William F. Stratton
The Confession of Davy “Robber” Lewis, 1820 — Abridged — 2020
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
Edited by James Duncan—1820
Edited by William F. Stratton—2020
Soon after David Lewis died his confession was published as a pamphlet titled:
“Confession and Narrative of David Lewis: An account of the life and adventures of this celebrated counterfeiter and robber, from the commencement of his career until the period of his death in the jail at Bellefonte, in consequence of a wound received in the attempt to retake him by the Posse Comitatus of Centre county.” —Carlisle: Printed and published by John McFarland. 1820.
In an article in the March 10, 1889 edition of the New York Sun newspaper, the author refers to the 1820 pamphlet and reveals this interesting detail:
”James Duncan was at the time a famous lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania. He lived in Cumberland County. Gov. Findlay was a candidate in 1820 for reelection. His opponent was Joseph Hiester. Duncan was opposed to Findlay, but the latter was very popular, and his election seemed a foregone conclusion. But Duncan believed he saw a way that Findlay might be defeated through Lewis the Robber. Duncan had been influential in saving Lewis’ life at the time he was under sentence of death for desertion from the army, and he went to Bellefonte jail to see the notorious outlaw. Lewis knew that he would die of his wound, and Duncan had no difficulty in inducing him to make a confession of his life to him, with the understanding that it was to be published. Duncan obtained all the material, edited it, and so cunningly drew attention to Governor Findlay’s apparent friendship for Lewis in pardoning him, and succeeded in so shrewdly fixing the responsibility, by inference, for several years of Lewis’ criminal career on the Governor, that the pamphlet, circulated in the community where the outlaw had been the greatest terror to the people, turned public sentiment against Findlay and he was defeated. This old pamphlet, therefore, has much of historic value as well as being the curious story of a great outlaw’s life. Gov. Hiester was not slow to recognize Duncan’s service in so shrewdly turning Lewis’ confession into a powerful political engine, and appointed him Auditor-General.”<
Duncan was not credited with his role in compiling or editing Lewis’s autobiographical confession. The author of the article did not include a source for the information and the two books that published the text of the confession failed to mention it, but, it is consistent with other facts. In the confession, Lewis made clear his recollections were being recorded by a friend and were to be published:
I have now brought the history of my adventures to a close, having given as faithful a relation of the more important incidents of my life as my memory enables me to recollect in my present distracted state of mind, and suffering condition of bodily pain. I have been thus particular to gratify the wish of a near and dear friend, who has always taken the greatest interest in my fate, attended me frequently in my illness, and who has promised to remain the friend of my wife, whom a few days more will make a widow, and the father of my children, soon to become the orphans of charity without his protecting care. In addition to my anxiety to oblige one who was my friend in adversity, I have been induced to undergo the painful task of making this confession, with the hope and belief that the publication of my unhappy case may be useful, not only to my surviving companions, and to society in general, but more especially to youth of the rising generation; operating as a solemn warning to old and young against indulging in the same wicked practices which have distinguished my unhappy life, and brought ruin on myself, and disgrace upon my family and connections.
In 1853 and in 1890 the pamphlet was republished in book form, along with stories about Lewis from newspapers and from individual recollections, as well as editorial comments and opinions about Lewis and his notoriety.
The confession tells us something about the nature of criminal life in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the United States and the stories are as fascinating to me as any fiction.
I retained some background information from the book, including descriptions of the area. I also include the 1889 New York Sun article that accurately summarizes the confession. Read those for additional context — the stories in the confession stand on their own.
William F. Stratton, Gig Harbor, Washington - April 28, 2021
David Lewis, known as Davy Lewis or Robber Lewis, began his criminal career as a counterfeiter but he preferred robbery and referred to himself as a Highwayman. Lewis also referred to himself as an equalizer and there are newspaper accounts of the period that describe Lewis as assisting the downtrodden; taking pity on some intended victims; and, befriending locals, who assisted him in evading justice. At least one story stated that Lewis “robbed from the rich to give to the poor,” and another called him the “Robin Hood of Pennsylvania,” but these are folktales. His entire adult life was spent in criminal activities. Lewis was arrested several times but managed to escape on each occasion, save one.
O, reputation! dearer far than life.
Thou precious balsam, lovely, sweet of smell.
Whose cordial drops once spilt by some rash hand,
Not all the owner's care, nor the repenting toil
Of the rude spiller, ever can collect
To its first purity and native sweetness.
— George Sewell
I was born in Carlisle, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, on the 4th day of March, Anno Domini 1790 — of poor parents, with respectable connections; whose precarious means of subsistence left them little time to provide for the children’s welfare in this world or for their salvation in the world to come. I grew up, as most boys in this situation, without regard for men and with little fear of God.
In 1793, my father removed with his family to Northumberland County, and was appointed a Deputy District Surveyor, in which situation he continued several years. He was unfortunate in the many collisions arising from his official conduct, and his affairs were un-mended when he died, leaving the family un-provided for, and my education limited.
I continued to live with my mother, and occasionally jobbed for neighboring farmers, until the year 1807. After several unsuccessful careers, I enlisted at Bellefonte. Shortly afterwards, the sergeant undertook to have me cobbed for a petty offense and I ran away.
Some months later, I enlisted as a private in Capt. Wm. N. Irvine’s company of Light Artillery,1 under the feigned name of Armstrong Lewis. I had tasted the bitter-sweets of pleasure and dissipation, and intended to decamp at the first opportunity, determined to pocket the bounty money, to enable me to indulge in the excesses I was naturally fond of. Various obstacles frustrated my plan, but a scheme came into my head to avail myself of the quirks and quibbles of the law. With this view, I applied to a lawyer in Carlisle, where I was then stationed. I sued out a writ, and after a tedious hearing before Judge Creigh,2 found the hopes, which my lawyer had raised, disappointed; the Judge decided against me, and I was remanded back into service.
This affair led to an inquiry into my life and conduct, and they discovered that I had enlisted before under my proper name and had deserted. The rumors of a war with England had increased and the officers of the army had become more rigorous in discipline and more strict in execution of rules and the articles of war; consequently, I was arrested and charged with desertion and double enlistment.
A General Court-martial convened at the Carlisle Barracks under the direction of Gen. James Wilkinson. The result was just as my fears and consciousness of guilt had anticipated. I was found guilty and ordered to undergo the ignominious punishment which the law inflicts.
Young in years and young in crime, the sentence of death produced the most agonizing sensations, arising out of fear of an awful hereafter and out of the love of life. Besides, I had an aged mother, to whom I was attached by the ties of natural affection. It pained my soul to think that the death of a beloved son must embitter the evening of her life and take her gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Through the intercession of a friend, I was permitted the use of pen, ink and paper, to write to my mother, who lived in Centre County. I informed her of my perilous situation, and besought her to use her influence in my behalf.
I waited in dreadful suspense, and counted the lingering days with great anxiety, until my ears were greeted with the cheering intelligence; “your mother is come.” Gen. Wilkinson, whose character for humanity is well-known, granted us a private interview and the afflicted mother embraced her unhappy son, without either of us being able to speak a word for some time. She reproached me not, but the silent rebuke of her heart-searching eyes spoke daggers to my soul.
After a time she informed me that Judge Walker, of whose goodness and humanity she spoke in the highest terms, had loaned her his horse and written letters in her behalf to some friends in Carlisle, in my interest.
My mother brought the family record to prove my age; which she delivered to Andrew Carothers and James Duncan, Esqs., my attorneys, who made every exertion for my release under the minor act. But Judge Hamilton3 decided that civil power had no jurisdiction, and I was remanded back to the military authority. Owing to the humane exertions of many worthy individuals, and the generous sentiments of Gen. Wilkinson, I was reprieved — my sentence was commuted to imprisonment.
I was thrown into the guard house, fettered and chained. As my time to be confined was indefinite, I was uneasy and unhappy. After a week, the irons were removed, save a heavy chain fastened to my ankle—to the end was affixed a cannon-ball, weighing between thirty and forty pounds. With a Barlow knife, I succeeded in sawing the chain in such a manner that I could, when opportunity occurred, break it off and make my escape. Through a loose plank in the floor, I contrived to get into the cellar, but unable to get out of the cellar without much digging, I replaced the plank.
For exercise, and amusement, I would lay the chain and clog aside and throw somersaults on the floor, &c., which I was no wise careful to conceal from the sentry, who was delighted with my exhibitions of agility. He was untroubled whether the chain was on or off, so I passed examination in the morning with the sergeant. I had taken pains to ingratiate myself in his good opinion and he appeared to place unlimited confidence in me. One day, he did not accompany me as usual, and I embraced the opportunity to bid farewell to him and the camp forever.
Having succeeded in eluding the vigilance of the sentinel, I was occupied in making my escape secure. In my rambles from the Barracks, I had visited the remarkable cave near Carlisle,4 and considered that this place would afford a safe retreat.
My greatest anxiety was to reach the destined place by the nearest way. In doing this it was necessary to cross the race, which supplied water to the mill below. Running at full speed, I endeavored to clear the stream. My foot slipped, and I fell against a rock, with no other consequence than a slight sprain to my ankle.
I arrived at the mouth of the cave as the sun was shedding its last beam upon the waters of the winding Conodoguinet. I quickly entered; and, without the aid of candle or torch, made my way to a corner of that dark and dismal place — the abode and habitation of the bat. Crawling through a crevice, I found myself in a place called the Devil’s Dining Room. There I remained in trepidation and anxiety until about the hour of ten o’clock, when the cravings of a hungry stomach demanded that I make some exertions to supply the wants of nature. As the danger of immediate apprehension had subsided, owing to the late hour and supposition that those in pursuit would not travel after night, I determined to leave the cave.
I pursued the direction of the gap in the mountain, and it was not long before the barking of an angry dog convinced me that I was near a house. I resolved to make an experiment on the hospitality of the owner, and knocked with a loud rap at the door. It was not until I had made repeated attempts that I succeeded in making myself heard. The first noise that saluted my ears was the raising of a window above, where I observed the head of some person surrounded with a red flannel night cap. From the shrillness of the voice that demanded “who’s there?,” I perceived it was a female. After some parley, she agreed to let me in.
I was not disappointed in my expectation, as my kind hostess agreed to prepare a supper. I kindled the fire, and before the lapse of twenty minutes, partook of the repast; and, with a better appetite and as much joy as a conquering General, or member of Congress or a Judge, sat down to a banquet. My fare consisted of fried sausages, bread and butter, a cup of milk, and the biggest end of a Yankee cheese. I did great justice to the kindness of this good woman, and indulged myself in eating with freedom that I afterwards repented of. I was invited to ascend the ladder into the loft, where I was furnished lodgings. Whether it was the effects of the cheese or the sausages, I have ever since been unable to determine. It is certain that never was a night spent in so disagreeable a manner, with retchings, sickness of the stomach and vomiting.
Fearing to expose myself, I took my departure about four o’clock in the morning, without bidding adieu or returning thanks to my landlady. Of her, I had begun to entertain suspicious thoughts, and to recall the many stories I heard of poisoned cheese and colt sausages.
Winding my way through the woods, I ascended the top of the Blue Mountain about sunrise. Avoiding the great roads, I pursued my journey towards the residence of my mother in Centre County, experiencing many a hungry belly and many a sleepless night. I arrived at my mother’s much fatigued, and entered the house just as the family was raking up the embers of a dying fire, preparing to retire. I accosted the old lady before I was recognized by any of my brothers or sisters. Whilst the beam of joy played in her eye at seeing me again, the thorn of sorrow was planted in her heart.
I remained with my family some time, and was almost persuaded to settle and become industrious and sober, but my rambling disposition predominated. For company and for amusement, I paid occasional visits to this town (Bellefonte); frequenting taverns for sport, while drowning in the society of loungers found in the bar-rooms. Although I was guilty of many juvenile indiscretions and petty offenses, I never contemplated embarking in those dangerous and unlawful enterprises which unhappily distinguished the remainder of my career.
I discovered, through the medium of newspapers and other sources, that the people of the interior had resolved to establish country banks. From the number which existed, young and ignorant as I was, I foresaw that, while such a measure would terminate in the ruin of society, it would facilitate counterfeiters, and open a door for fraud on the ignorant and weak. Unluckily for me, I one day happened to fall in company with a tin peddler, or Yankee cart man, who showed me a large quantity of bank-bills. He purported them to be issued from sundry banks at Philadelphia and elsewhere; and, that he obtained them at Burlington, in Vermont, at a very low rate. He said he could make a fortune in a short time, provided he had a person upon whom he could depend, to aid and assist him in their circulation. Induced by the flattering prospect, I accompanied him to Burlington, where I was introduced to this manufacturing association, and soon became initiated into all the mysteries of the fraternity.
Bent on unholy gain, I soon became adept at the business, and left Burlington with my part of the Common stock, finding that the Vermonters were too much like their ancestors, the Yankees, to permit a green hand like me to impose upon their credulity. Consequently, I considered it wise to make my way into New York and Pennsylvania. I knew that in the latter State a great portion of the population consisted of Germans, who are themselves upright and honest, but unsuspecting of the villainy of others.
In New York, I met with considerable success in passing and exchanging my counterfeit money, but crime does not always prosper or escape detection, and I was discovered in an unlucky bargain which I had concluded with a certain General Root. On an electioneering campaign, the General invited me to crack a bottle of wine with him to the health and success of Governor Daniel D. Tompkins. Having taken a fancy to one of the General’s horses, and finding him rather soft in the head, we struck a bargain, and I paid him in my Burlington notes. The General was arrested when he attempted to pass some of these bills. Being in a place where he was unknown, he was awaiting trial when a citizen who had seen him receive the notes went bail and accompanied the General to pursue me.
Not expecting detection, I retired to enjoy myself in one of those houses found in the outskirts of towns, kept by the fair ones as decent establishments, for the accommodation of strangers. The General and his companion found me laid up in snug quarters, and hurried me to a magistrate, who made out my commitment, and I found myself lodged in the jail of Troy. I lay there some weeks with gloomy prospects, reflecting on the likely result of my trial, but began to flatter myself with the prospect of escape, through the agency of the daughter of the jailer, who introduced to my room a young woman, an intimate friend of hers, who I had seen gazing through the bars of my window from the house opposite, and who was apparently much interested in my fate.
The sentiments of pity, which at first warmed the bosom of this tender-hearted young woman, ripened into love; and, after a short courtship, I prevailed upon her to assist me in escaping under the promise of marriage.
One Sunday evening, when most of the town had gone to church, my kind friend, the jailer’s daughter, forgot to lock the door to my apartment and, without hindrance, I left the prison.
I found the young woman, who had consented to accompany me, waiting with great anxiety at the street leading to Albany. As we hurried towards that city, we agreed that both should change our names. She was to assume the name of Melinda, while I was to use that of Van Buren, the patronymic of an ancient Dutch family, who had emigrated from Holland, and settled in the province of New York.
My companion experienced the terrors which accompany the timid sex when placed in a similar situation — dread of being pursued and overtaken; regret at forsaking the protection of a widowed mother; the circumstance of elopement with a stranger, of whose character she was perfectly ignorant; whose face she never had seen, until she saw him through the bars of a prison window; all tended to alarm her fears and excite her apprehensions for the future.
We had proceeded about five miles when I discovered, from her agitated manner, her stifled sighs, and suffocated breathing, that she repented of the rash step she had taken. Silence prevailed, and neither of us spoke for at least half an hour, when all at once she stopped, burst into tears, threw off her bonnet, tore her hair, and uttered the most frantic expressions, exclaiming repeatedly, “Oh, my mother! My poor mother! What will become of my mother!”
My heart was not callous, and the sight of a woman in tears; more especially one who had so strong an attachment to me, could not fail to soften my feelings and produce a shower of tears as plenteous as her own. As soon as I subdued this expression of sensibility, I used every argument to assuage her grief and moderate her passion. I succeeded in pacifying her by renewing my promise of marriage. I supported that promise by oaths of sincerity and imprecations and curses on my head, if I did not fulfill it in the most honorable manner, on the first opportunity that offered.
After I composed Melinda’s perturbed mind, and painted the paradisiacal enjoyments of married life, powerful attractions in the romantic imagination of a girl of sixteen, we recommenced our journey. We proceeded nearly ten miles further before my way-worn traveler began to complain of blistered feet, fatigue, and weariness; expressing her wish that we should put up for the remainder of the night. I could not resist her entreaties, and not withstanding the dangers of pursuit, the next farm we came to furnished us with a safe retreat, and the means of repose on some buckwheat straw, which I gathered from the barn-yard.
My companion (having as yet no legal right to use the appellation wife), soon threw herself on these hard lodgings; and, overpowered with the exercise of travel, not withstanding her agitation of spirit, she sunk into the embrace of sleep. She continued to enjoy heaven’s sweet restorer for about four hours — until the shrill notes of a noisy, troublesome rooster, who had perched on a neighboring tree, proclaimed the approach of morning — the sure, unerring harbinger of day.
Shortly after she awoke from this refreshing slumber, we continued our journey, with a slow but constant gait, through circuitous byroads and unfrequented paths, until we reached Albany, just as the city clock struck seven. Not forgetting the promise of marriage, contracted in the most solemn manner, under circumstances that required more villainy to break than I possessed at the worst period of my life, I found a minister. He performed the ceremony in a shabby tavern at the extremity of State Street. As soon as the service was over, I prepared to pay his fee. Having mixed my good and bad money together, I unfortunately presented him with one of my ten dollar counterfeit Bnrlingtons; but, the generous man, objecting to the largeness of the proffered gratuity, returned the note. He refused to accept more than two dollars, which I instantly handed him in silver.
Melinda now wore a more cheerful countenance than she had done since her elopement. The performance of my marriage promise had satisfied her scrupulous delicacy, and removed a heavy weight of anxiety and distress, which seemed to press upon her spirits. It was evident that her chaste mind filled with fears and doubts of my sincerity, and suspected me of base designs.
The fact is, I entertained for Melinda as pure a passion as ever warmed the breast of man; the lovely girl not only had won my affections, but had secured my gratitude and gained my confidence. Although vicious myself, I respected and admired virtue in her. Had I followed her excellent advice and profited by the instruction which repeatedly fell from her lips, I would not be languishing in jail upon the bed of death, as I now am, ashamed to live, and afraid to die.
Melinda possessed every mental endowment and personal charm to attract the virtuous. Had she not been so unfortunate as to meet with me, before years and experience had matured her judgment, she would, no doubt, have made a happier marriage with a worthy man. She would have become the mother of children proud to acknowledge their father, instead of being ashamed to own the author of their being.
Her pleasing person; flowing hair; her complexion of a new-fallen snow; the rose of beauty; the bloom of youth that mantled her cheek; the blue eyes, vying for mildness with an April sky, moistened with the dew of heavenly charity, shaded with the longest eyelashes I ever beheld, were sufficient to captivate a man whose heart was less warm than mine. But destiny had wedded her to ruin. Alas! She merited a better fate, and what aggravates my present agony, is the distressing thought, that an uncharitable world may visit the iniquities of the husband and father upon his offspring.
But let me resume my narrative of more important incidents.
We remained at Albany, and in the morning I imparted a short history of my past life, taking care to conceal from her the most criminal of my adventures. I communicated such facts as I considered necessary, that the course of life in which I was engaged demanded on her part the utmost secrecy, as well as good management and ingenuity, to prevent a disclosure of my guilty conduct, which inevitably would bring disgrace and ruin on my head, and blast the future prospects of us both.
The explanation I gave could not fail to shock her sensibility, wound her pride, and alarm her fears. Until this disclosure, I had succeeded in making her believe that my commitment for the horse affair at Troy was a conspiracy between Root and his accomplices — to charge me with an offense, called a prosecution under law, was a persecution against justice — political revenge for my refusing to support the election of Governor Tompkins.
The love of imitation, the force of example, and the influence of association, possess a great agency in fixing the principles; forming the character; and, determining the views, prospects, and destinies of men. Societies, large or small, are composed of individuals who depend on one another in a greater or lesser degree, not only for the means of subsistence and mutual support, but also for moral and religious instruction, political information; and, the tender offices of charity, benevolence, and friendship.
Although I had been deprived of a good education in my youth, nature had been more kind and bountiful than I deserved, and favored me with more abilities and talents than I ever made good use of.
I had not long mingled in society before I began to make my observations upon men and things, before I perceived how useful were a few good men in a neighborhood or in the same town, and what a wonderful effect their precept and example — more particularly the latter, had upon the morals, manners, sentiments, and characters of their neighbors, and indeed all whose happy lot was within the sphere of their knowledge or action.
At the same time, I was equally struck with the injurious effects produced upon society by bad men, whose vicious examples had a pernicious tendency to wound public virtue, and destroy private integrity; corrupting, like the poison tree of Java, every moral principle that came within the influence of its deleterious effluvia. The danger of bad examples increase or diminish in proportion to the conspicuous situations in life in which the persons happen to move, from whom they proceeded; that the ratio of influence derived an accession from the circumstance of their holding a high or exalted public station or office, especially one in the gift of the people. Crime begets crime, and one crime furnishes an apology for another, and must continue to do so as long as public opinion continues to whitewash guilt, and guilt rides triumphantly into office and power upon the shoulders of popular favor or political prejudice.
The poor, unhappy, ignorant, wicked highwayman; an outcast from society, an outlaw from justice, never hears of a man in office plundering the people, robbing the treasury, or swindling the stockholders of a bank, without recognizing the vice, and considering it encouragement to persist in his career. I judge the feelings of others from my own; and can declare that such were my sentiments at the time — that I never read in the public newspapers or heard of a breach of public trust, without making a comparison favorable to the calling of the highway robber.
Now to return to my story.
Shortly after an early breakfast, we set out for the city of New York, which, from its crowded population, and extensive mercantile enterprise, I expected a secure hiding place, and a profitable theatre for my schemes. After about five miles through fields and cow-paths, we concluded to return to the high road.
From Troy to Albany, we had traveled three times the real distance, owing to our winding and circuitous route to avoid apprehension. Luckily, we had not gone more than a mile before we overtook a cart loaded with New England wares, bending its way straight for New York. Finding the owner pleasant and accommodating, we struck a bargain. Providing Melinda with as comfortable a seat as the vehicle afforded, I joined my new companion, and endeavored to beguile the tedious time in familiar conversation and inquiries about various uninteresting matters.
I found brother Jonathan shrewd, intelligent and full of anecdote. During my residence in Vermont, I acquired expressions peculiar to the Yankees, and affecting as much as possible the New England dialect, succeeded in making him believe I was a native of Vermont — born of the Green Mountains.
I endeavored to sift him as much as possible, as he was full of schemes and notions. I gained his confidence, and was near exchanging some of my Burlington notes, when he suddenly declined the bargain. What induced this change of mind, whether he entertained suspicions of me or had some other reason, I did not learn. I recollect he dissuaded me from going into any part of the New England States, alleging that the Yankees had sharpers enough. He then advised me strongly to remove into Pennsylvania, where a great portion of the population were credulous, ignorant, unsuspicious, and easy to be imposed upon. He laughed quite immoderately when he told me that his traveling brethren did better in that State than any other in the Union. Furthermore, he diverted me by repeating the many tricks and various modes of cunning practised by them upon the unwary; adding, that among themselves, they called it lifting Germany when their plans succeeded and their tricks escaped detection.
After journeying some days we arrived at New York about dusk, and took up our lodgings for the night at the New England hotel, the usual stopping place for Yankee cart-men.
The next day I procured a room in a small house up an alley that led into Pearl Street, the great resort of merchants, and which, from its narrowness and extensive business afforded, as I thought, better opportunities for my trade than any other.
I soon formed an acquaintance with several persons of the same principles, habits, and characters as my own. Our views coinciding, the acquaintance grew into intimacy, and after a few interviews, we exchanged the oath of fidelity and secrecy, and entered into a predatory partnership. The names of my associates I think it unnecessary and improper to divulge. Some have paid the debt of nature, others are now suffering for their crimes in the penitentiary; and two of them have discovered evidence of reformation by abandoning their former practices, and pursuing an honest and industrious course of life. I am of opinion the disclosure might do society no good and them much harm.
While my mind is suffering all the torments of despair, and my body languishes with pain on the bed of sickness, perhaps of death, it is impossible for me to recollect or to recount the many adventures; the thefts, burglaries, deprecations, frauds, and robberies that were committed and practiced by me and the rest of the gang during my continuance in this place.
I look back upon these scenes with horror, and when I reflect on the tricks and stratagems we adopted to deceive the City Watch, and the schemes we made use of to overreach and elude the police, I detest myself and abhor my conduct as much as my greatest enemy can do.
The success of our Pearl Street establishment exceeded my most sanguine expectations. The carelessness of domestic servants and shop-boys in securing the doors and windows of dwelling houses and stores; the improper practice of keeping front doors unlocked during the nights of performance at the theatre; the negligent manner in which watchmen perform their duties, more of whom we found asleep than awake; some of them not infrequently parading the streets in a state of inebriety; were propitious in affording facilities to our midnight operations. The theatre, the battery, the auction rooms, hotels, taverns, boarding houses and the wharves were the principal places which we haunted with most success, and we often way-laid youths and others to great advantage on their return from houses, which, alas!, are too common.
After a night thus spent, I returned to my room before daylight and found Melinda enjoying that undisturbed repose in sweet sleep, which tranquillity of mind and innocence of conduct can only procure. Seeing this, I repented of my misdeeds and resolved that I would cease to do evil and learn to do well.
All my resolutions were short-lived and fallacious; however, the delusion was pleasing; for, as long as they lasted, they operated like a weak opiate on my bewildered senses.
Throwing myself on the bed aside my sleeping wife, my exhausted nature was somewhat restored by an uneasy sleep, disturbed with terrific dreams, represented to my disordered and feverish imagination, the scenes of plunder and danger I had lately been engaged.
One particularly vile incident happened, during a night of performance, on the first appearance of Cook, the celebrated English actor, in some new and interesting character. Bob Brimstone, being more successful than the rest, and maddened with joy at his good luck, had become intoxicated with liquor towards the close of the entertainment. To indulge his brutal appetite, he had formed the diabolical plan of seizing some unprotected female. Fortune seemed to favor his criminal design. On leaving the theatre, he observed a young lady walking alone to and fro, searching for her little brother, who had accompanied her, and whom she had missed in the crowd as they descended the steps of the vestibule. Having offered his assistance to find the lost boy, he succeeded in enticing her into an unfrequented dark alley, where no voice of distress could be heard, and where, unseen by human eye, he meant to perpetrate his dreadful purpose.
