Friday, May 16, 2008

Moses Williams - Champagne Scoundrel, Or Slandered Man Of Integrity?

The Moses Williams estate stood on Centre street, just beyond today's Holbrook street. The property went quite a way back toward the pond, and would later make up much of the Dunster road properties. He was active in the Unitarian church at Eliot street and in the community. In business, he and J.D. Williams (relationship unknown) were wine and liquor merchants, with offices on State street in Boston.

The entry below comes from 1866, just a year after the end of the Civil War. Mr Moses and Co. seem to have found themselves at the center of a nasty accusations regarding their business interests. The problem is that the article only told one side of the story. With a little more diligence, I was able to find a short book written to refute the charges in detail. With both sources, we still don't know who was telling the truth. The responding book makes much of the integrity of Boston merchants, but the truth is that from colonial times to the China trade, Boston merchants were notorious smugglers. In any case, he had a neat house, and it's a shame they didn't save it as they did the Loring-Greenough house.

The location of the house is shown below. In this 1899 map, you can see how the house and estate disappeared into contemporary Dunster road.

For a view of the property in 1874, go here.

The Pittsfield Sun June 6, 1866

Astounding Frauds and their Outrageous Compromise.

The great Custom House frauds at Boston, of which mysterious notices have, from time to time appeared in the Eastern papers, are fully set forth by a pamphlet by ex-Collector John Z. Goodrich, who was removed from office a few months since, and his opponents have asserted that he and Mr. Tuck, the Naval officer who was also dismissed, lost their places from having been benefited pecuniarily by compromise with the guilty parties. To prove his innocence Mr. Goodrich has entered into a long explanation of the facts. The facts condensed by one of the readers of this pamphlet, as as follows: --

John D. and Moses Williams, heavy importers of wines and liquors had constantly and systematically cheated the Government for nineteen years by means of false invoices on champagne. In 1865 their frauds were suspected, and their books seized. From them abundant evidence was obtained that, at the instigation of the Messers Williams, a French wine maker, L. Roederer, manufacturer of the Schrieder brand of Champagne, invoiced his wines at a rate much below their market value. This invoice was presented at the Custom House, while another of the correct amount was sent to the Williamses. The loss to the Government from this trickery, between 1845 and 1865, exceeded the enormous sum of $2,200,000.

It was also proved that the firm had played a similar game in regard to importations of sherry the frauds in this case amounting to over $25,000. The offences dating more than five years back, could not be punished, by reason of the operation of the statute of limitations and the others the offenders were desirous of compromising. They employed as their agent to wait on the collector one Samuel A. Way. He offered $100,000 as a settlement. This Mr. Goodrich refused, demanding, as he says, from three to five hundred thousand dollars. Finally, the Secretary of the Treasury authorized him to accept the $100,000, exclusive of $25,000 paid to settle the sherry transaction, and discharge the guilty parties.

This settled the question so far as the Williamses were concerned; but it leaked out that Way received, in addition to the $125,000, the sum of $32,000, ostensibly not from his own benefit, but to be used at his discretion. Mr. Goodrich denies that he got any of it, and says he thinks that neither Mr. Tuck nor any other Custon House official, to his knowledge and belief, received any. The inference from this is that either Way pocketed the whole sum or paid it to some persons whose names do not appear.

The whole affair is simply abominable.The swindlers not only cheated the Government during a time when it needed every dollar of revenue it could raise, but regularly perjured themselves on the arrival of a consignment of champagne. For government officials to negotiate with such rascals, through a hired go-between, was outrageous. The additional charges of bribery could hardly render their conduct more odious.

The responding book: A Defence of the Merchants of Boston Against the Aspersions of the Hon. John Z. Goodrich, Ex-Collector of Customs, by Samuel Hooper, 1866.


  1. I did a search for Moses Williams and it led me to your blog. I like that you use a lot of Bromley's.
    Also, I work at the Leventhal Map Center. You should stop by an check out the collection if you get a chance.

  2. I intended to get into Copley and visit the Map Center this summer, and somehow never made it. I'll get there eventually.