Category Archives: History

Fort built to protect the Symmes Purchase

Jim Blount History Resources

On November 18, 1788, 26 brave persons stepped off flatboats on the Ohio River and established the first settlement in Southwestern Ohio to inhabit Columbia, a community about a mile west of where the Little Miami River empties into the Ohio River.

The site today is in Cincinnati’s southeast corner, between Lunken Airport and Alms Park.

About a month earlier — October 15, 1788 — Congress had approved the sale of one million acres in the Northwest Territory to John Cleves Symmes of New Jersey.

Symmes is a familiar label on the area’s landscape, and most of the names are a tribute to the region’s first land owner and real estate agent.

John Cleves Symmes was born July 21, 1742, at Southold, Long Island, N. Y., and was residing in Sussex County, N. J., in 1770, before the start of the American Revolution.

During the war, he was a colonel in charge of New Jersey troops. He was on the committee that drafted a new state constitution in 1776, and was an associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1777 through 1783.

He was a New Jersey representative in the Continental Congress from 1785 through 1787 while that body searched for a way to sell land and control settlement in the Ohio valley.

Congress, which was then the only branch of government in the new United States, adopted ordinances in 1785 and 1787 which opened the way for migration into the region that would become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

In New York City, Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance July 13, 1787, while in Philadelphia the Constitutional Convention worked until September on a new plan of government.

August 29, 1787 — less than seven weeks after enactment of the Northwest Ordinance — the 45-year-old Symmes asked his colleagues to permit him to buy one million acres in the wilderness.

Joining the often-controversial Symmes in the venture were Elias Boudinot and Jonathan Dayton, past and present members of Congress from New Jersey. Dayton also was then a member of the Constitutional Convention.

In the spring and summer of 1787, Symmes had traveled down the Ohio River to inspect potential locations.

His choice, because it was north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami River and the Great Miami River, was known as the Miami Purchase. It included a portion of what is now Butler County.

It wasn’t until October 15, 1788, that Congress approved the sale to Symmes. By then, Symmes had been appointed to one of five administrative positions in the territory. February 18, 1788, Congress named him one of three territorial judges.

He planned to buy a million acres and profit by reselling smaller parcels to others. First, he priced his land at 66 and two-thirds cents an acre. Later, the standard price was $1.

John Reily’s First Stop in Ohio

Symmes quickly sold several thousand acres to Benjamin Stites, who a few weeks later guided the pioneers on the two-day trip from Limestone (now Maysville, Ky. ) to Columbia.

Stites had been with Symmes and others in September 1788 during their inspection of the land north of the Ohio River between the Little Miami and Great Miami rivers.

The first, task for Stites and others who arrived at Columbia in November 1788 was to build a small fort for protection from possible Indian raids. Of course, log cabins also had to be constructed before the onset of winter.

But food was more of a problem than shelter that first winter. The settlers soon consumed the food they brought with them. Then they had to rely on wild game — which was plentiful — and what they could extract from the ground.

According to one account, Columbia women and children had “to scratch up the bulbous roots of the bear grass, which when mashed, boiled and dried, were pounded into a kind of flour which served as a tolerable substitute for wheat and corn flour.”

The food situation began to improve in the spring when crops could be planted. But not all of the settlement’s manpower could be devoted to farming. Half of the men worked in the fields while the other half stood guard against Indian attacks. The groups switched responsibilities during the day to break the monotony.

Columbia residents suffered another setback in November 1789 when the Ohio River flooded the community. Only one house escaped the water.

Columbia survived the hardships and prospered. It quickly became a trading center — thanks to an adjacent area known as Turkey Bottom, which produced high yields of corn each year.

At first, Columbia grew faster than nearby Cincinnati (to which it was annexed in 1873), and North Bend, a settlement started by John Cleves Symmes.

A missionary who visited the three river communities in 1792 said Columbia had 1,100 inhabitants while Cincinnati had about 900 and North Bend between 300 and 400 residents.

