News Accounts of the Historical 'Confidence Man'

The New York Herald, 8 July 1849:
Arrest of the Confidence Man

For the last few months a man has been travelling about the city, known as the "Confidence Man;" that is, he would go up to a perfect stranger in the street, and being a man of genteel appearance, would easily command an interview. Upon this interview he would say, after some little conversation, "have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until to-morrow;" the stranger, at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance, not at the moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing "confidence" in the honesty of the stranger, who walks off laughing, and the other, supposing it to be a joke, allows him so to do. In this way many have been duped, and the last that we recollect was a Mr. Thomas McDonald, of No. 276 Madison street, who, on the 12th of May last, was met by this "Confidence Man" in William street, who in the manner as above described, took from him a gold lever watch valued at $110; and yesterday, singularly enough, Mr. McDonald was passing along Liberty street, when who should he meet but the "Confidence Man" who had stolen his watch. Officer Swayse, of the Third ward, being near at hand, took the accused into custody on the charge made by Mr. McDonald.... On the prisoner being taken before Justice McGrath, he was recognized as an old offender, by the name of Wm. Thompson, and is said to be a graduate of the college at Sing Sing. The magistrate committed him to the prison for a further hearing. It will be well for all those persons who have been defrauded by the "Confidence Man," to call at the police court, Tombs, and take a view of him.

The Literary World, 18 August 1849
EVERT A. DUYCKINCK [On the Confidence Man]

The Confidence Man, the new species of the Jeremy Diddler recently a subject of police fingering, and still later impressed into the service of Burton's comicalities in Chambers street, is excellently handled by a clever pen in the Merchants' Ledger, which we are glad to see has a column for the credit as well as for the debtor side of humanity. It is not the worst thing that can be said of a country that it gives birth to a confidence man:--

"Who is there that does not recollect, in the circle of his acquaintance, a smart young gentleman who, with his coat buttoned to the throat and hair pushed back, extends his arms at public meetings in a wordy harangue? This is the young confidence man of politics. In private life you remember perfectly well the middle aged gentleman with well-developed person and white waistcoat, who lays down the law in reference to the state of trade, sub-treasury, and the tariff--and who subscribes steadily to Hunt's excellent Magazine (which he never reads). This is the confidence man of merchandise.

"That one poor swindler, like the one under arrest, should have been able to drive so considerable a trade on an appeal to so simple a quality as the confidence of man in man, shows that all virtue and humanity of nature is not entirely extinct in the nineteenth century. It is a good thing, and speaks well for human nature, that, at this late day, in spite of all the hardening of civilization and all the warning of newspapers, men can be swindled.

"The man who is always on his guard, always proof against appeal, who cannot be beguiled into the weakness of pity by any story--is far gone, in our opinion, towards being himself a hardened villain. He may steer clear of petty larceny and open swindling --but mark that man well in his intercourse with his fellows--they have no confidence in him, as he has none in them. He lives coldly among his people--he walks an iceberg in the marts of trade and social life--and when he dies, may Heaven have that confidence in him which he had not in his fellow mortals!"

The Albany Evening Journal, 28 April 1855
The Original Confidence Man in Town.-- A Short Chapter on Misplaced Confidence

He ["Samuel Willis"] called into a jewelry store on Broadway and said to the proprietor: "How do you do, Mr. Meyers?" Receiving no reply, he added "Don't you know me?" to which Mr. M. replied that he did not. "My name is Samuel Willis. You are mistaken, for I have met you three or four times." He then said he had something of a private nature to communicate to Mr. Myers and that he wished to see him alone. The two men walked to the end of the counter, when Willis said to Myers, "I guess you are a Mason,"--to which Myers replied that he was-- when Willis asked him if he would not give a brother a shilling if he needed it. By some shrewd management, Myers was induced to give him six or seven dollars.

These accounts were included in Hershel Parker's 1971 Norton edition of The Confidence-Man. He lists Johannes D. Bergmann as responsible for identifying the pieces from the New York Herald and the Albany Evening Journal. He acknowledges Paul Smith for pointing out the Duyckinck passage.


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