Having proceeded up the alley until he came to a place where an opening was formed by two large warehouses, he seized her person with ruffian violence, and dragged her almost half-way through this gloomy passage, when he proceeded to stop her mouth by thrusting a handkerchief down her throat. The poor affrighted female uttered the most piercing shrieks that ever proceeded from the voice of despair, but all her cries would have been in vain, had not chance or an ever watchful Providence interposed, by directing my steps and those of another of the gang to return home through this darksome passage. Hearing the cry of distress, we immediately ran to the spot from whence it came, and arrived in time to save youth, beauty, and innocence from pollution and ruin.
Having extricated the unfortunate female from the grasp of the monster, we took her under our protection, and accompanied her to Greenwich street, where her parents resided. She continued in a state of terror and distrust until we delivered her into the hands of her father, who invited us into the house, and overwhelmed us with expressions of gratitude. He insisted upon our partaking of some refreshments before we parted.
I took my departure; and, full of the most pleasing reflections at being the instrument of saving this beautiful and interesting girl from violence and defilement, I enjoyed a more sound and composed sleep that night than I had for many months before.
The association which I had formed in New York was governed by rules and regulations, and to make them more binding and appear more solemn, they were written on parchment in blood, drawn from our veins, while we kneeled in a circle, with our hands clasped, and one of the band standing in the centre with a basin to receive the red fluid of life. According to one of the articles, the fruits of our joint spoliations were to be divided amongst us at fixed periods — and for this purpose, we proceeded with all the formulae of a bank direction; having a president, directors, cashier, teller, and clerk. So particular were we in providing against deception that one of the rules prohibited, under the penalty of expulsion, any member of the company from being concerned in burning any of the books, or altering any of the entries. The depository of our plunder was a vault, and committees of examination were appointed to inspect its contents, and report to the company at a general meeting. A dividend was declared every Sunday night, just as the cock gave his midnight crow. On one of these settlements, a disturbance of a singular nature took place that disgusted me and induced my abrupt separation from them.
During the previous week I attended the ladies auction room, in Broadway, and had been very successful in picking up and concealing the velvet reticule of a lady who had made considerable purchases of some rare and expensive articles of female ornaments and dress, principally of French manufacture, such as Brussels lace and jewelry.
I had taken my stand on the opposite side of the street, and lounged about until eleven o’clock, when a handsome equipage stopped, and I saw a lady descend and enter the room. I immediately recognized her to be the wife of John Jacob Astor, Esquire, one of the richest merchants in the city, and who, report said, was very liberal in his supply of madame’s pin money.
I crossed over; and, dressed like a gentleman in true dandy style, the sure passport of admittance into female society, entered the auction room and saluted the ladies with all the graceful ease of an old acquaintance. The experienced salesman, knowing that the best plan for picking a lady’s purse was to dazzle her eyes, soon exhibited to the view of his fair customers the finest lace and the most elegant jewelry that the workshops of France ever produced.
The sale commenced; and before many minutes had passed away, I saw Mrs. Astor pack into her velvet bag several pieces of lace and as many ornaments of jewelry as might suffice to decorate at least half a dozen brides. After she had completed her purchases, she carelessly threw her reticule on a bench in a remote corner of the room, and immediately opened a brisk conversation with a surrounding group of male and female companions, who buzzed around her and vied with one another for volubility and nonsense.
The babel of voices could not fail to attract the attention of the other spectators, who crowded the place, and while some were occupied in talking, and the rest in listening admiration, I laid hold of the bag, and thrusting it quickly into my bosom, left the room unnoticed, taking a French leave of the company.
I showed to my companions the whole amount of my valuable prize, and finding Melinda on my return home in low spirits and much disheartened, I presented her with a piece of lace, which she refused to accept for a long time, and not until I succeeded in making her believe that I drew it as a prize in a lottery recently established to befriend a poor widow, whom misfortune in trade had obliged to decline business. The company met the third day after this transaction, to settle up doings of the preceding week, and omitting to render an account of the lace I had given to my wife, I was accused of a fraudulent concealment. The opinion of the majority coinciding with my accuser, high words ensued, and blows succeeding words, I was severely beaten; and my ungenerous companions threatening to lodge information against me at the mayor’s office, I determined to quit them, and made arrangements for leaving New York the next day.
I communicated my determination to Melinda, and she received the intelligence with regret and disappointment. She was pleased with her situation in Pearl Street, and having formed an intimacy with a few females in the neighborhood, she was unwilling to leave New York.
She was affected to tears, but her tears were like an April shower, through which the cheerful sun soon broke, and dissipated every cloud of discontent that hung upon her brow.
Our household affairs did not require much time to prepare. In less than twelve hours our little stock of furniture was packed up ready for transportation, or disposed of at private sale, or given away as presents or keepsakes to our kind neighbors. In the evening we crossed the river and proceeded for New Brunswick.
I could not help remarking the contrast between the feelings of Melinda on this occasion and my conduct — she was so seriously distressed on leaving the place that she was afraid to trust herself with taking a formal leave. She left without exchanging the parting kiss or farewell salutation, whilst I was all anxiety to remove from the same town that contained companions with whom I had associated from selfish views of interest and gain, but whose society I hated, and whose conduct in many instances I secretly abhorred and openly disapproved of.
Melinda’s situation did not permit us to travel fast, and we did not reach New Brunswick until the third day. We continued to lodge at the stage house for about a week, when I rented a small tenement in the outskirts of the town, and having procured a few articles necessary for housekeeping, we moved in.
This place being limited in population, and not affording many fruitful sources either of speculation or depredation, I was obliged to make various predatory excursions into the surrounding country for plunder and opportunities to pass away my counterfeit money.
Experience had taught me the necessity of prudence and caution, and I was determined upon proceeding with the utmost vigilance.
There was a college at Princeton, and most of the students were from the southward. I concluded that in a seminary so extensive and conspicuous, there must be many empty heads and full purses, especially during approaching Christmas holidays, when most of the students received large supplies of cash to enable them to indulge in the festivities of the season. As soon as Melinda could leave her room, and attend to her domestic concerns, I set out on the first stage for Princeton, and having assumed the character, the airs, and consequence of a Georgia planter, I introduced myself to the professors; and, to further my schemes, I gave out that my object was to procure a berth in the college for my brother, whose arrival I expected after the expiration of the holidays. I sought every opportunity to court the society and gain the good opinion of the young men with whom I had contracted an acquaintance — passing for a man of fortune. Singing a good song, and being able to crack a bottle with the best of them, I was invited to most of their convivial parties, where cards were introduced.
I was a voluntary loser at first, and apparently played with so much carelessness and ignorance, that the poor youths began to boast of their plucking the Georgia pigeon, but alas!, in less than three nights, during which our sittings were from five in the afternoon until five o’clock in the morning, I not only recovered all I had lost, but won at least three hundred dollars of the money their foolish parents had remitted them.
Our place of rendezvous was a back chamber in the most retired part of the tavern, and the obliging landlord watched the door like a faithful Cerberus, to hinder us from the observation of the citizens of the village and the detection of the masters in the college. In the forepart of the night I always managed to lose more than any other, but after supper, when the heads of these silly youths were heated with the fumes of liquor, which they drank to great excess, and in which I encouraged them as much as possible, they became elevated by their former success and good luck, played unguardedly and bet high, of which I did not neglect to take advantage, and frequently left the table with my pockets well stored with the fruits of my victory.
I cannot reflect on my Princeton adventures without remarking the improper conduct of parents and guardians in furnishing youth with such liberal supplies of money. No seminary can flourish where such a practice persists; no system of discipline can reach the evil; and while the exertions of the master are defeated by the acts of the parent, the hopes of the parent are disappointed. When he embraces his son on return from college, he finds him often not only unimproved in his education, but ruined in his health and corrupted in his morals.
As soon as the college recess was over, I left Princeton and went to Philadelphia, with my pockets full of money and my head full of schemes. I did not remain long in so populous a place, before I discovered many persons of the same stamp as myself. Whilst my money remained, I did not think of any new enterprise, but my associates, taking advantage of my generous disposition, practiced every art that ingenuity suggested, to trick me out of the greater part of it. I continued in Philadelphia two weeks, rioting in every scene of dissipation that my own vicious inclinations and the free use of money could procure. Necessity compelled me to resort to my old plans, and the same system of midnight depredations, robberies and pocket-picking was pursued here as in New York.
I was very near embarking on a plan which, if it had succeeded, would have enabled me to renounce my present course of life forever. It was to decoy the rich French banker, Mr. Girard, out of the city into the country, and keep him confined until he gave checks on his own and other banks to a large amount. If this failed, we intended to enter the Dock street sewer and contrive to open a communication underground with the banking house, and thus roll the vaults. But luckily for Mr. Girard, before the time ripened for action, I received a letter from Melinda, advising me of the dangerous illness of my little daughter, and entreating me to return to New Brunswick directly. I was therefore obliged to give up the enterprise, leave my companions in great wrath and return home with scarcely fifty dollars of good money at my command.
