|David E. Eastburn|
One consequence of this is that the con artists and criminals of the time had to pick their prospective targets more carefully. Unlike today's scammers who can blast out to thousands or millions their claims of fast riches, unlikely enhancements, or impractical walls, the cons of yesteryear had to spend time on their marks. Therefore, they'd want to find someone worth targeting. And in 1888, apparently someone (or someones) thought that Mill Creek Hundred's David Eastburn was a worthwhile target. Two separate newspaper articles from that year (graciously supplied by Donna Peters) detail shady interactions with him.
For a quick reminder of just who the intended target was, David E. Eastburn (1811-1899) was the seventh of fourteen children born to David and Elizabeth (Jeanes) Eastburn. The elder David, along with his brother-in-law Abel Jeanes, started the lime kilns on Upper Pike Creek Road in the 1810's. After the father's death in 1824, the younger David remained on the family farm on Paper Mill Road. In 1857 he finally married, and about that time built a new home for himself on a farm just north of the family homestead, about three quarters of the way up Corner Ketch Road between Paper Mill Road and Doe Run Road. It was here that the incidents occurred.
The Eastburns were fairly prosperous for the area, and David was no exception. In addition to his farm, he was involved with the Newport National Bank, serving as its president at the time of the attempted swindlings. I think it's a good bet that the perpetrators knew who he was and went after him specifically. The first article, seen below, appeared in the Wilmington Evening Journal on July 14, 1888.
Maybe someone can help us on this one, but it's not immediately clear to me exactly what was going on here. Unfortunately, I don't have the details of what transpired with Chandler Lamborn on his farm, which was off of Brackenville Road east of Old Wilmington Road. It appears the cons were working out of the Deer Park, and heading out each day looking for trouble. They hit Eastburn on Monday and Lamborn on Thursday, the day they left. It seems obvious that they fled because they finally succeeded in conning (or straight up stealing from) someone.
They way the story is told, my guess is that the "swarthy" one's job was to get Eastburn away from his house, or maybe to get a look at the place if he happened to say he might sell. Then the other accomplice would rob the house. Similar scams still play out today. Now it's normally someone offering some sort of home repair, like siding or roofing. They get you out front while the other guy goes in back. It should also be noted that not only was Eastburn well-off, he was 77 years old at the time. Cons love older folks.
Once Eastburn made clear that he was not selling and would not go with the stranger that day, the thief made the arrangements for the next day so as not to seem suspicious. Remember, they had not succeeded in their ploy yet and probably didn't want to raise any alarms. They didn't show at Red Mill, but that could be explained any number of ways. Only in hindsight would it seem suspicious.
If this weren't enough, another odd incident occurred with Eastburn about 4 months later. The article below also appeared in the Evening Journal, this time in the December 13, 1888 edition. It relates a story that took place in mid-November, when another odd stranger approached the wealthy gentleman.
This time, instead of a man asking about farms for sale, the stranger wove a fantastic tale of murderers and buried treasure -- which just happened to be in Mr. Eastburn's barn. The elderly Eastburn was polite, but didn't seem to bite at the story. I think the con man sensed this and had no intention of returning. Again, my best guess is that it was a play to get access to the property, at which time one or both of the thieves would rob the house and/or the barn. If anyone else has any other thoughts, I'd love to hear them.
In the end, David Eastburn was not fooled by either of these attempts on his wealth and no harm was done (to him, although Lamborn is another story). Besides the use of fabulous terms like "sharpers" and "bunco steerers" (my personal favorite), these stories go to show that people have always been people. If someone tells you that they yearn for the "good old days" when everyone was honest, you'll know that that time only exists in rosy and distorted memories.
Almost instant update: Donna came up with two more articles, one giving the details of Chandler Lamborn's incident and a new one that took place in Brandywine Hundred. That post can be found here.