The first school in the Symmes Purchase was established at Columbia In June 1790 by 27-year-old John Reily, who was also an Indian fighter and soon became a leader not only in Columbia, but in the Northwest Territory.

Thirteen years later Reily — a native of Pennsylvania who spent his youth in Virginia before service in the revolutionary army — would move to Hamilton and continue to serve in various official capacities until a few years before his death June 7, 1850, at the age of 87.

A Campaign Against the Natives

Attempts to settle Ohio began in 1788, but migration across the Appalachians into the area was slowed by Indian resistance. Building log forts on the banks of the Ohio River at Marietta and Cincinnati had failed to intimidate the Native Americans, and in 1790 an ill-prepared military expedition ended in defeat.

In 1791, Congress — at the urging of President George Washington — authorized an increase in the army and the militia to challenge the Indians again.

At the same time, Arthur St. Clair — governor of the Northwest Territory since 1788 — was appointed major-general and commander of the U. S. Army. St. Clair, based in Cincinnati, hoped to gather 3,000 men for another campaign against the Native Americans residing later became western Ohio and eastern Indiana.

One of his objectives was to build a series of forts extending north from Fort Washington in Cincinnati. Execution of that strategy led to the building of Fort Hamilton.

The task was assigned to Lt. Col. William Darke, who also was responsible for cutting a road through the wilderness between Fort Washington and the first in a chain of “forts of deposit,” the 1790s military term describing supply posts.

In August, Darke ‘s advance unit established a camp at Ludlow Station, five miles north of Cincinnati on Mill Creek. On September 6, 1791, Darke’s soldiers started for their destination, about 25 miles north of Fort Washington. It took three days to chop through the thickly-wooded countryside.

Darke made camp near the present site of the Columbia Bridge in Hamilton and waited for orders. September 20, St. Clair ordered Darke to proceed to erect the fort on a site which had been selected during a previous scouting mission.

Built with 80 Axes and a Saw

The location on the east bank of the Great Miami River was chosen because the army planned to transport supplies from Cincinnati via the river. The site also was at a ford, a natural river crossing, which had been used by the Indians. It is believed to have been on an alignment with present Ross Avenue and Court Street. The fort’s gate was at this point, opening to the west.

About 100 men worked for two weeks to complete the fort, then about half the size of a modern football field.

From the surrounding woods, the men and their oxen combined to cut straight, 20-foot logs and drag them to a flat area beside the river. The timbers — from 9 to 12 inches in diameter — were placed upright in a three-foot trench around the perimeter.

Four blockhouses or platforms were built, three on the land side and one facing the river.

Inside the fort, soldiers built a barracks for about 100 men, a guard room, two storehouses and a magazine.

Darke’s contingent faced a familiar military problem — a shortage — according to the adjutant general of the army.

“The provisions of tools . . . was scanty in the extreme,” said Col. Winthrop Sargent in his diary of the campaign. “Eighty axes only were furnished by the quartermaster, and of these 13 were borrowed from the troops.” Sargent said the crew had “one saw and one frow” (a wedge-shaped cleaving tool).

September 30, 1791, is regarded as the completion date for the crude fort which was named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, then secretary of the treasury in President Washington’s cabinet.

The fort — which would be enlarged later — immediately became the temporary base for about 2,000 soldiers, considerably less than the 3,000 that St. Clair had anticipated. Oct. 4 — five days after completion of Fort Hamilton — Gen. St. Clair led his hastily-assembled army out of the frontier outpost toward a showdown with the Indians.

‘The Miami Slaughterhouse’

Unfortunately, many of John Cleves Symmes’ deals were faulty.

There was confusion between Symmes and the government over both the size and the boundaries of the Miami Purchase.

In some cases, Symmes sold land which he didn’t own. Some problems were attributed to Symmes’ tendency to neglect details, including selling tracts on credit and then failing to collect payment.

The labeling of his real estate as “the Miami Slaughterhouse” — because of deadly Indian raids on settlers — discouraged some prospects from buying Symmes’ land.

Added to all of their troubles were disputes between Symmes and some of his associates.