After remaining with Melinda about four weeks, during which my purse became lighter every day, I determined upon going to the lines, to procure some situation in the army, commanded by Gen. Alexander Smyth.
Having prepared Melinda’s mind for leaving her, I took my departure for the north, in better spirits than I expected I should, when my mind dwelt upon the forlorn condition in which I should leave a beloved wife and an engaging infant.
Hope still buoyed me with visionary schemes, and the expectation of plunder and booty, which I promised myself when the army should make its entry into Canada, tended much to drive away present melancholy reflections. On my way to the lines, I met with companions as vicious and fond of pleasure as myself. Stopping at a wretched inn on the road, kept for the entertainment of gamblers and black-legs, I spent several days and nights in uninterrupted scenes of carousal, gaming and drinking. My companions being old acquaintances, had formed a league, and entered into a conspiracy to cheat me at cards of my money. They succeeded in tricking me out of the remains of my ill-gotten cash, and on the morning of the fourth day I decamped at daybreak, leaving them to pay the landlord my share of the bill.
After traveling about fifty miles with an empty purse and a hungry stomach, I applied to a wealthy farmer for employment, who agreed to hire me for a teamster. I did not remain long at the occupation before my employer’s team was pressed into the service of the United States Army. I drove the wagon to the lines with a detachment of troops, heading to join the Army commanded by General Alexander Smyth. On our arrival, I had many opportunities to indulge all my vicious propensities, and frequently plundered both officers and men of their money and property. The bustle of a camp amused me for some time, but the delay in crossing the lines, occasioned by General Smyth’s strange conduct, created so much a dissatisfaction, that I was not sorry when the campaign ended. The war at this time was nothing but a war of Proclamations, and the failure of the expedition produced nothing but expense to the government, and laughter among officers and soldiers of the Army at the crazy behaviour and bombastic style of the commanding General.
Having received from the commanding officer, or wagon-master, a certificate of the number of days employed in the public service, I prepared to return, but the opportunity of going off with my employer's wagon and horses, provided too great a temptation and I changed the direction of my route and steered for the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, whose scattered population and numerous caverns and breaks afforded various coverts and hiding places for criminals and fugitives. I parted with my wagon and team as soon as I could procure a purchaser, but the money I never returned to my employer.
Whenever I thought of this unsuspecting, honest man, who had misplaced in me so much confidence, the recollection of my ungrateful conduct for a long time occasioned me many a pang. I was a stranger, and he took me in, hungry, and he fed me, naked, and he clothed me, but greed has no memory for kindness, and I forgot them all in my wretched pursuit of means to gratify my sensual desires.
I need not mention the name of this benevolent man, but should he be living and these pages ever fall into his hands, he will certainly discover that the unfortunate David Lewis, and the person who betrayed his trust, under the fictitious name of Peter Van Buren, are one and the same person.
As soon as I thought it safe to exchange the solitude of the dark cavern for the busy haunts of man, I repaired to Stoystown, where I met with an acquaintance who had fled from justice. Being acquainted with my wife, he communicated to me the first intelligence of the death of this amiable and unfortunate woman, who died leaving an infant daughter who bore the name of Kesiah. The unexpectedness of the news, and the unfeeling manner in which the intelligence was conveyed, brought tears to my eyes and sorrow to my heart.
Had I obeyed the dictates of conscience, I would have quit the thorny path of guilt forever, and traveled the remainder of my life on the road of virtue.
The violence of my distress continued for some time, and my heart softened with sorrow. I had nearly gained a victory over myself, when my companion succeeded, by ridiculing my grief, in getting me to connect myself again with a gang of counterfeiters, who had secreted themselves in a retired part of the mountain, not far from town.
After joining the band, I was prevailed on to go to Chambersburg, to procure paper suitable for the purpose from Mr. John Shryock, concerned in a paper mill near that place. Owing to my suspicious appearance, or some regulation among cautious and honest paper-makers, Shryock refused to sell me any, and I was obliged to go to a paper mill in Virginia. I carried a sample of Shryock’s manufacture, which I picked off the table while he had turned to speak to some person.
Having procured a stock of paper, I returned to my comrades, where we went to work and struck several impressions of different denominations. As is usually done among counterfeiters, we made an equal divide of the false notes, and then separated to pass them off in the exchange for horses and other property. Some of my companions went into the neighboring States of Virginia and Ohio, while I preferred Bedford, Somerset, Uniontown and Brownsville.
In these towns, and the counties in which they are situated, I was successful in passing and exchanging my bad money, and escaped detection in such a wonderful manner that made me bolder as I became more guilty and criminal. There is such a chain and connection among counterfeiters and robbers, and so numerous are their accomplices and secret friends, that it is not easy to discover or apprehend them.
In traversing Fayette County, I became acquainted with a young woman who bore so striking a resemblance to my deceased wife, that I determined to pay my addresses to her, if ever I changed my condition; but my thoughts were occupied then about returning to my comrades in the mountains, all having agreed to meet at the cave at a time previously fixed upon. At the expiration of the stipulated period, I joined my companions without meeting with any serious accident or interruption. To guard against intrusion, and protection from the unwelcome visits of the officers of justice, there was a door in the cave, which we called Susanna; the signal for entry was, “open, Susanna, open.” As soon as these words were uttered, any of the party who happened to be within acknowledged the signal by crying out, “Susanna is at home.” I happened to be detained by sickness on the road, and did not arrive at the appointed time. As soon as I gained admittance, I found all of my comrades in the cave, and the first salutation which greeted my ears, convinced me that something was wrong. I was accused of loitering away my time with the view of spending the money of the company, or concealing it. I denied the charge, which brought on a quarrel, that nearly came to blows.
While my companions were slumbering, I quietly left them, carrying with me the spoils which I had made myself, along with all my partners’ ill-gotten contents, thinking it a light punishment, and one which they deserved, for their unjust suspicions of my honesty. In this manner, I possessed a considerable sum in bank-notes, which I determined to enable me to abandon forever the villains with whom I had connected myself, quit the present course of life, make a provision for myself and family, and follow some industrious mode of livelihood. But my scheme was frustrated by my folly. Having taken with me a black bottle filled with whiskey to refresh me in my flight; as soon as it was emptied I put in it nearly all my notes, which filled it up to the neck, and about twenty miles from the cave I dug a hole in the most retired part of the mountain, and buried my bottle. I was not careful to mark the spot with sufficient precision to enable me to discover it again, and thus was my ill acquired wealth lost to me, to my family, and to society.
Some person may have the good luck to come across it, an object worthy of search, and the contents sufficiently large and valuable to reward the fortunate finder.
I pursued my flight through Fayette, and chance, or destiny, throwing me again into the society of the young woman whom I had met before, and with whom I was so much pleased. I resolved upon remaining a few days with her, and if I found her possessed of a good disposition, I determined to unite my fate with hers in the connubial state. Her countenance was an index of her heart; she was as amiable as she was lovely, and perceiving that she received my visits with an encouraging familiarity, I soon declared my intentions of matrimony, and we were joined in wedlock.
After staying with her three days, I concluded to return to my mother in Centre County, to procure a home for her there, until I could go to Philadelphia for my little children, whose uncertain fate and desolate condition wrung my heart with all the anguish and anxiety which a tender parent feels on such an occasion. To prevent apprehension and avoid suspicion, I crossed into Virginia, and proceeded to Emmittsburgh in the State of Maryland. Being fatigued with walking, I stole a small mare and rode to Shippensburg with the expectation of meeting an old acquaintance and accomplice, whom I had known in Berlin, and, who, I understood, resided there. Being misinformed, I continued my journey through Cumberland, and on my way happened to call at a little store kept by a man of the name of Martin, on the Walnut Bottom Road.
Drunkenness was by no means my prevailing vice, and, though I was seldom intoxicated to excess, I would occasionally indulge in drink more than I wished, when in company with persons of jovial dispositions; and, I would sometimes find myself under the necessity of drowning the clamors of remorse and stings of conscience in the flowing bowl and sparkling glass. The morning I left Shippensburg, I fell in with company at a tavern, and drank freely. By the time I arrived at Martin’s, my ideas were in a state of confusion, and my caution and cunning stupefied with liquor.
I offered him, in payment for some article I proposed buying, some of my counterfeit notes, and acted with such imprudence, as was sufficient to create suspicion in a man more stupid than Martin. Accused of passing bad money, I denied the charge and confirmed the denial with the strongest assertions of innocence, and foolishly proposed accompanying him to town, to submit the notes to the inspection and decision of the officers of the Carlisle Bank. Martin consented, and we rode together to town.
When the notes were presented to the cashier and clerk, they pronounced them counterfeits. I now began to think that the affair might end more seriously than I expected. Someone proposed going to McGinnis’s tavern, to examine the matter, whither we went, accompanied by the bank officers. After undergoing a strict examination, and discovering from the winks that passed between the Colonel and Martin that they intended to arrest me, I concluded that my only chance of escape was to get off by some trick, as they appeared to be green hands at catching a rogue.
