Hey all and welcome back to The Hogue Connection! This post marks my 75th entry on this blog, which seems hard to believe. Thanks for reading! Today we are going to look at another criminal in the family from way back in our history. The source of this story is from someone I mentioned before, our cousin Lynn Zacny Busby. Lynn has written a series of books on The DePriest family. You can go to her Amazon author’s page here.
First, Our Original Immigrant
Robert DePriest, born in southern France around 1665, was part of a group of French protestants known collectively as Huguenots. Catholics did their best to kill off as many Huguenots as possible before the Edict of Nantes was established in 1589, a truce of sorts that allowed these protestants to practice their religion freely. In 1785, the Edict was revoked, and the Huguenots were persecuted once again. King James II of England offered religious freedom to many, especially if they wanted to move to the Colony of Virginia in North America.
Robert arrived in New Kent, Colony of Virginia, about 1687. He purchased 350 acres of land, and married his first wife, Elizabeth, who gave birth to their son William in 1689. Elizabeth died in childbirth or shortly thereafter, and Robert married his second wife, Mary. According to land records in 1711, Mary is listed as “Widow DePriest”, Robert was believed to have been killed in a skirmish while fighting alongside his neighbors, against local Indians around 1710. William married Judith Reynolds in 1728 and moved to nearby Goochland County, where he purchased 200 acres of land in 1734. Their second oldest son, William DePriest II, our criminal in the family, was born around 1733.
I’d like to point out that my version of this story is greatly condensed; Lynn Busby’s research is spread out over four volumes! She goes into great detail about land and church records, Colonial Virginia naming conventions, and does a deep dive into the neighbors living near our DePriest families. If you are a part of our DePriest line, get the books, or see if your library can add them to their collection.
William II, The Criminal In The Family
William’s occupation in 1750 was listed as a sawyer. This job is exactly what you might think it is; someone who saws wood for a living. In 1758, he married Tabitha Toney. In 1759, my fifth great grandfather, James, was born to them in Goochland County, Colony of Virginia. I told a little bit of James’ story in an earlier post. Back in 1757, William was conscripted into the British Army to fight in The French and Indian War (1754-1763). William never showed up to serve and was advertised in the local news as a deserter. A bounty of five British pounds was put on his head. It was around this time he started to use the alias William Williams.
William eventually did fight in this war as part of the Virginia militia, but only against the Indians. He refused to fight against the French because of his family heritage. After the war ended, William and his older brother Randolph got involved in a few land deals down in Pittsylvania County near to what would become the border of North Carolina in 1779. They somehow managed to obtain around 600 acres there, with Randolph making the purchases on his outlaw brother’s behalf. As we’ll see in a moment, the DePriest brothers had no problem coming up with enough cash.
The Depriest Gang Forms
The Currency Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 were established by Parliament to help control monies used in the colonies. Cash was always in short supply, both coins and paper money. A bartering system was pretty popular at the time, especially with the bumper crops of tobacco in the region. It seems that Randolph and William devised a scheme to start counterfeiting the currency of Maryland, to the tune of 500 eight dollar notes. Evidence shows that they had already been involved in some counterfeiting of other currency in their area.
Many local criminals came to be involved in the plot. John Cox and Joseph Wilcox of Frederick County, Maryland brought samples of the currency to William’s home in Pittsylvania. Randolph and William were the “artists” who drew up the counterfeit bills. Dr. Nathaniel Abney procured the stamps, ink and paper and gave them to David Lyles to print. Michael Hill Rogers signed the fake bills and passed them on to William Redman and J. Etherington who were to pass them into circulation. There was a back up plan, too. If the pass didn’t go well, they were going to rob houses in Virginia, Carolina, and Pennsylvania to get more cash. The Depriest Gang, with our criminal in the family, now goes into action.
The Plan Was An Absolute Failure
In May of 1767, work began counterfeiting the eight dollar Maryland notes. I’m sure the gang knew it at the time, but counterfeiting was a felony crime punishable by death. The plot unraveled quickly and was discovered by the Williamsburg authorities. Randolph was arrested the first week of June, sentenced to death and hanged on 11 June 1767. It took a while to round up the rest of the gang, but sometime in late summer, William Depriest II, alias William Williams was arrested, as were Michael Rogers and John Cox, who were caught red handed with the phony money.
In his confession dated 25 Sep 1767, William named all the members of the gang and laid out their plan to the Fredrick County authorities. His bail was set at two hundred British pounds sterling, and he was jailed in that county. He wrote letters to his wife, Tabitha, and a friend, John Vulgamot, in an unsuccessful attempt to raise the bail money. He was transferred to a jail in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland on 12 Oct to await criminal trial.
The Death of William Depriest II
In an article in the Maryland Gazette on 17 March, it was reported that William was found dead in his jail cell on 12 Mar 1768, from taking a large dose of laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium. How he got hold of the laudanum is not known. The article went on to mention that for many years he was known to be an “Artist in that Species of Villainy” and had counterfeited paper currency in both Virginia and Carolina. Apparently, the other accomplices were not prosecuted due to lack of evidence.
Thus brings a sad end to another sad story about a criminal in the family. I’m amazed by the documentation of life in the early American colonies. Printing was very important; newspapers were the main line of communication. Also critical to the colonies was the ownership and recording of land deeds. I hope you enjoyed this one. Again, many thanks to Lynn Busby for her research on the DePriest family. If you want to read about James and Penelope DePriest again go here. You can return to the Home page here. See you with another installment at The Hogue Connection soon.