In March 1811, a mysterious fire destroyed Symmes’ residence. Eventually, his holdings were seized and sold to satisfy legal claims against him.

Symmes, then 72, died in poverty February. 26, 1814, in Cincinnati. He was buried with military honors in North Bend, an Ohio River community which he founded February 2, 1789.

Culled from the following columns at the Lane Libraries Jim Blount History Resources Archives:

Sept. 25, 1988 – Hamilton once army fort:

Nov. 13, 1988 – Early settlers busy beavers:

April 22, 1990 – First land owner died poor:

Current Column: Sugar first food rationed during World War II; Backyard Victory Gardens and Victory Flocks suggested to supplement local food supplies

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Who’s That Lady? It’s Hebe, Nymph of Streams and Brooks


By Richard O Jones

Hamilton’s first public fountain — and a familiar sculpture in the city before there was a City of Sculpture — has since 2013 resided in a pocket park at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and High Street, a classical counterpoint to the modern “Hamilton Gateway” across the way.

This makes “Hebe, Nymph of Streams and Brooks” one of the City of Sculpture’s most visible works.

2015 0828 hebeAccording to a history of the First National Bank prepared for its 75th anniversary in 1938, “Hebe” (pronouced HEE-bee) was a gift to the city in 1890.

After discussing the bank’s role in bringing electric lights to the city streets, the history says, “In addition to its many contributions toward the betterment of Hamilton, the First National Bank gave, for free public use, a very handsome drinking fountain, the first public drinking fountain in the city, much sought by man and animal. On the street side there was a large circular container for horses, while close to the street were small ones for dogs and other smaller animals. The fountain was on High Street, near the main entrance of the bank.”

Oddly enough, when that history was written, the fountain was no longer on High Street.

Local historian Jim Blount said that it was removed and discarded in 1928 to make way for construction of the new First National Bank building.

“For the next 47 years, it stood in the yard of a private residence on Haldimand Avenue on Hamilton’s West Side,” Blount said.

First National Bank re-acquired it in 1975 in preparation for observance of the United States Bicentennial. After restoration work at the Hamilton Foundry, it was reinstalled in 1976 on High Street in front of the bank.

The fountain was included in a 1994 Save Outdoor Sculpture initiative and is described in a Smithsonian Institution inventory: “The nymph Hebe stands atop a public drinking fountain. She wears a robe hanging from her shoulders and tied at her waist and her hair is tied behind her head. Her proper right arm extends down her side, holding a pitcher in her proper right hand. Her proper left arm is bent upwards at the elbow; her proper left hand is at shoulder height holding a drinking cup. She stands atop an ornamented base with water spouts within relief fish heads. The front and back spouts have basins underneath. A kerosene lamp may originally have been installed in her left palm.”

It is a replica of a fountain and statue in Copenhagen, Denmark, designed by a Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1774-1844). He also created a statue of Hebe which is in The Louvre in Paris, France.

As a young man, Thorvaldsen went to Italy to study classical sculpture and while living in Rome became a leading figure in the classical revival. His most famous works are allegorical reliefs and statues of classical subjects, such as Cupid and Psyche, which is located in the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen).

His return from Rome to settle in Copenhagen was regarded as a national event in Danish history, Blount said.

A large portion of his fortune went to the endowment of a Neoclassical museum in Copenhagen designed to house his collection of works of art, the models for all his sculptures.

By his own wish, Thorvaldsen was buried there.

In mythology, Hebe was the daughter of Zeus and Hera and was said to have the power to make old people young again. In some sources, she was an attendant to Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, and a wife to Heracles.

Hebe has found her new home as a result of a deal struck in 2013 between First Financial and the City of Hamilton.

The bank agreed to demolish the building it owned at that corner to create a park and relocate the fountain in exchange for city-owned parking area off of Market Street.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Hamilton Journal-News, Sept. 15, 2013

Famous and fancy wedding dresses on display in Benninghofen House



The Butler County Historical Society exhibits more than 150 years of fashion tied to the weddings of local families.  “Reality and Fantasy: 150 Years of Butler County Weddings” will showcase 18 wedding dresses, along with veils, tuxedos and other accoutrements.