After protesting my of innocence, I offered to confirm my declarations by the testimony of a respectable gentleman, then in town. I was permitted to search for him, unattended by a constable, or anyone. I made the best of the liberty they imprudently gave me, and after turning Reitzel’s corner up Hanover Street, walked off with a quick step until I came to Blain’s cave, where I remained that night. The next morning I proceeded for Centre County.
I can have no motive or inducement, when I expect so shortly to leave a wicked world, and appear before the Great Judge of all to answer for the deeds done in the body, to close my life with a lie upon my lip. Alas! I have already sinned so much, against God and my country, that the only reparation I can make is to give a full disclosure or confession of all my crimes and offenses. Furthermore, the atonement would not be complete unless I strip the veil from my heart, and declare with truth and candor, all the plans, purposes, and schemes contemplated and agitated but prevented by Providence, who interposed obstacles, which I could not account for or attributed to chance or accident.
If no other advantage derives from this disclosure, I trust it to deter youth and others from adopting or persevering in the same course of life in which I embarked. If, by exhibiting myself as a beacon, I can warn others from the dangerous shoals on which I have shipwrecked my happiness and peace of mind, I shall consider myself fully repaid for the painful exertion I now make.
When I look back upon my ill-spent life, and endeavor to discover the cause or source from which my misfortunes and crimes have sprung, I am inclined to trace the origin to the want of early instruction. Had my widowed mother possessed the means to send me to school, and afforded me the opportunity of profiting by an education, the early part of my youth, instead of being engaged in idle sports and vicious pursuits, might have been employed in the studies of useful knowledge. My mind might have received an early tendency to virtue and honesty, from which it would not have been diverted. But alas!, she was poor, and the Legislature of Pennsylvania — I blush with indignation when I say it — made no provision, nor has she yet made any adequate one, for the gratuitous education of the children of the poor. Until schools are established at the public expense for teaching those who are without the means of paying for instruction, ignorance will cover the land with darkness, and vice and crime run down our streets as a mighty torrent.
After my expedition on the lines, I became disgusted with military life, and gave up every view of enlisting again. The disappointments, vexations, and terrors I experienced in my associations with the counterfeiting gang, who had fixed their establishment near Stoystown, and the risk I ran in being apprehended by the officers of the Carlisle Bank for my attempt to pass the counterfeit money with Martin, increased my determination to visit my mother and brothers.
After leaving Carlisle I acted with caution, and refrained from committing any depredation on the road to my mother’s. My family received me with a better welcome than I had any reason to expect, and while they expressed their satisfaction at seeing me, they renewed all their arguments in the most friendly and persuasive style to impress me of the wickedness and dangers of the course of life I was following. They almost persuaded me to settle and become industrious and sober; but the bad habits I contracted in the army, together with my natural disposition for rambling, predominated over their good advice.
Having procured the necessary material for counterfeiting, I became a partner in this tempting species of fraud. The period was extremely propitious for the success of the project. The Legislature of Pennsylvania had recently established new banks in every part of the State, which we considered little better than a legalized system of fraud, robbery, and swindling.
Determined to seize the golden opportunity to make our fortunes, we returned to Cumberland and erected a small hut in the South Mountain, near Mr. Brewster’s tavern, and boarded at a gentleman’s house in the vicinity. We proceeded to manufacture all sorts and sizes of counterfeit bank bills, but principally notes on the Philadelphia Bank, of the denomination of $100. Having struck off what we supposed to be a sufficient number, we separated to pass them off.
I proceeded to Landisburg, where I passed off a $100 note to Mr.Anderson, a merchant in that place; then to Newville, where I succeeded in putting off another note on a Mr. Geese, a store-keeper. I was fortunate to procure change in good money and to walk off without detection, or even suspicion. At that time, city money was scarce and in great demand, and the country merchants, eager to make their remittances in city notes, seized the opportunity to make the exchange and never examined the notes.
Passing through Roxbury, Strasburg and Fannettsburg, I exchanged about $1000 in notes of various denominations, purchased a horse at the Burnt Cabins — traded him off for a better one, paid the difference in counterfeit notes, and in this manner proceeded to Bedford, where, after several lucky trades, passed off several spurious bills. I found myself in possession of a handsome sum of money, fifteen hundred dollars of which I deposited in the Bedford bank, and sported for some time on the residue.
When wishing to make a bold push, and get rid of all my counterfeit stock, my imprudent anxiety occasioned suspicion, and I was arrested and imprisoned on the charge of passing counterfeit money. I could easily have made my escape from the jail of Bedford, but Samuel Riddle and Charles Huston, Esqs., the lawyers to whom I gave the balance of money to clear me, flattered me with such encouraging assurances of acquittal that I was induced to see it out. After remaining in jail for a considerable time, and experiencing all the painful feelings of suspense, my trial was ordered on, and notwithstanding the zeal and exertions of my counsel, I was found guilty, and sentenced to ten years in the Penitentiary.
I remained there about a year, during which time I began to have serious thoughts of reformation, when the powerful intercessions of my friends, and the knowledge I had of the weak side of Governor Findlay in favoring applications of this nature suggested a pardon as the best means of restoring me to liberty. As I expected, his excellency received my petition for a pardon in a manner that gave my friends no doubt of the success of the application; and they did not remain many hours in suspense before the Secretary delivered a paper under the great seal of the State, granting me full forgiveness for all my crimes, and a complete remission of all the penalties of the law.
After I left Harrisburg, I went to Bedford to endeavor to get back some of my money which I had deposited in the bank, but the bank officers refused my checks. I was again reduced to great distress, and in a moment of despair, was very near putting an end to my life, when I fell in with one Rumbaugh, who had assumed the name of Connelly, and a man who called himself James Hanson.
I did not keep their company many days before they persuaded me to join them in waylaying and robbing a Mr. McClelland, whom they had traced from Pittsburg to Bedford, and was to pursue his journey to Philadelphia the following morning. We armed ourselves and proceeded to a tavern within a few miles of Bedford, where we drank a pint of brandy. We waited in the woods near the roadside for about half an hour with great impatience, until Mr. McClelland came in view. He rode at a slow pace and carelessly, until he was nearly past us, when Connelly jumped out of the thicket, seized his horse by the bridle, and presenting a pistol, told him if he made any noise he would shoot him. Hanson and myself then came up and held his legs while Connelly led his horse into the woods.
We took his money in the manner already stated in the public prints. To escape detection Connelly and Hanson proposed to make away with him, alleging that dead men told no lies, but I refused, and told them if they did they must first murder me, and so deterred them from the bloody act.
We then bent our course towards Lewistown, in Mifflin County, intending to proceed into the State of New York, but we had proceeded only two miles when we were overtaken and brought hack to Bedford. I had always determined never to stain my hands with blood, or kill anyone except in self-defense, but I would certainly have shot Ephraim Enser, the man who caught me after I had thrown down William Price, if my pistol had gone off. My natural disposition was by no means cruel; and hearing my mother read out of the Bible the story of Cain killing his brother Abel, when I was yet a child, it made an impression on my young and tender heart which never was effaced.
After remaining in the Bedford jail for some time, and finding its use inadequate to hold prisoners in our condition, I determined on an escape, and put the prisoners confined with me on a plan to get off, which succeeded to my full expectation. We let out all the prisoners that would go, excepting an ordinary fellow that had robbed a poor widow, and who I determined should be left behind to take care of the jailer and his family, whom we had locked up in the same apartment lately occupied by us.
Connelly and myself proceeded along the mountains to Doubling Gap, in Cumberland County, where we came across an old acquaintance. We remained there a few days, and then went to Petersburg, in Adams County, where we procured some clothing and other necessaries, having left Bedford in a destitute condition. After we had refreshed ourselves, and recovered from our fatigue, we crossed over to the Conewago hills in York County, and committed several petty robberies and depredations. We then directed our course into East Pennsboro, one of the most wealthy and populous German settlements in Cumberland County, with the view of robbing rich farmers in that neighborhood. Hearing that Jonas Roop was building a new mill, and had gathered a good deal of money for that purpose, we lurked about in the vicinity for some time, but could not meet with a favorable opportunity.
We next visited Krietzer’s tavern; and, judging from the size of his barn the corresponding size of his purse, we expected to be more fortunate with him than we had been at Roop’s, but we were again disappointed. While in his bar-room we heard some of his neighbor’s talk of his not having one cent for every dollar in the possession of Mr. Beshore, who was represented as having more ready money than the rest of his neighbors put together. We immediately laid our plans for an attack on his house, and would have succeeded, but for the bravery displayed by his wife, who blew a horn to alarm the neighborhood.
It was not long before a number of the neighbors came to her assistance, and Connelly, snatching up a rifle, made off, while I, who for the first time in five years became intoxicated to excess, was taken prisoner. After being secured and fastened, some cowardly fellow came up and struck me in my defenseless condition.5
I was taken to the Carlisle jail, and put in a strong room, out of which I saw very little chance of escape. To my great joy and satisfaction I heard that the Sheriff of Bedford county had come down to demand me. I was the more pleased with the prospect of an exchange of prisons from the dislike I took to the jailer, a surly fellow, who looked as if he begrudged the prisoners the common jail allowance.
