#98 Franklin J. Moses

Franklin Israel (J.) Moses (1838-1906), aka Ex-Gov Moses — Swindler, Politician

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-four years old in 1886. Born in South Carolina. Lawyer. Married. Slim build. Height, 5 feet 8 1/2 inches. Weight, 130 pounds. Dark hair, turning gray; blue eyes, sallow complexion, large Roman nose; generally wears a heavy mustache, quite gray. Dresses fairly. Good talker.

RECORD. Ex-Governor Moses, of South Carolina, graduated from Columbia College, and served as private secretary to the Governor of South Carolina for two years. At the close of the war of the Rebellion he was one of the first of any that were conspicuous in the State to submit to the Reconstruction Act; and he was, after serving as Speaker of the House two years, made Governor, holding that office for two years. His father, an estimable man, was at one time Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Shortly after his term of office expired, Moses started in victimizing friend and foe alike. An account of all his swindling transactions would fill many pages. Below will be found a few of his many exploits.

He was first arrested in New York City, and delivered to the South Carolina authorities on September 17, 1878, for making and uttering a forged note in South Carolina for $316. When he arrived there he was placed on parole, and allowed to escape. He was arrested again in New York City on October 3, 1881, for defrauding Major William L. Hall out of $25. For this he was sentenced to six months in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island. He was arrested again in Chicago, Ill, on July 27, 1884, for false pretenses, but the case was settled up. He was arrested again in Detroit, Mich., on October 12, 1884, for swindling the Rev. Dr. Rexford, under the name of Thomas May, and sent to jail for three months.

He was again arrested in Detroit, upon the expiration of his three months’ sentence, on January 27, 1885, by Boston officers, for swindling Colonel T. W. Higginson, of Cambridge, out of $34, under false pretenses. He was brought to East Cambridge, Mass., and pleaded guilty in the Superior Criminal Court there on February 11, 1885, and was sentenced to six months in the House of Correction. He was brought from the House of Correction on May 29, 1885, on a writ, and arraigned before Judge Aldrich, of the Superior Criminal Court, and committed for trial for swindling, in February, 1884, Mr. Fred. Ames out of $40; ex-Mayor Cobb, $40; Dr. Bowditch, $20; Dr. Henry O. Marcy, $20; and Mr. Williams, a bookseller, $20. Moses pleaded guilty again to these complaints on September 25, 1885. He was finally sentenced to three years in the House of Correction on October i, 1885, by Judge Aldrich. His sentence will expire, allowing him full commutation time, on May 10, 1888.

When the ex-governor was arraigned for sentence in Boston, his counsel, John B. Goodrich, Esq., said that he wished to state to the court the remarkable circumstances of the case, not for the purpose of extenuation, but because of the qualities of the man, and consider if something could not be done to restore him to his former place in the community. Judge Aldrich said: “If I were sitting in another place than upon the bench, I should think, after listening to the remarks of the counsel for the defense, that I was listening to a eulogy of some great and good man.” The judge, continuing, said he would rather see a member of the bar starve before he would commit a State prison offense. He himself would suffer cold all day, sweep the streets, before he would go into a gentleman’s house and commit such offenses as those charged. The defense made for the prisoner the judge characterized as trivial, and said it was time such frauds were stopped. He did not see what good it would do to send him to any of the reformatory institutions. He felt that a severe sentence ought to be imposed upon the prisoner, and therefore sentenced him to be imprisoned in the State prison for three years.

Moses’ picture is an excellent one, taken in March, 1882.

For a country desperately in need of political leadership, Franklin J. Moses proved himself to be the worst possible man at the worst time in the nation’s history. He was a dashing young Southern aristocrat with absolutely no impulse control, who through luck, charisma, ambition, and pandering quickly ascended to the position of Governor in Reconstruction era South Carolina. That part of his story is well-documented in places like Wikipedia;  an R. H. Woody article from 1933, “FRANKLIN J. MOSES, Jr., SCALAWAG GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1872-74“; and a more sympathetic recent book by Benjamin Ginsberg, Moses of South Carolina.