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Many of the dresses were worn by members of well known and prominent families including the Woods, Becketts, Fittons, Flenners, Neilan and Griesmers.  Also featured are wedding photographs and written records showing how brides, grooms and their families celebrated their nuptial days.

The highlight of the exhibit is the dress and veil first worn by Mary Woods when she married Cyrus Falconer on October 8, 1839.  The dress was worn by at least three brides and the veil used by eight brides between 1839 and 1990.

The exhibit was developed by Sara Butler, Miami University Art Department Professor Emeritus, and her intern Marcus Gray, now a Miami graduate.

“This exhibit was a real treat for us,” she said.  “My research interests have been on dress and human behavior, especially historical dress during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  So I greatly enjoyed learning about all of the families and telling the stories of the brides who wore the dresses.”

Kathy Creighton, executive director of the historical society, said they also made some exciting discoveries in the process.

“Sara and I were thrilled to be able to locate and reunite the original veil with the wedding dress worn by Mary Woods in 1839 after they had been separated for more than 50 years,” Creighton said. “We have to thank Marjorie Beckett Belew who wore the dress and veil at her wedding in 1953 for making that possible.”

Dr. Sara Butler and Marcus Gray will give a special presentation of “Reality and Fantasy: 150 Years of Butler County Weddings,” 7 p.m. September 10, in the Emma Ritchie Auditorium.  A reception will follow the talk.

The wedding dress exhibit is located throughout the Benninghofen House and lower Emma Ritchie exhibit area and will run through December 31.

Interested visitors can also view the ongoing Beckett Paper Company exhibit located in the Emma Ritchie Auditorium and the enclosed porch of the Benninghofen House.  The Beckett Paper exhibit which runs through November 28 was developed by Dave Belew, former company president and husband of Marjorie Beckett who wore the 1839 dress during their wedding in 1953.

Both exhibits are free.

The exhibits are in the Butler County Historical Society, 327 North 2nd Street, Hamilton, and are open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Group tours of either exhibit or the Benninghofen House Museum can be arranged by calling 513-896-9930.

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The Funeral of Alexander Hamilton


“On Saturday last the remains of Alexander Hamilton were committed to the grave with every possible testimony of respect and sorrow,” reported the New York Evening Post on July 14, 1804 (via the National Archives). “That distant readers may form some idea of what passed on this mournful occasion, we shall here present them with a regular and correct account of the whole scene.”

The hair-trigger flintlock pistols used in the Burr-Hamilton duel.

The procession began at the home of John B. Church, Hamilton’s brother-in-law and owner of the pistols used in the duel, where the body lay in repose.

“On the appearance of the corpse it was received by the whole line with presented arms, and saluted by the officers, with melancholy music by a large and elegant Band,” the Post said.

“The military then preceeded [sic] the bier, in open column and inverted order, the left in front, with arms reversed, the band playing a dead march. At 12 o’clock the procession moved … through Beekman, Pearl, and Whitehall-streets, and up Broadway to the Church…

“On the top of the coffin was the General’s hat and sword; his boots and spurs reversed across the horse. His grey horse, dressed in mourning, was led by two black servants dressed in white, and white turbans trimmed with black.

“The streets were lined with people; doors and windows were filled, principally with weeping females, and even the house tops were covered with spectators, who came from all parts to behold the melancholy procession.

“When the advanced platoon of the military reached the church, the whole column wheeled backward by sections from the flanks of platoons, forming a lane, bringing their muskets to a reversed order, and resting the cheek on the butt of the piece in the customary attitude of grief. Through the avenue thus formed, the corpse, preceded by the clergy of different denominations, the Society of Cincinnati, and followed by the relations of the deceased, and different public bodies, advanced to the church, the band, with drums muffled, playing all the time a pensive, solemn air.”

