutions in a variety of professions and skills. They showed determination, strength, original thinking, and civic responsibility. Many faced problems of similar to today’s inequality”. I’m not sure about “civic responsibility”, but it’s a good story anyway.
 Maria Van Rensselaer held on to control the estate of her late husband; Mary Butterworth developed a unique and working technique of counterfeiting pound notes; Hannah Bailey developed pacifist curriculum materials for schools; Harriet Strong invented designs for water storage and Marion Talbot championed equal education and opportunity for women college students.