Philip Alston (counterfeiter)

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Philip Alston
Cave-in-rock IL.jpg
In the 1790s, Philip Alston and his criminal associate, John Duff carried out their counterfeiting operation, in the relative seclusion of the wilderness, at Cave-in-Rock.
Born February 18, 1740 or 1741
Province of South Carolina (British Royal Colony), British North America, British Empire, present-day South Carolina
Died After 1799 (aged 59-60?)
New Madrid, Spanish Louisiana Territory, Spanish Empire, present-day New Madrid, Missouri?
Nationality American
Other names Phelipe Alston, Alston, Alston the Counterfeiter, Raffles (Ruffles), Gentleman Counterfeiter
Occupation counterfeiter, planter, thief, land speculator, soldier, politician, tavern keeper, salt maker, fur trader, banker, businessman, teacher, preacher, farmer, empresario
Known for Counterfeiting coins in the Carolinas, Virginia, Natchez, West Florida and at Cave-in-Rock, along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, as an associate of John Duff, being one of the first settlers, bankers, and businessmen, of Russelville, Kentucky, and empresario in New Madrid, Spanish Louisiana Territory
Movement Natchez Revolt of 1781, Cumberland Compact of 1780, Yazoo Land Scandal of 1795
Spouse(s) Temperance Smith, Mary Molly Temple, Mildred McCoy
Children Philip Alston, Jr. (son), Peter Alston (son), John McCoy Alston (son), Frances Alston (daughter), Elizabeth Elise Alston (daughter), James D. Dromgoole (son-in-law), John Gilbert (son-in-law)
Parent(s) Solomon Alston and Sarah Ann "Nancy" Hinton
Relatives John Alston (brother)

Philip Alston (Feb. 18, 1740 or 1741 – after 1799) was an 18th-century counterfeiter, both before and after the American Revolution, in Virginia and the Carolinas before the war, and later, in Kentucky and Illinois afterwards. He is associated with Cave-in-Rock and his son, outlaw, Peter Alston and John Duff, the counterfeiter, as well as, an early settler of Natchez and the Cumberland and Red River valleys in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Early life in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia[edit]

Philip Alston was born Feb. 18, 1740 or 1741, the son of Solomon Alston and Sarah Ann "Nancy" Hinton.[1] Alston was probably born in the British Royal colony of the Province of South Carolina, where the Alston family had its origins and the Alston surname was very common but, moved with his family to the Province of North Carolina, British Royal colony, at an early age.[2] He was also, believed to have been married in 1765, in North Carolina, to a woman named to be either Temperance Smith, granddaughter of Captain Nicholas Smith and great-great granddaughter of Robert Bell or Mary Molly Temple.

Philip Alston was known to have had five children:

  • Frances Alston, born about 1766, who married James D. Dromgoole (1758–1818) in 1782.
  • John McCoy Alston, born in 1767, and is likely the John Alston that proved the 1799 deed. Philip Alston's wife was Mildred McCoy.
  • Philip Alston, Jr., who was the recipient of a number of slaves in the 1799 deed.
  • Elizabeth Elise Alston, who married John Gilbert.
  • Peter Alston, the counterfeiter and river pirate, some identify as Little Harpe's partner in the murder of river pirate and outlaw gang leader, Samuel Mason.

It is not known when Philip Alston learned and started counterfeiting but, in 1770–1771, he and his brother, John Alston, were wanted, by the law, for counterfeiting activities in North Carolina, and in 1773, in the colony of Virginia, as well.[3] With authorities targeting counterfeiters in North Carolina, as well as, the neighboring colonies of Virginia and South Carolina, the Alston brothers fled, in 1772 or 1773, to Natchez, British West Florida, on the Mississippi River,[4] about 200 miles, upriver from New Orleans.

