Businessman, Author, Eccentric. His autobiography, "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones" (1802), is one of the most curious documents of 18th Century America. In it he boasted of how he got rich through such seemingly improbable schemes as selling coal to Newcastle, exporting Bibles to India and wool mittens to the West Indies. He also complained about the clergy, politicians, and especially his wife. The first edition faithfully reproduced his semi-literate writing style, including a bizarre use of capital letters and no punctuation at all. When critics complained, Dexter provided an extra page of punctuation marks, inviting his readers to "peper and solt it as they plese". Dexter was born in Malden, Massachusetts. He had no formal education and was trained as a leather-maker. In 1769 he moved to the nearby town of Newburyport and began his singular business career with the help of a well-off widow, whom he later married. During the American Revolution he hoarded European currencies that the war had made valueless. When foreign trade resumed in the early 1780's, he was suddenly worth a fortune. Snubbed by Boston high society as a newly-rich upstart, Dexter returned to Newburyport, gave himself the title "Lord", and built a fabulous estate. It featured a garden with 40 painted wooden statues of famous men, including George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Thomas Jefferson; he often switched the names on the pedestals for his own amusement. Dexter's own statue, the most imposing of them all, bore the inscription, "I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philosopher in the Western World". Behind his mansion he built a sumptuous family mausoleum, with silk-lined mahogany caskets, and would go there to take naps. One day Dexter decided to find out what people thought of him, so he announced his death in the newspapers and invited everyone in the county to attend his "wake". Over 3000 people showed up, but he considered the experiment a failure because his wife refused to show any grief. (He later had her beaten for her offense). When Dexter died for real at the age of 58, Newburyport officials insisted that he be buried in the local cemetery and not in his beloved mausoleum at home. His grave is marked by a simple tombstone that gives no hint of the colorful character who lies beneath it.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards