Con artists were no strangers to early New York City. At one time or another, nearly every major landmark in the city had been sold by a ‘matchstick man’ or grifter. Around the turn of the twentieth century one such fraud was successfully performed by two men who targeted an artifact of slightly less renown: The Great West Point Chain.
It was October, 1777, and the Continental Army had a problem. Although they had just won a resounding victory at Saratoga, they were just as soundly defeated further south at Forts Montgomery and Clinton, key strategic outposts on the Hudson River. With the victory at Fort Montgomery the British quickly set about tearing down the lanky chain the Colonists had stretched across the river to impede the British Navy. Now the Hudson River, and important cities like Poughkeepsie (Continental ship-building hub), Kingston (the state capital), and Albany (the second largest settlement in the state after New York City) lay wide open to attack.