Natchez, British West Florida/Natchez, Spanish West Florida[edit]

Upon arriving in Natchez, British West Florida, in 1772 or 1773, Alston became "a prosperous speculator and planter, and, in 1776, possessed some of the finest palatial mansions in that gay city."[2] Under the overall leadership of John Blommart on April 22, 1781, Alston, his brother John, other settlers, as well as, allied Choctaw, led an uprising against Spanish authorities, who officially, took possession of British territory, in 1783, with the Treaty of Paris, which controlled Natchez at the time. Soon, after they captured Fort Panmure, the rebels split into pro-American and pro-British factions. Alston, his brother, and John Turner wanted to execute the Spanish garrison and raise the American flag. Led by Blommart and Thomas Hutchins, the other side won the argument and sent the garrison away. Meanwhile, Spanish forces defeated a British attack on Pensacola which, had been expected to relieve the settlers at Natchez. On June 23, 1783, Spanish soldiers retook Fort Panmure without firing a shot, capturing Blommart and John Alston, the brother of Philip. Other leaders had fled, Hutchins to the Carolinas and Philip Alston to the Cumberland River, of Tennessee, where he had already, established a second home.[5][6] Before, he fled Natchez, Alston supposedly, stole a crucifix from the Catholic Church.[2] Alston also, appears in Spanish records as Phelipe Alston[7]

Fort Nashborough, Transylvania Colony, Virginia and New Madrid, Spanish Louisiana Territory[edit]

On May 13, 1780, Philip Alston was a signatory, with other settlers, on the Cumberland Compact, a forerunner of the Tennessee State Constitution, at Fort Nashborough, Virginia, now present-day Nashville, Tennessee, the first governing document for Tennessee settlers of the Cumberland Valley, which placed him in the Cumberland River Valley, even before he fled Natchez. Alston may have been living at Mansker's Station, now present-day Goodlettsville, Tennessee.[8]

Following his escape from Natchez, Philip Alston and John Turner joined Chickasaw leader, James Logan Colbert and a mixed, roving band of Natchez refugees, Cumberland settlers, and Chickasaw, numbering around 600, who attacked Spanish shipping on the Mississippi River in 1781 and 1782.[9] The Pennsylvania Gazette, a colonial newspaper, in Philadelphia, reprinted a letter in the fall of 1783 that identified Alston as both the "famous money counterfeiter" but also a leader of the band raiding Spanish shipping on the Mississippi.[10]

The Spanish silver peso was the, most common, currency found on the American frontier. Philip Alston and his associate, John Duff were "coining" this type of money, at Cave-In-Rock. The "Spanish milled dollar" was minted in México and considered legal tender, in the United States, until the Coinage Act of 1857.

Tennessee, Kentucky, and Cave-In-Rock[edit]

Around 1783 or, at least, by the summer of 1784, Alston moved northwest and settled in what is now present-day Logan County, Kentucky, where he built Alston's Station, or fort, near the Red River, below the mouth of the Big Whippoorwill. He farmed in the summer of 1784 and manufactured salt at Moate's Lick that autumn, assisted by old John Stuart. "He traded his salt for skins and then traded the skins off at Natchez or the Eastern States for goods, and he also, became the first merchant. Shortly afterwards, he and James Dromgoole did business together". In 1795, the settlers around Alston's Station included; Jesse and Wm. (William) Green, Dromgoole (also spelled Drumgole), and Stuart and Matthew McClean.[11]

In 1786, Alston began counterfeiting again.[12] Alston and Drumgole celebrated Independence Day, that year, by stealing back a former slave of Philip Alston, named King, who had been sold out of his estate, seized by Spanish authorities when, he fled from Natchez earlier in the decade. The complaint lists him as the "robber", which may be a reference to the crucifix story.[13]

In 1788, Logan County, Kentucky residents rose up against Philip Alston, for his counterfeiting activities and banished him from the county. Later that year, or in 1789, he moved to the area of Alston's Creek, in northern Logan County but, did not remain there long. Fearing for his safety, Alston moved around often, over the next two years. First, he went to Alston's Lick, now in Muhlenberg County, and shortly thereafter, to Livingston County and finally, to Henderson County, all in western Kentucky, before crossing the Ohio River into Illinois in 1790.[12]

In 1790, he was at Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, across the Ohio River, from Kentucky and then a part of Knox County, Northwest Territory, with John Duff, though for what purpose is not recalled definitively, in the histories. Though, Alexander Finley, the normally-reliable author of the 1876 The History of Russellville and Logan County, Ky, tells us that Alston became a "fast friend and disciple of the notorious counterfeiter, Sturdevant",[14] Roswell or "Bloody Jack" Sturdivant did not arrive at Cave-in-Rock for, at least, another generation.[15] "Duff the Counterfeiter", notorious outlaw in the area, during the 1790s, is believed to be same Duff who became a disciple of Alston and learned his counterfeiting skills from him. According to Finley, Alston soon moved back to Tennessee and "from there to Natchez, where he found his old enemies, who became his fast friends.

