Andrew Bankson (1705-1786) was a Swedish shopkeeper who owned approximately 35 acres of marsh “lying adjacent to Weccacoe and Moyamensing lands” from 1751 to 1770. This plot of land was a portion of a larger plantation that had been granted to Bankson’s grandfather, Anders Bengtsson, by William Penn in 1682. While conducting research on the Bankson family, I discovered this interesting series of newspaper articles published in the “Pennsylvania Gazette” which tell the story of a public scandal involving Andrew Bankson and the Swedish Church in Philadelphia in 1767. All of these articles are available to read at GenealogyBank, a resource that I have found to be extremely valuable while learning about Philadelphia’s history.
Andrew Bankson, like his forefathers, was actively involved with Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church, which was then called Wicaco. In 1751, he and several other members of the congregation were appointed trustees of land that was rented to parishioners in order raise funds for the church. After actively serving in this role for 7 years, Andrew Bankson was publicly accused of embezzling these funds by the minister of his own church.
These allegations were brought to light in a letter to the public that was published by Andrew Bankson on May 21, 1767 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In the letter, Bankson claimed that he was falsely accused of “unjustly” detaining “certain money arising from the rents and profits of [the] church lands, amounting to a considerable sum.” Bankson also claimed that he “made application to the vestry of the said church for a settlement of [his] account; and accordingly a committee was appointed for the said purpose, who met” and cleared him of any wrongdoing.
On June 17, 1767, the minister published a response in which he recounts privately approaching Bankson about the matter almost a year before. He acknowledged that the church conducted an internal investigation but did not find any evidence of impropriety. The minister claimed to have put the matter aside, though he may have mentioned his “suspicion to one or two particular friends.” He also noted the incident in the official church records and called for the Committee of the Vestry of Wicaco, Upper Merion, and Kingsessing to review the matter now that the allegations have been made public.
On June 25, 1767, the Wardens of the Vestrymen of the Incorporated Swedish Churches in the County of Philadelphia published a response to “defend the injured reputation” of their “worthy and much beloved minister.”
The letter also describes the circumstances in which the minister began investigating the accounts managed by Andrew Bankson. Apparently, the “management of the valuable estate, purchased for the use of [the] churches” had been overseen by “the hands of a few men of one or two families who [passed this responsibility onto] their children, from one generation to another, however disagreeable” to the congregation. As a result, the church formed a Charter of Incorporation which would serve as a “body politic for the management of [their] estate.”
As this charter was being formed by the minister, “Mr. Andrew Bankson … opposed it [and] this naturally led many to suspect that [his] opposition” stemmed from his unwillingness to “submit [his] accounts to a proper examination.” The letter further states that, around the same time, “a large sum [of money] remained in Mr. Bankson’s hands, unaccounted for” and this was of concern to the minister. Finally, the letter states that, because of these suspicions, the minister did not re-elect Andrew Bankson as a trustee and that Bankson “abused, in a very unbecoming manner, the Minister, and left the Church in a passion declaring … that he would publish something against the Minister.”
Over the next two months, Andrew Bankson responded by publishing a series of letters in the same newspaper in which he defended his reputation. In this letter, published on July 2, 1767, Andrew Bankson accuses the minister of propagating a “report without foundation.” Bankson also states that the minister’s “suspicions are groundless” and that he has “both publicly and privately endeavored to ruin [Bankson’s] reputation.”
On July 9, 1767, the Committee of the Vestry of Wicaco, Kingsessing, and Upper Merion published a response in which they deride the matter “too frivolous a Nature to induce us to call the Vestry together, at this busy season of the year.” The Committee also called on Bankson to submit a full accounting to the Vestry for review and suggests that if Bankson “neglects or refuses to do this Justice … the Public, as well as we, have just grounds for suspicions not very favorable to him.”
In response to two “anonymous pieces [that] have been published” by “acts of the Vestry,” Andrew Bankson published additional information about his dealings as a church trustee in the July 16, 1767 printing of the Pennsylvania Gazette. According to Bankson, prior to the minister’s arrival at the congregation, he never heard of “any dissatisfaction at [his] conduct” or complaints about “unfairness in [his] management of the trust.” Moreover, once the minister accused Bankson of mishandling funds, he “applied to the Vestry for a settlement of [his] account.” Bankson also relates details about the committee meeting, stating that “three of the [four] Committee [members] met” and “examined [his accounts] with a great deal of care.” The committee cleared Bankson of any wrongdoings, gave Bankson a certificate stating so, and “made a report to the vestry.” However, Bankson claims that the minister objected to the report because the fourth committee member, who did not attend the meeting or review the accounts, had not signed the certificate.
On July 26, 1767, Andrew Bankson published another letter to the public in which he claimed that the minister suspected Bankson of impropriety because “he was unjustly charged with having received forty pounds, which he never received.” According to Bankson, the receipt where this transaction appeared was written “and signed by [the Minister]” and was noted as “four two pounds ten shillings and sixpence.” However, the recorder in the ledger noted that the transaction was for “forty pounds ten shillings and sixpence.” Bankson claims that “the mistake was discovered and rectified by a credit of forty pounds given to the church, at the foot of the account.”
In this final letter to the public, published on September 24, 1767, Andrew Bankson provides background on the management of the trust during his tenure in the role. According to Bankson, “trustees alternatively received the rents for one year, in rotation, [until] seven years past” when Bankson took over the position from the other trustees. He claims that he was asked to provide documentation for 15 years of accounts, an impossible task when “for seven years [of those years], the monies were received and paid by the other trustees.”
Bankson also further elaborates on the infamous missing forty pounds and points out that the ledger book “was taken by a Mr. Garrit” rather than himself. Furthermore, Bankson claims that the minister actually was responsible for writing “the sum in figures at the bottom” of the receipt which was the cause of the controversy.
Bankson ends his letter by stating that he hopes that “the matter will be brought to a conclusion very shortly.” Unfortunately, this was the last letter to the public that I could find on this subject and, therefore, I am not sure if the matter rested in Bankson’s favor. In 1768, Bankson died a “respectable, and much esteemed inhabitant of the city,” and I imagine that he persevered regardless of the outcome.