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20 Unusual Tales From Colonial America That Aren’t In History Books

America’s first execution for murder; rampant currency speculation; a poisoned wine plot. These are a few of the less salubrious American tales from colonial times that are not so widely taught. Watch out, because these remarkable stories from the early days of British settlement in North America are guaranteed to startle — and, in some cases, horrify...

20. John Billington

When the Mayflower set sail from Plymouth on a September Saturday in 1620, there were 102 passengers on board. One of them was John Billington, and he was accompanied by his wife Eleanor and their two boys, John and Francis. The four of them were some of those who survived their first winter in the New World. Forty-five other Pilgrims did not.

Murder one

Billington was apparently a troublesome man, often coming into conflict with the settlement’s authorities and his neighbors. Things came to a head in 1630 when Billington shot and killed fellow Pilgrim John Newcomen. Billington was duly charged, tried, and found guilty. The sentence was death by hanging. This gave Billington the unenviable distinction of being the first of the colonists to be judicially executed. 

19. Timothy Dexter

Born into poverty near Boston, Massachusetts, in 1748, Timothy Dexter had big ideas about his future, which seem to have centered for the most part on becoming extremely wealthy. Clearly a man with a ravenous appetite for risk, his first financial coup was the result of a seemingly insane currency gamble.

The mad bet pays out

During the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies had issued their own currency, the Continental. But the money quickly became devalued by inflation. After the war, these dollar notes had no apparent value. But Dexter thought otherwise and bought up as many as he could, paying rock-bottom prices. Eventually, the U.S. Government agreed to buy up all Continentals at 1 percent of their face value. Dexter had paid much less than that, so overnight he became fabulously wealthy.