Romney Faced with 130 Year Old Debt

milesromney.jpgHere’s a reason to pay attention to those dusty old books on family genealogy:

Judith Thurman, an author and biographer of Raymond Chandler, just handed Mitt Romney a bill for $25,000.  She wants to settle a debt owed to Thurman’s family from the Romney clan dating back to the 1880s.  It would appear that great-grandfather Flake (Thurman’s relation) bailed great-grandfather Romney out of jail for $1,000.  Romney never repaid the debt.  By Thurman’s calculations, this is worth about $25,000 in today’s money.

The tale gets more sordid:

Thurman described the family heads as “patriarchs of adjoining Mormon communities in the high, cold, hard country of northern Arizona, a region known as Apache County.” Both Flake and Romney were practicing polygamists when US law enforcement began cracking down on the practice.  Flake and Romney were tossed in jail, where Flake, described as a “deeply respectable man,” posted his own bail, then did the same for Romney.  Freshly freed from jail, Romney fled with his three wives to Mexico, reneging on his debts.  Flake, meanwhile, served a six-month prison sentence.

The events led a newspaper editor of the era to describe Romney as having “the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.”

Thurman wrote about the incident in the LA Review of Books. “Since it’s never too late to make a situation right, and since Mitt Romney seems to have sufficient funds now to cover his ancestor’s old debt, I’d like to call upon him to do so. I’ve done some calculation, and $1,000 from the 1880s would today be worth about $25,000, not counting interest (and since I’m not a smart enough to figure up the interest, I’m willing to let that part slide). Because William Jordan Flake has about 15,000 descendants living at the moment, I realize I’ll have to divide up the money should Romney do the right thing and write out that check.”

So, will Romney repay the debt, repairing relations between two of the foundational Mormon families?  Well, I don’t think anyone is holding their breath...

(Photo of Miles Park Romney from Wikipedia)

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