The Scituate National Bank Robbery Of 1868

Originally published in the Smithfield Times magazine, January, 2018

The Scituate National Bank Robbery of 1868

By Jim Ignasher

    At about 1 a.m., on the morning of Wednesday, March 25, 1868, Albert Hubbard and his wife awoke to find four armed men standing around their bed.  How they got in is unknown, but in the mid 19th century people living in rural towns like Scituate generally didn’t have to lock their doors.  Perhaps at first the Hubbards wondered if they were dreaming.

     Then one of the intruders warned. “If either of you moves, or makes a sound, you’ll be dead!”  This man was the apparent leader, whom the others called “Captain”.

     The couple was quickly bound and gagged, as was their young son who was sleeping in another room.  The incident wasn’t random.  Hubbard had been targeted because he was the cashier of the Scituate National Bank, and the men intended to use him in their effort to rob it.   

     The intruders had already broken into the bank a little more than an hour earlier, but had failed in their attempts to get the vault open.  Kidnapping Mr. Hubbard and terrorizing his family was their alternate plan.   

     While two men stayed with their hostages, Hubbard was led by the other two to the bank to which he had the keys and the combination to the vault.  But the combination wasn’t enough. There was a secret way to open it, and Hubbard was one of only three people who knew that secret. 

     There were no regular police patrols in Scituate in 1868, so there was little worry of encountering a constable as they made their way a short distance through the darkened streets.   

     On the way one of the men asked Hubbard how much money was in the bank, to which Hubbard replied, “Not much.” 

     Then the other stated they believed the bank held $50,000, and wouldn’t have bothered Hubbard if they’d thought otherwise.

     After forcing Hubbard to open the vault, the two thugs removed its entire contents without taking the time to examine what they were looting.  They then brought Hubbard back to his house and secured he and his family to give themselves time to get away.  Not long after the men had left. Mr. Hubbard managed to free himself, and after making sure his family was safe, he ran to the home of the bank president and informed him of the robbery.  Together they immediately sought out someone to send a telegraph to Providence alerting authorities to be on the lookout for the thieves.  Of course it was possible that the men could have headed westward towards the rural towns of Connecticut, but Providence was the nearest large populated area at the time where someone on the run might obtain passage on a train or a steamship. 

     The robbers had escaped with $10,000 in bonds, $5,500 in bills of various banks, $1,000 in bills of the Scituate National Bank, and $3,000 in bills belonging to the former Citizens Union Bank.  (It should be explained here that in the 1800s many banks issued their own currency with their bank’s name on it.) 

     Other items taken in the robbery included savings and bank books being held by the bank for security, as well as wills, deeds, mortgages, and other valuable personal papers of bank customers. 

     The only money left behind was a satchel containing $1,000 in cash which it was believed was accidentally dropped by the robbers as they made their getaway from the bank.

     However, some of the money taken was virtually worthless to the robbers.  Those bills marked Citizens Union Bank for example.  The Citizen’s Union Bank was incorporated in 1833, and in 1864 changed its name to the Scituate National Bank when the bank became part of the national system.  The new bank had been accepting the old bills, but with word of the robbery spreading, anyone wishing to cash them would need to prove they were not some of the bills stolen in the robbery.

     Authorities didn’t have much to go on in the way of clues.  The men had covered their faces thus making identification difficult.  One was said to have spoken in a German accent.  A standard crowbar was found in the bank, but “dusting” for fingerprints, or collecting possible forensic evidence was unknown in 1868.   

     The bank was located in a two story wooden building with an apartment on the second floor.  Tenants residing upstairs told investigators that they hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual all night.

     A nearby tavern keeper stated he’d heard a wagon leave his stable around 3:00 a.m. but didn’t think anything of it.

     It was later ascertained that the men had gone to Providence and boarded a Boston bound train at 4:50 a.m.

     Investigators traced the team of horses used by the bandits to a stable on Dorrance Street.  The owner said the four had rented it around 9:00 p.m. the night before, and had returned it sometime after 4:00 a.m. 

     It was further learned that the same men had visited the Granite National Bank in Pascoag a week earlier, but decided to rob the one in Scituate instead. 

    Yet despite the menacing behavior of the robbers towards the Hubbard family, apparently the men felt some remorse for their actions.  Sixteen days after the robbery, it was reported in the Woonsocket Patriot that some of the items taken during the commission of the crime had been returned.  A package that arrived via express mail from Philadelphia contained a large number of important papers, wills, valuables, jewelry, etc. which belonged to private citizens who had entrusted their safety with the bank. 

     To this the Woonsocket Patriot reported in part; “This act of the robbers seems a little odd, but is one of the characteristics of the professional gentlemen who take your money, and then return the empty wallet.  Sending the returned documents from Philadelphia is probably “a blind”; and no one need look for the robbers, or their plunder, in that city.”

     The men responsible for robbing the Scituate National Bank were never apprehended.



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