Natchez, Spanish West Florida, Mississippi Territory, New Madrid, Spanish Louisiana Territory, and Stack Island[edit]

He rose in the estimation of these Spaniards until he was appointed an empresido of Mexico in New Madrid, Spanish Louisiana Territory, being in charge of administering Spanish land grants and newly, arriving settlers. When in the midst of his success and returning fortune death stepped in and sealed his fate."[16] Also, in 1790, Alston was working with James O'Fallon in the Yazoo land scandal, which among other things, had it been successful, would have settled a large group of Americans, in southern Mississippi, aligned with the Spanish. On September 16, 1790, O'Fallon had completed the organization of the Yazoo Battalion, expected to be raised to secure the land. Both Alston and Drumgold (Drumgoole) were listed as captains of and John Alston, brother of Philip, as a lieutenant of infantry riflemen.[17]

Alston fades out of the American records, in the 1790s, which may have been due to his joining with the Spanish colonial government in the lower Mississippi Valley. On Jan. 22, 1793, he sold goods to his son-in-law, John Gilbert in Logan County, Kentucky, and appeared there six years later, on October 22, 1799, to prove another deed involving Gilbert.[18][19] One account notes, Alston and his son, Peter also, practiced their counterfeiting operation, at Stack Island, in the lower Mississippi River, about 170 miles upriver from Natchez. This would have been around 1799, in conjunction, with the river pirates who operated off the island under the leadership of Samuel Mason, formerly of Cave-in-Rock.[20]


  1. ^ Linda F. Harris. Sept. 1999. Descendents of Solomon Alston.
  2. ^ a b c Finley 18.
  3. ^ Kenneth Scott. 1957. "Counterfeiting in Colonial North Carolina." North Carolina Historical Review. 34:467–482.
  4. ^ Alex C. Finley. 1876, Reprint c. 2000. The History of Russellville and Logan County, Ky. Reprint: Russellville, Ky.: A. B. Willhite. 18 (number from reprint).
  5. ^ Albert James Pickett. 1851. Chap. 22. "Extreme Perils and Sufferings of the Natchez Refugees." History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period.
  6. ^ D. Clayton James. 1968. Antebellum Natchez. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press. 26–27.
  7. ^ A copy of the proceedings between Guillermo Vousdan and Hannah Lum ending on April 28, 1795. University of Notre Dame Archives. [1]
  8. ^ Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt. 1913. A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities. Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Co. 94–97.
  9. ^ James 27–28.
  10. ^ Misc. Newspapers. The Colonial Records Project. North Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  11. ^ Finley 21–23 25, 42.
  12. ^ a b Finley 42.
  13. ^ Sue Moore. July 30, 2001. Alstons. Post to (Mississippi/Southwest Territory) mail list.
  14. ^ Finley 42–43.
  15. ^ Otto A. Rothert, The Outlaws of Cave-In-Rock. Otto A. Rothert, Cleveland 1924; rpt. 1996 p. 272.
  16. ^ Finley 43.
  17. ^ Ginny Walker Bush, coordinator. 2000. "Yazoo Land Companies 1789." Mississippi state site. American Local History Network.
  18. ^ Finley 37.
  19. ^ Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky, Deed Book 1. 13. Transcribed at
  20. ^ T. Marshall Smith. 1855. Legends of the War of Independence, and of the Earlier Settlements in the West. Louisville, Ky.: J. F. Brennan, Publisher. 342–344. Online at the Internet Archive.
  • Otto A. Rothert, The Outlaws of Cave-In-Rock, Otto A. Rothert, Cleveland 1924; rpt. 1996 ISBN 0-8093-2034-7

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