Freeman's
Charley Ross. Archive of the Original Kidnapper(s) Ransom Letters. Philadelphia, etc. July 3 - Nov 26, 1874. 23 of the 24 original ransom letters from the first U.S. kidnapping for ransom, Sold for $20,000

Department Specialist


Published: 13 November 2013

Charley Ross Ransom Letters Highlight Freeman's Annual Pennsylvania Sale

Freeman’s November 13 American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts auction and the November 14 annual Pennsylvania Sale brought a combined $1.5 million.  Highlights from the two days included a collection of American Indian Arts with provenance, a manuscript archive of ransom letters, and a one-of-a-kind mechanical bank. The centerpiece of the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale was the rare Coasting Bank,  but it was at The Pennsylvania Sale the following day that a truly extraordinary piece of Philadelphia history was brought to light.

At the Pennsylvania Sale on November 14, the most unusual lot to be sold at auction was a manuscript archive of original ransom letters from the kidnappers of Charley Ross. Considered to be the first recorded kidnapping for ransom in America, four-year-old Charley Ross was taken from the front lawn of his parents’ home in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in July 1874. Several days later, the kidnappers sent the first of 23 ransom letters to his father demanding $20,000 for Charley’s return. The young boy was never found and the kidnappers were killed four months later.

The story of Charley Ross was recently chronicled in a book by Carrie Hagen entitled, "We is Got Him," which is an actual line taken from the first letter. “I was stunned to learn of this discovery. The fate of Charley Ross is one of history's mysteries…these letters held Philadelphia captive during the summer of 1874…To hold them is to hold a heartbreaking, terrifying piece of Americana,” said Hagen. The Charley Ross letters went to anonymous bidder for $20,000, the same amount as Charley’s ransom.

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