The Sheriff was not successful in his application, but upon Alexander Mahon and William Ramsay, Esquires, swearing that the Carlisle jail was not sufficiently strong to hold me, I was ordered to be taken to Chambersburg by Sheriff Ritner. I had seen the Sheriff before, following an occupation for which he was much better fitted than the one he was now engaged in.
In conducting me to Chambersburg, Ritner was accompanied by a young man, Hendricks, very unlike another deputy who assisted in bringing me from Mechanicsburg to Carlisle. His name I cannot remember, though I shall not forget him if I were to live a thousand years. I was struck with the contrast of character between the two young men.
The former was modest and reserved, and never plagued me with impertinent questions; the other was continually teasing me with inquiries which it did not become him to use to a person in my situation. I soon discovered that his silly conduct proceeded from vanity, and that he had a great desire to make a display of his learning to me, for he was constantly pulling out of his pocket a little book, which I took for a pocket dictionary, to find out the meaning of the high flowing words he made use of.
During our travel, I informed the Sheriff that I had met him before, at Millerstown, on the Juniata, when Connelly proposed our robbing him, but as I knew he made no profitable sales abroad, nor received any collections, I concluded he could have no money about him. The fact is, nothing would have pleased me better at the time than to have robbed him, as I had long heard the office holders of Carlisle represented a hungry, avaricious set of extortioners, and no sense of justice, or feeling of humanity could restrain them from grinding the poor.
If there was any class or description of people in society whom I would sooner have robbed than any other, it was those who held public offices, and under color of law had been guilty of extortion; who had plundered the poor, and cheated the widow and the orphan. Against such workers of iniquity my mind had taken a set, and I was determined never to spare them on any occasion that offered. The groans of the distressed, the cries of the widow, and the complaining of the oppressed rang in my ears, and called aloud for vengeance. There was perhaps no place in the State in which I heard more complaints of this sort than in the county of Cumberland, and as Carlisle was my native place, for which I felt a strong attachment, instead of committing a wrong I conceived that I would be rendering society a service by punishing those official marauders who infest the town, in visiting upon them the same degree of severity which they had visited upon others, and thus, make the cruel feel the pains they gave.
With this view, I proposed to my companions that we should abandon the highways, make our peace with offended justice, satisfy the penalties of the law, reimburse those whom we had robbed and wronged, move into town, and adopt the most effectual mode of bringing extortioners, bank swindlers, and public defaulters to justice, and make as much money out of them as we could.
Having heard great complaints of an act of Assembly called the Fee Bill, which had passed in the session of 1813-14, I procured a copy of the law, and found that it contained a provision, that if any officer shall take greater or other fees than was expressed and limited for the service, or shall charge, or demand and take any fees where the business was not done, shall charge or demand any fee for any service or services, other than those provided for, such officer shall forfeit and pay to the party injured fifty dollars, to be recovered as other debts. I thought it remarkable that this provision (which was the only part of the law that had an eye to the interest and security of the people), should remain a dead letter, and that few instances occurred of the parties injured resorting to it for redress.
I knew that in the long catalogue of public officers, there were but few exceptions where this part of the act had not been infringed upon, and where sheriffs, prothonotaries, clerks-of-the-sessions, justices and constables had not incurred the penalty.
My plan was to proceed regularly through the town and country, procure a copy of the multitudinous suits spread upon their dockets, obtain copies of their respective bills of fees, call upon the parties interested, particularly defendants, make a bargain with them for permission to bring suits in their names for the penalties, and that I should receive one-half of the forfeitures for my trouble and expense.
Connelly opposed the scheme, alleging that the number of public officers was so great that they formed such a powerful phalanx in society, and possessed so much influence, that they had grown so cunning from the long time they had been in office, they would be able to defeat all the humane intentions of the act. The project was abandoned, very much against my will.
I did not remain confined long before I tricked Mr. Leader, who was confident I would not leave him. My escape was owing to the negligence of the jailer, who in his hurry to see a fight that was going on in the street, forgot to lock the door of the last room of the convicts, contenting himself with bolting it; and fastening the little wicket window, with the key that unlocked the other rooms, he omitted to return and secure the door. During the day the prisoners half-fixed a soaped string over the top of the door, and concealed it in a crack on the outside, and with a slip-knot, they pulled out the key.
They unlocked the door through the window; and, having the necessary key to open the door of the room in which I was confined, I was liberated, and, springing the lock of the door leading into the women’s apartment, and the door leading from thence into the yard, as well as that of the gate opening into the street, I and four other criminals affected our escape, undiscovered by anybody, about two o’clock in the morning.
We proceeded about half a mile, and finding my hobbles troublesome we entered a pine thicket, where, with an axe and cold chisel, I extricated myself from the irons. While thus employed, we heard the noise of the town bells, which were ringing to alarm the inhabitants and rouse them to pursuit, and could not help laughing heartily, at the confusion and mortification our escape must produce among the wise citizens of Chambersburg.
There is no truth in the supposition that I bribed the jailer, or gave him directions about his getting fifteen hundred dollars that I had concealed in the pines, south of the Walnut Bottom Road. I never hid any money there, nor promised Mr. Leader any bribe. He treated me with humanity, and is wrongfully accused, if anybody suspects my escape was owing to his criminality.
We remained all that day in a rye field, and at night pursued our course to Doubling Gap. Near this place is a cave in the cleft of the mountain, formed by a projecting rock, and here we remained for several days.1 After refreshing ourselves, and procuring a change of clothes, I disguised myself, and passing for a well-digger, paid frequent visits to Newville, especially at night.
I generally took a round through the taverns to learn what was going on, and discover, if I could, which of the inhabitants had the most ready money. According to the talk of those I met with in the tavern, I was led to believe that the three richest men in that part of the country were Mr. Sharpe, David Sterrett, and an old gentleman of the name of Kehan, or McKeehan.
From information I received, I concluded that the former had more land than money, as I understood he made a purchase of property every year, adding house to house, and field to field.
I concluded upon robbing Mr. Sterrett; but hearing that he had deposited all his money in the new bank at Carlisle, and with little or no prospect of getting it out again, and that he was a bond buyer, and had disposed of his ready money in this way, I despaired of succeeding with him, and fixed upon old Mr. Kehan as the surest mark.
I immediately set my ingenuity to work to devise the best plan for accomplishing my purpose, and intended to waylay him on Sunday evening as he returned from church. I meant to carry him into the woods, tie him and threaten him with violence, until he told me where his treasure was lodged. With that information, I would go to the house and alarm the family, making them believe that I had just left the old man dying in the road about a mile off, and that he had begged me to send them to him directly. I concluded that the intelligence would induce great distress and confusion, and that in their absence I might have time enough to rifle his chests, and break open all his drawers.
I met the old man one Sunday afternoon as he was returning home from church, but my heart failed me. I was struck with his venerable form, his benevolent countenance, his republican simplicity of manners, and his patriarchal appearance, that I became confounded. My feet became riveted to the ground, my tongue motionless, my heart appalled, and my eyes fixed in amazement, so that I could not find courage to proceed or touch him with the finger of violence. On meeting him in the highway, he rode on, after bidding me good day; when he had passed by I looked back at him, and said, what is the meaning of this? Oh, honesty!, there is sometimes a charm even in thy external appearance sufficient to stay the hands of the robber himself! there is a majesty in virtue which often appalls vice itself, and strikes the guilty conscience with terror and dismay.
I returned to the cave that evening without committing any depredation, and slept better than I had done for several nights before.
Living in a state of constant dread and apprehension of being retaken, I became tired of the cavern and determined to return to my old haunts in East Pennsboro, to seek revenge of the fellow who had struck and abused me after I was tied, when I was taken before.
In my abrupt departure from the cave, I left behind several articles of value, particularly a pair of pantaloons and some blankets. If they have fallen into the hands of any honest people on the Big Spring, I hope they will not darn or use them, but return them to my poor wife in Philadelphia the first opportunity that offers.
On my return, I again met with my evil genius, Connelly, who renewed the proposition of robbing old Jonas Roop. We made several attempts, but were always baffled. Jonas was in the habit of going to Harrisburg, and staying late in the company of Judge Bucher, who lived near the bridge. I was to cross over to the Harrisburg side, and Connelly to remain concealed in a thick covert of woods on the other side, near the road leading to Mr. Roop's house. I dogged him one Saturday evening in particular, and would have robbed him or perished in the attempt, if I had not discovered from his conversation with Mr. Bucher that he kept no cash or ready money in his house. After reaching the engine house near the bridge, and getting into one of the empty boxes that lie there, I could distinctly hear all that passed without danger of discovery.
