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Blue plaque honour for Tyrone man who invented dollar sign and helped finance the American Revolutionary War

By Linda Stewart

Published 13/04/2016

US Consul-General Daniel J Lawton will unveil the memorial in Bready, Co Tyrone, in memory of locally-born Oliver Pollock, a merchant and Patriot in America during the Revolutionary War
US Consul-General Daniel J Lawton will unveil the memorial in Bready, Co Tyrone, in memory of locally-born Oliver Pollock, a merchant and Patriot in America during the Revolutionary War

An Ulsterman credited with unintentionally inventing the dollar sign is to be commemorated with the 200th blue plaque erected by the Ulster History Circle.

US Consul-General Daniel J Lawton will unveil the memorial in Bready, Co Tyrone, in memory of locally-born Oliver Pollock, a merchant and Patriot in America during the Revolutionary War.

He was one of the key financiers of America's fight for independence, personally donating 300,000 pesos, equivalent to $1bn today.

The prime beneficiary was General George Rogers Clark, whose campaigns opened up the Northwest for the Colonial forces.

Pollock also approached neutral individuals on behalf of the Continental Congress, persuading them to join the effort, and personally raised troops and supplies.

Pollock was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1782, liquidating his assets, including the Mississippi River lands upon which Louisiana State University would later be built.

Congress did not discharge Pollock of his debts until 1791, and he moved to Pennsylvania where he ran for Congress three times.

His legacy turned out to be hidden in the ledgers he sent to Congress in the hope of recovering more than $20,000 promised to him by the Commercial Committee.

In the ledgers, Pollock abbreviated 'pesos' to 'ps' and tended to run the letters together, resulting in a symbol resembling a $.

Historians have yet to find the symbol written down anywhere prior to Pollock's use. His unintentional creation is supported by the fact that his friend and Washington's Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris, chose to adopt the symbol by 1797.

The plaque will be unveiled at the Sollus Centre on Thursday.

Ulster History Circle chairman Chris Spurr said: "Our 200th blue plaque is a historic milestone for a hard-working voluntary organisation that continues to make a distinctive contribution to Ulster's flourishing heritage industry.

"We are grateful to all those who have supported our plaques, without whom our work could not happen, and our thanks are due to the Ulster-Scots Agency for supporting today's plaque. In devising the dollar sign, Oliver Pollock created a small symbol which made a big impact. We hope our plaques do the same."

The Ulster History Circle is a voluntary, non-profit charity that erects plaques to celebrate notable people. A person is not considered for a plaque unless they have been dead for a minimum of 20 years, or would have reached their 100th birthday.

The first plaque was put up in the early 1980s to artist William Conor on his former studio in Stranmillis Road, Belfast.

The circle's work is carried out entirely by a small team of volunteer members, and the circle relies on local authorities, organisations, societies, businesses and individuals to support its plaques, as it has no funds of its own.

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