08 Jan 2018

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Robbery

In the new year, it seems appropriate to go back to the earliest days of the Hill and to one of its earliest inhabitants –especially as there is a crime involved.

Some of those who came to Capitol Hill in its earliest days were not there to either build the city or run the country, but instead there to sell goods to those who were building and running. An early establishment of this nature was run by two men named Alexander: Cochran and McCormick. They opened a dry goods store on Capitol Hill to sell manufactured goods to its residents. They did not advertise as heavily as their competitors, but someone must have known about their business. On Sunday the 16th of January, 1802, persons unknown infiltrated the shop and made off with,

five piece blue, bottle green, and dark brown superfine broad cloths, three or four pieces of swansdown, three and one half dozen white cotton and worsted stockings, several pieces bandanna and flag handkerchiefs and seven eigtht [sic] wide Irish linen, chintz shawls, fine hats, red morocco pocket books, wide black ribbon, &tc.

This list came from an ad placed in the January 22 Daily National Intelligencer. The ad went on to list 45 names of people and the reward money they were putting up. Leading off were Cochran and McCormick with 50 dollars, but following them was a veritable who’s who of early Capitol Hill: Thomas Law, William Tunnicliff, Daniel Carroll of Duddington, William Prout, and Pontius Stelle. A number of people known beyond this small circle also contributed, including Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin and the magnificently-named Clotworthy Stephenson, who had been the Grand Marshal in charge of the laying of the cornerstone of the Capitol some ten years earlier.

George Washington laying the cornerstone of the Capitol in 1793. Detail of a picture on the ceiling of the Capitol by Allyn Cox (AOC)

It does not appear that the $256.50 that were offered were enough to convince anyone to turn in the thieves, nor were the $100 reward offered separately for the return of the goods enough to make the thieves reconsider. Less than three weeks after the DNI had published the news of the robbery, they published a brief article indicating that the partnership of McCormick and Cochran was dissolved, and that Mr. McCormick would now take over the business, and that anyone either owing money to the firm, or having money owed to them, should contact him to settle up.

McCormick (pictured) did quite well for himself thereafter, being a member of the D.C. Council on and off from 1804 until 1819, including a number of years in which he was president of the Aldermen. McCormick died on February 16, 1821 at his home on Capitol Hill. In the brief obituary that was published the following day, it was mentioned that he had been a merchant to the end and was to be buried in Congressional Cemetery. His wife Hannah would outlive him by some 25 years, and was buried next to him in 1846. You can read more on the McCormicks and their children and grandchildren over the next few weeks.

Alexander Cochran did not do nearly as well. Some six months after the partnership collapsed, he was declared bankrupt and thereafter he is mentioned only in the context of some further bankruptcy. What his eventual disposition was is impossible to tell at this late date.

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