John Duff (counterfeiter)

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John Duff (c. 1759 – June 4, 1799) was a counterfeiter, hunter, and scout who assisted in George Rogers Clark's campaign to capture the Illinois country for the American rebel side during the Revolutionary War.

Genealogy and early life[edit]

John Duff was born John McElduff sometime, between September 1759 and August 1760 in South Carolina, according to his court testimony in August 1781, when he was 21 years old. His father died and his mother remarried. John's father may have been the Thomas McElduff killed by Philip McElduff, some time prior to November 1761. His stepfather moved the family to the Natchez, Mississippi area, prior to the start of the American Revolutionary War. Duff is believed to be a grandson of a Thomas McElduff, Sr., who received two land grants, on the south side of the Tyger River, in Union County, South Carolinain the 1750s.

Revolutionary War and the Illinois country[edit]

In 1778, John Duff had been leading a group of hunters returning to Kaskaskia, where he was living at the time, when the hunting party was intercepted by George Rogers Clark's soldiers, near modern-day Metropolis, Illinois. Suspected of being British spies, they immediately, took an American oath of allegiance, where Duff and his men joined Clark's forces. Duff enlisted into Captain John Williams' Company in Cahokia and rose to the rank of sergeant in the Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces. In the George Rogers Clark Papers, he was referred to as John McElduff and "John McDuff."

In the mid-late 1780s, Duff was living in Kaskaskia, Illinois and was in business with two brothers of the captain of the Ohio County, Virginia Militia and Revolutionary War Patriot, Samuel Mason who later, became the notorious river pirate. According to the French Kaskaskia records, the Duff name was recorded as, "Jean Michel Duff" and "John Michael Duff." In 1786, John and Daniel, another grandson of Thomas, sold land tracts for two different property deeds. There was a Daniel McElduff who was also, at Kaskaskia in the 1780s and was likely, the brother of John Duff.

Cave-In-Rock, Kentucky, counterfeiting activities, and death[edit]

After leaving Kaskaskia, in 1790, John Duff was associated with the counterfeiter Philip Alston at Cave-in-Rock, where he learned the illicit business of counterfeiting, known as "coining," and he could make a lot money in criminal pursuits. By this time, he had left the historical record and from this point on, he was referred to in folklore as, just Duff or "Duff the Counterfeiter." Even as a counterfeiter, John Duff was not a violent man, by nature and he was never known to have killed anyone, while a criminal.

For nearly, a decade, Duff had become a scourge along the lower Ohio River region. On June 4, 1799, a group of three Shawnee Indians and a French courier du bois guide were hired by U.S. Army Captain Zebulon Pike, Sr., father of the explorer, who was the commandant at the frontier outpost, of Fort Massac, which is now Metropolis, Illinois. This mercenary party was given orders to kill John Duff, which they did, at his house which, was located either at Battery Rock, according to the newspaper account, on the Illinois side of the Ohio River or across the river at what would later, become Caseyville, Kentucky as, recalled in the History of Union County, Kentucky. According to Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Illinois, he was killed in 1805 on Ripple Island later, in Gallatin County, Illinois and buried near the local salt springs.


  • Governor John Reynolds. The Pioneer History of Illinois: Containing the Discovery, in 1673, and the History of the Country to the Year 1818, when the State Government was Organized. Fergus Print Company, 1887.
  • Otto A. Rothert. The Outlaws of Cave-In-Rock. Cleveland: 1924; rpt. 1996 ISBN 0-8093-2034-7
  • Kathrine Wagner Seineke. The George Rogers Clark adventure in the Illinois: and selected documents of the American Revolution at the frontier posts. New York: Polyanthos, 1981.
  • Mrs. Harriett J. Walker. Revolutionary Soldiers Buried in Illinois. Standard Printing Company, 1918.
  • Paul I. Wellman. Spawn of evil: the invisible empire of soulless men which for a generation held the Nation in a spell of terror. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
  • Richard Eugene Willson, Indexing, Donald E. Gradeless, Ph.D., Editor. 1998. Index to the George Rogers Clark Papers: The Illinois Regiment. Based on the Microfilmed George Rogers Clark Papers at the Virginia State Library and Archives. Chicago: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Illinois. Online at
  • History of Union County, Kentucky. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1886.
  • New Bern District (North Carolina) Court Records 1770-1774
  • Papers of the U.S. War Department 1784-1800
  • Raymond H. Hammes Collection. English Summaries. Illinois State Archives. 81:2:27:1.

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