Jonathan Moulton: The American Founder Who Outsmarted The Devil

American founder and Revolutionary War veteran Jonathan Moulton (via Founder of the Day) was a hero to some — a brigadier general, after his service in both King Philip's War and the French and Indian War (via New England Historical Society). He also served in the State Assembly, the Committee of Safety, and was known to have a way with higher members of society. 

To others he was a scoundrel — a scoundrel who owned enslaved people, re-gifted his dead wife's wedding ring, turned dogs on the defeated, and cheated people out of their money. In the words of former New Hampshire Governor William Plumer, his fraud reduced innocent families to poverty, and his unjust bribery of judges, witnesses, and the like was untoward. His neighbors and all those who knew him grew to hate him so much that in time, his barn had been burned down four times (and his house once — but the devil was blamed for that), he lost much of his wealth, and supposedly, even his dead body was stolen (again, by the devil). But the story all starts with how he got his riches, and it certainly wasn't through holy means.

The leader

Jonathan Moulton led countless soldiers in battle, and earned merits and titles doing so (via Founder of the Day). For part of his life, he and his troops were charged with protecting New Hampshire, which at the time was the remote, northernmost point of the continental United States. He not only guarded New Hampshire (primarily Hampton), but also led troops in the Continental Army at the Battle of Saratoga (via New England Historical Society). And as is the case with many heroes who have gone down in history, there is a dark side to this story.

In 1764, many were disgusted by Moulton's act of scavenging a Royal Navy shipwreck — called the Saint George — off the coast of Hampton. Using the aid of local officials, Moulton ensured other vultures to the wreckage would be held off while he plundered the remains. He was also known for being very wealthy, with numerous mansions. He enslaved people to work his properties, and flaunted his misbegotten riches regularly. He was also ruthless in battle, once turning his dogs on one of the Native Americans who was retreating in defeat.

The Cheater

While Jonathan Moulton went down in history as a war hero (via Founder of the Day), he also had a pretty rough start, almost immediately after being born in 1726 (via New England Historical Society). He was known for earning (or cheating his way to) ample wealth at a young age, but when he was a kid, he was actually indentured into cabinet-making work. Showing a knack for business, he quickly rose through the ranks to frontier trader, and then to businessman, military man and, to some, a member of high society.

He was also known as the man cunning enough to cheat the devil. As the story goes, Moulton told the devil that he would sell his soul for as much gold as could fit in two boots. However, he had already cut holes in the boots, so when the devil poured gold in them, it all fell to the floor, filling the room with gold but never actually filling the boots. Through this, his soul was spared, but it wasn't spared from a continued lifetime of trickery.

In the end, Moulton was said to have wronged so many people that he lost all his money, and in death, needed to be buried in an unmarked grave so his enemies would not desecrate it. Even so, a rumor spread following his death that the devil did in fact steal his body from his grave, leaving in its place a sack of coins.