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John Duff (counterfeiter)

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Title: John Duff (counterfeiter)  
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Subject: Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, Kaskaskia, Illinois, Illinois campaign, Counterfeit money, Longhunter
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John Duff (counterfeiter)

John Duff (c. 1759 – June 4, 1799) was a counterfeiter, hunter, and scout who assisted in George Rogers Clark's campaign to capture the Illinois country for the American side during the Revolutionary War. He had been leading a group of hunters returning from Kaskaskia, Illinois, when intercepted by Clark's soldiers near modern-day Paducah, Kentucky. After taking an oath of allegiance, Duff and his men joined Clark's forces. He later rose in rank to sergeant in Clark's Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Forces.

In the 1780s, he was in business with two brothers of the later river pirate Samuel Mason. In 1790 he was associated with the counterfeiter Philip Alston at Cave-in-Rock.

Genealogy and early life

Duff was born John McElduff sometime between September 1759 and August 1760 in South Carolina, according to his testimony in court in August 1781, when he was 21 at the time. His father died and his mother remarried. His stepfather moved the family to the Natchez, Mississippi area prior to the start of the American Revolutionary War. The French records at Kaskaskia often spell his name as "Jean Michel Duff" or "John Michael Duff."

John Duff is believed to be a grandson of a Thomas McElduff, Sr., who received two land grants on the south side of the Tyger River in Union County, South Carolina, in the 1750s. In 1786 John and Daniel, another grandson of Thomas, sold the tracts in two different property deeds. There was a Daniel who was also at Kaskaskia in the 1780s and is likely John's brother.

John's father may have been the Thomas McElduff killed by Philip McElduff some time prior to November 1761.

Revolutionary War years

Counterfeiting activities and death

On June 4, 1799, a group of three Shawnee Indians and a courier du bois guide were hired by U.S. Army Captain Zebulon Pike, Sr., father of the explorer, who was the commandant at the frontier outpost, Fort Massac, which is now Metropolis, Illinois. This mercenary party's orders were to assassinate Duff at his house which was located either at Battery Rock (according to the newspaper account) on the Illinois side of the Ohio River, or across the river at what would later become Caseyville, Kentucky, (as recalled in the History of Union County, Kentucky).


  • Otto A. Rothert. The Outlaws of Cave-In-Rock, Otto A. Rothert, Cleveland 1924; rpt. 1996 ISBN 0-8093-2034-7
  • Kathrine Wagner Seineke. The George Rogers Clark adventure in the Illinois: and selected documents of the American Revolution at the frontier posts. Polyanthos, 1981.
  • Paul I. Wellman. Spawn of evil: the invisible empire of soulless men which for a generation held the Nation in a spell of terror. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
  • Richard Eugene Willson, Indexing, Donald E. Gradeless, Ph.D., Editor. 1998. Index to the George Rogers Clark Papers: The Illinois Regiment. Based on the Microfilmed George Rogers Clark Papers at the Virginia State Library and Archives. Chicago: Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Illinois. Online at
  • History of Union County, Kentucky. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1886.
  • [New Bern District (North Carolina) Court Records, 1770-1774]
  • [Papers of the War Department 1784-1800,,]
  • Raymond H. Hammes Collection. English Summaries. Illinois State Archives. 81:2:27:1.

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