Here are highlights of Hamilton’s eulogy, delivered by Gouverneur Morris, a long-time friend, a member of the Continental Congress and former Senator from New York:

Far from attempting to excite your emotions, I must try to repress my own, and yet I fear that instead of the language of a public speaker, you will hear only the lamentations of a bewailing friend. But I will struggle with my bursting heart, to pourtray that Heroic Spirit, which has flown to the mansions of bliss….

At the time when our government was organised, we were without funds, though not without resources. To call them into action, and establish order in the finances, Washington sought for splendid talents, for extensive information, and, above all, he sought for sterling, incorruptible integrity—All these he found in Hamilton. The system then adopted has been the subject of much animadversion. If it be not without a fault, let it be remembered that nothing human is perfect. Recollect the circumstances of the moment—recollect the conflict of opinion—and above all, remember that the minister of a republic must bend to the will of the people. The administration which Washington formed, was one of the most efficient, one of the best that any country was ever blest with. And the result was a rapid advance in power and prosperity, of which there is no example in any other age or nation. The part which Hamilton bore is universally known…

Brethren of the Cincinnati—There lies our chief! Let him still be our model. Like him, after a long and faithful public service, let us cheerfully perform the social duties of private life. Oh! he was mild and gentle. In him there was no offence; no guile. His generous hand and heart were open to all.

Gentlemen of the Bar—You have lost your brightest ornament. Cherish and imitate his example. While, like him, with justifiable, with laudable zeal, you pursue the interests of your clients, remember, like him, the eternal principles of justice.

Fellow Citizens—You have long witnessed his professional conduct, and felt his unrivalled eloquence. You know how well he performed the duties of a Citizen—you know that he never courted your favour by adulation, or the sacrifice of his own judgment. You have seen him contending against you, and saving your dearest interests, as it were, in spite of yourselves. And you now feel and enjoy the benefits resulting from the firm energy of his conduct. Bear this testimony to the memory of my departed friend. I charge you to protect his fame—It is all he has left—all that these poor orphan children will inherit from their father. But, my countrymen, that Fame may be a rich treasure to you also. Let it be the test by which to examine those who solicit your favour. Disregarding professions, view their conduct and on a doubtful occasion, ask, Would Hamilton have done this thing?

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Symmes Monument highlighted on national travel site

By Richard O Jones

More links at the bottom of the page…

Calling it “one of the oldest, oddest, public memorials in the U.S.”,  the travel website Roadside America has spotlighted our Hollow Earth Monument  at a “Sight of the Week.”

The article includes comments from the Butler County Historical Society and Historic Hamilton.

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The monument honors Captain John Cleves Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812 and nephew of the John Cleves Symmes that made the Miami Purchase in 1788. Captain Symmes spent much of his life lecturing and writing about his Theory of Concentric Spheres, more commonly known as the Hollow Earth Theory.

It’s complicated, but the theory basically proposes that there are holes in the earth at either pole – known as “Symmes Holes”, of course – that lead to spheres of the inner earth where other civilizations reside.

In his own words from 1818:

“I declare the earth is hollow, and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentrick [sic] spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles 12 or 16 degrees; I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.”

He even wrote a book, though some dispute his authorship, of Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery, which details an imaginary expedition to find the Symmes Holes that predates Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth  by several decades.

Other local attractions on Roadside America include the Ruppert house, site of the 1975 Easter Massacre, and the statue of George W. Bush commemorating the tragic No Child Left Behind education bill that was signed at Hamilton High School.

While it’s nice that our hometown is getting some national attention, it would be nicer if they would highlight something other than the crazy once in a while. We have plenty of statues and memorials dedicated to saner issues, even a whole park of monumental outdoor sculpture.

But crazy sells, says the true crime historian, acknowledging that it could be even crazier. From Roadside America:

One of Symmes followers, Cyrus Teed, modified the Hollow Earth theory to an Inside-Out Earth theory, and has an entire state park dedicated to him in Estero, Florida. “Some writers even say that the idea to place Santa Claus at the North Pole came from Symmes’ theory,” said Dick [Scheid] “It said the Pole was temperate; people could live up there.”

And it seems the monument here may be quite more modest that what was originally proposed.