Chief Byrnes provided a good summary of the Ex-Gov’s troubles with the law from the time he arrived in New York City until his imprisonment in Massachusetts. However, neither Byrnes nor any contemporary newspapers mentioned his second marriage in 1878 to Emma Rice; and the birth in 1880 of a daughter. However, it appears that the new Mrs. Moses had no patience for her husband’s arrests, and that the marriage dissolved.

While in the Massachusetts State Prison, Moses was taken to the prison hospital suffering from opium withdrawal. By 1888 he claimed to be free of the drug. After leaving State Prison, Moses moved to Winthrop, Massachusetts, located on a peninsula in Massachusetts Bay near Boston. There he resided in a cottage and for the next ten years lived a relatively quiet life as the owner of the local Winthrop newspaper. However, it was not rewarding, and Moses sold the paper in 1898, leaving debts. He was taken to court over advertising money he took for ads that never ran.

Once again down on his luck, in January 1902, Moses paid for an overcoat with a bad check; then pawned the overcoat. He gave a long, passionate speech when brought to trial for this offense, once again mentioning his past drug habit. He was sentenced to the detention facility on Deer Island, which was the skip of a stone from Winthrop.

After regaining his freedom, Moses became associated with Boston publisher/financier Cardenio F. King. King later write an account of how a miserable, poorly-clad Moses appeared one day on his doorstep, asking for charity from a fellow southerner. This account appears in King’s 1908 book, The Light of Four Candles, which is a history of King’s feud with Boston financier Thomas W. Lawson.

Both men amassed wealth through dubious means: Lawson by manipulating stocks with a market (he was especially successfully with trading copper mine companies); and King by enticing small investors into ventures offering uncertain returns, such as the Crowther-King Oil Corporation. King, as publisher of the financial newspaper, the Boston Daily Tribune, appears to have opened hostilities by advising his readers not to follow Lawson’s example of “frenzied” stock trading. In response, Lawson–who was far wealthier–began a campaign to frighten off King’s small investors. Lawson was a popular figure: an outspoken lover of sports, horses, yachts, and the good life; and a critic of corrupt financial practices. He was a flamboyant figure, much like the business magnate Ted Turner presented himself as seventy-five years later.

In his last years of life, Franklin J. Moses became a pawn in the battle between King and Lawson. By King’s account, out of pity he gave Moses a clerical job in his office, and said that Moses performed his duties quietly and competently for over a year. In October 1906, Moses told King that his eyesight was failing, and that he could no longer do clerical work. King says that he then assigned Moses to travel and meet with his clients, to give updates to them and present further opportunities for investment.

While this sounds perfectly innocent, what financial speculation concern would bring into their office a man who had bankrupted an entire state, and who had been jailed half a dozen times for swindling? C. F. King had to have known Moses’ long history.

Not long after Moses assumed his new responsibilities of meeting with King’s clients, King discovered that many of them were showing up asking for their money back. Upon investigation, King learned that Moses had been advising them that King was on shaky standing, and that they needed to divest from his companies. He also learned that Moses had been observed meeting with his arch-enemy, Thomas W. Lawson!

King had Moses meet him in his office to confront him with his treachery, but in the middle of their meeting King had to step out into another office to greet a visitor, and Moses escaped from their confrontation. King was later told that Moses had been plotting to leave forged papers in King’s office that would criminally implicate King. King also heard that Moses had recently  flashed a roll of seven one hundred dollar bills.

Before King could confront Moses again, word came that Franklin J. Moses had been found dead in his rooms, asphyxiated by an unlit gas lamp.

Police investigated, and found a sheath of papers in Moses’ room. The District Attorney who examined them later said the papers were not evidence of any crime. Some thought his death was an accident; King and others believed Franklin J. Moses committed suicide, driven by remorse over his recent betrayal of King.

Thomas W. Lawson suspected that Moses had been murdered:


The mystery, such as it was, was never solved. [Was there any evidence of renewed opiate use?]

Moses’ death remains: an accident, a suicide…or a murder. C. F. King later went to jail for swindling his investors, and Thomas W. Lawson later lost his fortune.



One thought on “#98 Franklin J. Moses

  1. Thank you for this. As someone who isn’t a “fan” of Moses, I enjoyed seeing his decline, but I would never wish murder on him! Ha! Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this!


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