Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Dexter, Timothy

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DEXTER, Timothy, merchant, b. in Malden, Mass., 22 Jan., 1743; d. in Newburyport, 26 Oct., 1806. He learned the trade of leather-dressing, and in 1764 began business on his own account in Charlestown, Mass. He made much money by his trade, and also by the purchase of the depreciated continental money, which was greatly increased in value after Hamilton's funding system went into operation. Being now wealthy, Dexter assumed the title of “Lord,” but failed to obtain social recognition in Boston or Salem, and removed to Newburyport, where he purchased two large mansions, one of which he sold at a profit, and the other he fitted up as his palace in a bizarre style, prompted by his capricious taste. He raised minarets on the roof of his mansion, surrounded with a profusion of gilt balls, and in his garden erected rows of columns, fifteen feet high, on which he placed colossal images of Jefferson, Adams, and others, carved in wood, Washington occupying the place of honor on a Roman arch that stood in front of the door. One peculiarity of his whim was that he continually changed the names of his great men, and the Gen. Morgan of yesterday might become the Bonaparte of to-day or the Nelson of tomorrow. Dexter placed himself among the great, whom he delighted to honor, and labelled his column “I am the greatest man in the East.” There were upward of forty of the figures, including four lions, two couchant and two passant, the whole costing about $15,000. He kept a poet laureate, named Jonathan Plummer. Though his inordinate vanity and shrewdness alone saved him from complete mental imbecility, he yet had powerful passions, and the artist that lettered his images, having opposed his wishes, narrowly escaped death from a pistol fired by his patron. He had seen, at the houses of Hancock and Russell, cases of well-bound books, and he forthwith bought the best-bound books he could find, irrespective of contents; and, having heard that the nobles in England had a great passion for paintings, he employed a young gentleman of taste to purchase pictures for him in Europe, but, on his return, Dexter selected all the daubs and declined to take the others. He had a coat of arms painted on his coach, with baronial supporters, and was never happier than when the boys ran after his coach and cream-colored horses, crying “Huzza for Dexter's horses!” But when their admiring cries no longer followed him, his love for cream-colored horses died away. Though he was the same imitative creature in his commercial speculations that he was in other respects, he was almost invariably successful. Certain mischievous merchants' clerks at one time induced him to send a large lot of warming-pans to the West Indies as part of an assorted cargo. The captain put his Yankee ingenuity to work, called them skimmers, and introduced them into a sugar-making establishment, where they met with such favor that the whole lot was soon sold to great advantage. Dexter purchased a country seat in the town of Chester, N. H., and again made an ostentatious display of his wealth in an absurd ornamentation of his house, in erecting magnificent stables and enormous pigeon-houses; but, as he became quarrelsome, the neighbors frequently repaid his impudence with a horse-whipping. When the news of the death of Louis XVI. reached Boston, Dexter was there, and at once hastened to Newburyport and bribed the sextons to ring the passing-bell before he circulated the tidings of the monarch's death. In anticipation of his own death, he had an elegant coffin made and a tomb prepared, and arranged a mock funeral (supposed by many to be real), and caned his wife because she failed to shed tears at the pageant. His remarks at times showed great acuteness, as on one occasion, when the papers were teeming with Lord Thurlow's famous remark, “When I forget my king, may my God forget me,” he travestied it to “When I forget myself, may God forget me.” Were this all there were to relate of Lord Timothy Dexter's achievements, he might be regarded with a contempt that still left room for pity; but his bacchanalian orgies and licentious escapades preclude almost every feeling but that of disgust. Toward the close of his career he appears to have regretted his follies. The disposition of his wealth was judicious, and showed that he was not wanting in regard for his relatives. Being desirous of reputation as an author, he published a book entitled “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones,” and, having been annoyed by the printers about punctuation, he retaliated by writing a pamphlet without a point of any kind, and at the end filled half a page with points in a mass, inviting the readers to “pepper the dish to suit themselves.”