February 16, 2012 11:27 AM   Subscribe

The true name of the man most famously known as Lord George Gordon Gordon will likely never be known. His name, though false, will nevertheless live in history for pulling one of the great advance-fee cons of all time, swindling in 1872 over a million dollars out of Jay Gould, most unscrupulous of all the robber barons and no stranger himself to a long con. Gould's quest for revenge would nearly lead to a military invasion of Manitoba by the Minnesota state militia.

In 1872, Gould was deep in the Erie War with Cornelius Vanderbilt, a furious battle for control of the board of the Erie Railroad. When Horace Greeley, reformer and editor of the New York Tribune, made the acquaintance of a visiting Scottish earl and discovered that he held $30M of Erie stock personally and the proxy to $20M more given by reform-minded British stockholders, he was delighted to make an introduction to Gould. A deal was soon struck, but Lord Gordon Gordon's expenses had after all already been considerable, and with a man as sharp as Jay Gould, he needed some better proof of his good intentions than merely his word.
"600 shares of Erie, some 1,900 of corporations affiliated with Erie, and 4,722 of the Oil Creek and Allegheny Valley Railroad, twenty-one thousand dollar bonds of the Nyack and Northern Railroad, and $160,000 in currency. The careful recipient of these securities and cash presently found an error of forty thousand dollars in the footing of Gould's memorandum and sent word of the shortage. Gould did not think there was such an error, but under the circumstances he would not dispute the point and came back with an additional forty thousand dollars in cash. To a modest request for a memorandum receipt, his lordship replied with exceeding dignity that his word of honor ought to be receipt enough, and handed the bundle back to Gould. Gould took it, went as far as the door, returned, laid it down, and departed in faith that his property was in safe hands. It must have been sheer sport in playing a fish which had taken his hook so greedily that led Gordon to demand that Gould separate himself from the old directorate. On March 9 Gould delivered to him his resignation as director and president of the Erie Railway Company, to take effect upon the appointment of his successor. The great covenant was complete."
When the truth came out, Gordon fled the US for Manitoba, where he lived as a popular guest of high society. Rather than seek extradition, Gould sent a party of New York bounty hunters and Minneapolis policemen to seize Gordon and return him to the US. The first they did, but they were stopped at the border by Canadian customs officers, who, unconvinced by the bounty hunters' novel argument that a warrant issued by one common law country was valid in another, freed Gordon and arrested the Americans. A furious diplomatic controversy ensued at the highest levels, and Minneapolis mayor George Brackett later claimed that President Grant himself had authorized a military response "if the speedy release of the Minnesotans could not be effected legally ..." The crisis was defused when the Americans were found guilty but released with time served.

Gordon, however, could not fight legitimate extradition proceedings later brought against him by an Edinburgh jeweler for credit fraud - though he claimed the baleful hand of Gould was behind them. On August 1, 1874 (.pdf) the man sometimes called Lord George Gordon Gordon, the Hon. Mr Herbert Hamilton, Lord Glencairn, George Gordon, George Herbert Gordon, and John Herbert Charles Gordon put a bullet in his own head rather than return to Scotland a prisoner.
posted by strangely stunted trees (10 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
The Winnipeg Realtors link (a party of New York bounty hunters and Minneapolis policemen) is part 2 of 3, and it seems parts 1 and 3 aren't directly linked there. Here's part 1, and here's part 3.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:39 AM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is really interesting. Thanks for sharing!
posted by .kobayashi. at 11:57 AM on February 16, 2012

Manitoba had a high society?
posted by stinkycheese at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fascinating. Thanks for posting this!
posted by zarq at 12:16 PM on February 16, 2012

I can't help feeling, what with the correspondance and everything, that this was a very rudimentary Nigerian 409 scam.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:35 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or do I mean 419 scam?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2012

Fascinating! Thanks, OP!

...Jay Gould, most unscrupulous of all the robber barons...

While Gould was a bit of a dink in his business dealings, he was a good family man, insisting on stopping business to return home and have dinner with his children every single day, and also being very progressive in terms of the treatment and education of his daughters. In the Victorian Age, and for a man of his position, he was quite remarkable in that regard. (At least, this is what I was given to understand by the capable and informative guides at Lyndhurst.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:48 PM on February 16, 2012

> Manitoba had a high society?

Guess you've never heard of Winnipeg Wheelchair Weed, then.
posted by scruss at 12:49 PM on February 16, 2012

This was actually a topic of discussion by my husband on the book he is writing. Weird.
posted by jadepearl at 1:21 PM on February 16, 2012

Sure, it's a very close cousin to a Nigerian 419 scam. It's part of a rich vein of cons, because one of the best ways of getting a mark to spend money is to give him the hope of screwing someone else out of much more. The pigeon drop and the fiddle game are close relatives too. The advantage of this one is that it's not some random stranger or venal third-world state petroleum company you think you're getting to rip off, but instead your worst enemy, so there's even more of an emotional hook for the mark.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:55 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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