Mary Peck Butterworth (July 27, 1686 - February 7,
1775) was a counterfeiter in colonial America.
Joseph and Elizabeth (Smith) Peck in Rehoboth,
Massachusetts, she married John Butterworth, son of a
British captain in 1710. Mary Butterworth allegedly started
her counterfeiting operation around 1716. According to those
who would later testify against her, Butterworth used
starched cotton cloths to produce counterfeit bills, rather
than the metal plates used more commonly in counterfeiting.
With a hot iron, she transferred a pattern from the cloth
to a blank paper bill, then inked the pattern by hand with
quill pens. The original cotton cloth was easily disposed of
through burning, leaving no hard evidence of a crime.
Butterworth allegedly organized her counterfeiting operation
into a cottage industry, sternly overseeing the work of the
entire family. At the height of her operation, she was
reportedly selling counterfeit bills at half their face
Colonial authorities knew of an extensive counterfeiting
ring operating somewhere in the Rhode Island area throughout
the later half of the 1710s, and felt it was beginning to
have a damaging impact on the entire colonial economy. In
1722 colonial authorities became suspicious of Mary
Butterworth after her husband John purchased a large,
expensive new home for the family.
On August 14, 1723 a trial was held in Newport, Rhode
Island. One Nicholas Campe testified he passed two
counterfeit Rhode Island bills he obtained through
Butterworth. Two of Butterworth's associates (her brother
and his wife) turned state's evidence and also testified
against her. Ultimately though, the court dismissed all
charges against her for lack of hard evidence.
After the trial, Butterworth reportedly gave up
counterfeiting. She died in 1775 in Bristol County,
Massachusetts, aged 88.