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Seth Paine : Spritual Banker and Abolitionist

Colorized photograph of Seth Paine.
Colorized photograph of Seth Paine.

Died June 10, 1872.

Seth Paine was a 19th-century spiritualist, a banker, and an abolitionist. At some point in his life, he got the nickname the “Queer Chicken”. Originally from Vermont, Paine moved to Illinois in 1834. he ran an Underground Railroad branch from Chicago to Lake County, Illinois.

With fellow spiritualist Ira B. Eddy, Seth Paine operated the Spirit Bank of Chicago (September 1, 1852 – ). The bank operated on a series of strict social guidelines. Its prospectus read:

We loan to no one to pay debts. We loan to no one to aid in the murder of anything which has life. We loan to no man to speculate in the necessities of life. We loan nothing on real estate, believing that it can not be bought or sold, possession with use is the only title to it. We loan nothing to aid in the manufacture or sale of liquor or tobacco. We loan nothing to gamblers or money lenders. Our basis for making loans is the established character of the borrower. He must be tem perate, honest, and religious with a mind sufficiently developed to understand business.

Never mind that many of those activities are, at their core, directly related to business.

Paine and Eddy were radicals looking to set up a spiritual community and provide it with banking services. The bank printed its own banknotes, backed with money deposited by Eddy and its depositors. Eddy’s family, concerned that he had fallen under the influence of Paine and the bank staff, had him placed under the conservatorship of Mr. D. Eddy, a family member. The conservator Eddy went to the bank to secure the funds and was confronted by acting bookkeeper John M. Holmes, who loaded balls into a six-shooter and threatened to shoot him through.

At a wild and salacious trial, the court heard about the operations of the bank and how its business was conducted through the use of a medium named Mrs. Herrick. She, through spiritual guidance, would decide whose notes would be redeemed by the bank. Those found undeserving due to their use of tobacco, liquor, or other ills, would not have their bills redeemed by the bank.

An investigation into the bank’s operations revealed that Seth Paine had little or no capital in the bank; that the bank’s reserves, totaling $8,000 USD were mostly comprised of Eddy’s deposit of $4,000 or $5,000 and about $3,000 from other persons. In court, Herrick put on a show, twitching, and summoning spirits. When told to be quiet, she insulted the court. Most of those involved in the bank were taken into custody and convicted. Still, it was never proven that the bank did anything wrong. As bizarre as it was, it was not dishonest or insolvent.

Paine was sent to jail for the Spirit Bank of Chicago affair but refused to post bail on principal.

An elementary school in Lake Zurich, Illinois, is named after him.

Seth Paine Discussed on the CoinWeek Podcast

Seth Paine and the Spirit Bank of Chicago were the subjects of Episode #171 of the CoinWeek Podcast.


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Recommended Reading: The Anointed One: The Untold Story of Seth Paine, Midwest Abolitionist (2022) by Nancy Schum.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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