Although contemporary sources say the monument dates from the 1840s, the Hamilton Telegraph reported in 1874 that Americus Symmes, Captain Symmes’ oldest son, informed City Council on April 9 that he intended to erect a monument over Captain Symmes’ grave “thirty-seven feet high, the shaft of Scotch granite and surmounted by a bronze globe illustrating that the earth is hollow.” He was going to have the bronze cast in Munich, Germany, for $2,500.

The 1874 article is brief, but it doesn’t mention an existing limestone monument, stating only that (unspecified) changes would have to be made to the park to accommodate the monument.

The Symmes file at the Butler County Historical Society includes this rendering of the monument in its pristine condition:

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I haven’t found a story yet explaining how we got from a giant bronze globe to beach ball sized limestone doughnut, but I bet there is one.

Crazy though his theory may be, Symmes counted among his supporters Hamilton pioneer James McBride, our first local historian who wrote a book about the theory, and managed to get some traction in Washington, D.C.

And he had his portrait sketched by none other than John James Audubon – which supports the theory that Captain Symmes was indeed a strange bird:

HERE you’ll find a nice collection of source documents related to the work of John Cleves Symmes

AND HERE you’ll find a free ebook written by Americus Symmes from his father’s notes detailing the “Concentric Spheres” theory….

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History of Beckett Paper Detailed in Exhibited Booklet


“The history of the Beckett Paper Company is intimately involved with the early development of the Ohio territory from a forest wilderness into today’s great complex of farms, highways and cities. The progenitors of William Beckett, the founder of the firm, were among the first to arrive from the East and settle here, and they contributed materially to the establishment of communities and productive enterprises in the valley of the Great Miami River in southwestern Ohio, where the city of Hamilton is located…”

beckett 175 19Beckett, an exhibition of photos and artifacts from the Beckett Paper Company, is on view through the end of November at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 N. Second Street.

The exhibition includes a 36-page booklet  published in honor of the 125th anniversary of the company, detailing its founding and history.

CLICK HERE to view a slideshow of the booklet…

CLICK HERE to view on a single page (graphic heavy, may take a minute to load)…

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What Butler County Looked Like in 1855

In 2005, the Butler County Historical Society was given a unique gift from an anonymous donor.

When staff members unfurled the gift to see exactly what it was, they were amazed. Before them was an original 1855 Map of Butler County, Ohio.

The significance of this map was immediately realized; only one other original is known to exist within Butler County.

Because of its rarity, the 1855 Map of Butler County, Ohio has never before been reproduced. The informational value of the Map is a prized attribute. The Map identifies land owners and acreages associated with each plot.

Go to the Butler County Historical Society website to view and download high-resolution images of the map and individual townships prepared by Brown Photography ….

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Hamil-ten No More?

I have mixed feelings on this news.

As a citizen of a city named for the man, a city that proudly erected a magnificent sculpture in his honor in the middle of one of our main thoroughfares, I find this decision quite disconcerting and I wish they had done away with Andrew Jackson’s portrait on the $20 bill instead.

But as a citizen of the United States, I think it’s about time our currency held the images of people other than old dead white guys.

We are a different nation now than we were even 50 years ago, a nation of many people of many races and at least two genders, so it’s time to move forward.

At least they’re not kicking Uncle Al off the bill entirely. It will be interesting to see who they pair him up with.

-Richard O Jones

It's Hamiltime!

Yesterday, Jack Lew announced that the $10 bill would be undergoing a complete redesign to feature a woman on the currency.

The Fact Sheet released by the Treasury Department states that: “Secretary Lew has made clear that the image of Alexander Hamilton will remain part of the $10 note.”  However, no specifics about what position Hamilton’s image would have has been released yet.

The Treasury Department website about the New Ten asks for the public to provide them with ideas and feedback and states:

In exercising the responsibility to select currency features and design, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has made clear that the public’s input is an important and valuable part of the process for the redesign of the $10 note. Treasury wants to hear from the American people and engage in a public dialogue about how we can use the new $10 note to best represent the values…

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