If it had appeared that Jonas possessed a sufficient sum of money to justify the risk, our plan was to seize him after he had crossed the bridge, on his return home, in some suitable part of the road the most remote from any house, carry him into some thicket of wood, tie him and his horse to a tree, and procure from him the key of his chest, or gain intelligence where his money was hid, and get some token from him to his family, enabling us to deceive them and carry off the spoil without difficulty or danger. The intelligence I gathered from the conversation between him and Bucher, convinced me that Jonas neither carried money about his person nor had any at home, and compelled me to abandon the scheme.
Thus baffled in my expectation of robbing Mr. Roop, I returned to our rendezvous disheartened and disturbed as to my future prospects — reflections on the past produced only disagreeable and painful sensations, and anticipation of the future afforded a gloomy prospective. Possessing a restlessness of disposition, my mind could not remain long unoccupied, without engaging in some new scheme.
Necessity furnished a new motive for action, and though I generally despised petty thefts and spring-house depredations, and wished to pursue the nobler game of highway robberies, which while they were more profitable were better calculated to make a great noise in the world, and produced a temporary éclat flattering to the pride of one who had gained a reputation for generosity even in his crimes, I was reduced to the alternative of starving in the midst of plenty, or descending to the expedient of committing petty larcenies to supply the wants of nature. I did not hesitate long before I chose the latter, and in one of my predatory excursions, 1 discovered on the farm of Mr. Conrad Reininger, a wealthy and respectable German, a web of homemade cloth lying exposed. The temptation was too powerful for one in my distressed case to delay in seizing the valuable prize the first favorable moment that offered.
I made the attempt as soon as the stillness and darkness of night rendered it safe; but darkness and night do not always afford a cover for crime or a mantle for iniquity. I was surprised in the attempt to carry it off, was pursued in my flight, and finally overtaken. My pursuers were accompanied by a large dog, whose fierceness and speed exceeded anything of the kind I ever witnessed before, for as I was in the act of clearing the fence, the dog came up, seized me by the shoulders, drew me back, and held me fast until Mr. Reininger arrived, who immediately belabored me with blows, from the effects of which I did not recover for some time. I had frequently seen Mr. Reininger before, and though I perceived he was a robust, broad-shouldered, stout built man for his size, I did not think there was so much strength in the arm of flesh, until I felt the force of his on this disastrous occasion.
I was now completely in the power of my pursuer, and expected every moment to be dragged to a magistrate and committed once more to jail, but Mr. Reininger, not knowing me in the dark, and thinking he had already punished me sufficiently for the unsuccessful attempt, discharged me from his grip.
I lost no time in making off as fast as I could. I returned to our hiding place about midnight, and suffering the most excruciating pain from a lacerated shoulder and bruised body, lay on the damp earth until daybreak, without any mitigation of pain or relief. Apprehensive that the dog was mad, I endured the utmost anxiety, terror, and suspense for nine days; after the termination of this period, my fears arising from the dreaded effects of canine madness subsided, and I recovered gradually both health and spirits.
Forming a determination of going to my mother’s, I resolved upon its execution as soon as I could disengage myself from Connelly, of whose company I began to grow tired, but Providence that overrules the actions and destinies of men had otherwise ordained. As we had been so long together in a criminal intercourse, it was to be our fate to continue in the same career of wickedness until both should expiate their crimes by the justly merited sacrifice of their lives, on the same occasion and in the same manner. My wretched companion, suspecting my intention to leave him, procured from me a rash oath that we should never separate from one another without the consent of each. A false pride and a mistaken sense of honor operating upon a mind whose moral sense was weakened by vice, and whose conscience was hardened by crime, I determined to fulfill with fidelity what I had promised with rashness.
Many days had not elapsed after this before I became affected with a strange presentiment, which I could not resist, that my glass was nearly run, and I should soon be called to answer for my conduct here. Notwithstanding the errors of my education, and the wicked and criminal manner in which I had spent my life, I never disbelieved the existence of a God, or the truths of Revelation. Nevertheless, my convictions of conscience were of so transitory a nature that they never produced any fruit, except an occasional fearful apprehension of Divine wrath and punishment, which I endeavored to remove as speedily as possible by embarking in some new adventure, or engaging in fresh scenes of dissipation and debauchery. Not being able to overcome this feeling, and acting under its influence, I concluded to pay a visit to Carlisle, the place of my nativity, once more, before I should quit this part of the country forever. I intended to retire to Canada and settle there, after I should see my mother and make preparations for removing my wife and children. Previously, I was engaged in several enterprises of a criminal nature, in some of which we were fortunate, and in others unsuccessful.
In the attempt to plunder the house of old Mr. Eberly, and rob him of a large sum of money which we were told he had in his possession, chiefly in old gold and Spanish dollars, we were surprised in the act by an alarm made by the family, and I, in particular, was very near being apprehended. After the failure of this attempt I started to Carlisle early the next morning, having first disguised my person by altering my clothing, blackening my whiskers and eyebrows, covering one of my eyes with a piece of green silk, and sticking a large black patch on my left cheek. In this manner I arrived in Carlisle about twilight in the evening, carrying a bundle of old clothing under my arm, and affecting the infirmity of an old cripple.
Afraid to expose myself by remaining too long in the same place, and anxious to avoid the risk of detection, I changed my situation frequently, and mixed with different companies at different times. I occasionally became a party to the conversations carried on, and thus became acquainted with the characters of the inhabitants, and the passing transactions of the times, which made me think the inhabitants of the place were really a very queer people.
In one of my rambles through the streets, I happened to meet the man with whom I attempted to pass some of my counterfeit notes, and through whose agency I was very near being arrested. I found his real name to be Henry C. Marthens, and learnt that he had removed from the Walnut Bottom and settled in Carlisle. I likewise gained some information about the mare which I left in his possession, when I took French leave of him and Colonel McGinnis, and was told the mare was sold for one hundred dollars, and the money pocketed by Marthens. As Marthens has no right either to the mare or the money, he will do an act of justice only if he returns the latter to my poor and distressed wife and family, whom he will easily find either in Philadelphia or New York.
At all events he can have no just claim to the money, and if he is unwilling to restore it to my family, he ought at least, as an honest man, appropriate it for some charitable or benevolent use, in my name, or in our joint names. I understood that this man, Marthens intended to make the tour of Europe, whether in the character of Missionary or Wandering Jew, I did not hear. His object appeared to be to impose on the credulous, by tendering his services to collect legacies and debts in the old countries.
In the evening I repaired to the house in which I was born, on Hanover street, nearly opposite Dr. Foulk, and so strong was my affection for the natal spot, that I stooped down and kissed the sill of the door, on which I had frequently sat beside my mother, and enjoyed the innocent sports of boys older and bigger than myself who played around us in the street. I was also anxious to see again the draw-well which stood in the street a short distance from the house, and expected to find the same bucket hanging in the well, from which I had often, unknown to my mother, allayed my thirst; but finding a pump in its stead I drew up as much water as cooled my parched and burning mouth, which I drank out of the hollow of my hand; but alas it could not quench the consuming fire that raised in my bosom.
The scene brought to my recollection the happy days of infancy and innocence, which had gone by never to return, and the comparison between what I had been and what I now was filled my heart with anguish, and my conscience with compunction I felt as one possessed of two distinct souls, and two opposite natures, one inclining him to virtue, the other drawing him to vice and crime; the strength of the latter prevailed over the weakness of the former, and had plunged me in that deep and black abyss of guilt from which I found it impossible to rise.
My heart was torn to pieces by the violence of feelings which now agitated me, and I shed a profuse shower of tears; but tears afford relief only to those who are at peace with themselves; alas!, they brought none to a miserable wretch so guilty. This gentle fluid of humanity, while it ran from my inflamed eyes, only scalded my cheeks without relieving my bursting heart.
I remained for some time in this agony of feeling, transfixed to the spot like a statue of despair, and might have remained much longer, except for some soft sounds of music which broke upon my ear. I immediately turned round and found the sound proceeded from a house up an adjacent alley, where I followed until I came to the stone dwelling from which the sound issued. I stopped and listened with breathless attention.
Finding it resembled the melody of sacred music, I opened the gate, and proceeded to the window, when, peeping through one of the broken shutters, I observed the delightful spectacle of an aged couple closing the labors and duties of the day in exercises of devotion and worship. It was a sight to which I had not been accustomed, and when the venerable man of God, in the concluding prayer, pronounced with the voice and countenance of an angel the solemn expression, amen, I voluntarily repeated the word in so loud a tone that it made them both start with surprise and astonishment; but lest my appearance, by remaining longer, should add to the terror of this worthy pair, I instantly escaped without being perceived.
Retiring from the interesting spot with more composure than I came to it, my meditations recalled to my memory the religious impressions with which I had once before been affected, in New York, on hearing the Reverend Bishop Hobart preach in that city, and I lamented how easily they had been effaced by the guilty pleasures and criminal scenes in which I indulged on that occasion, to dissipate their effects.
After walking the streets for some time searching for a resting place for the night, I happened to pass by the public offices, and finding the door open, I preferred the hard bed and miserable shelter which they might afford my wearied body, to the damp and unwholesome air to which I must expose myself from lying on one side of the stalls in the open market-place. After placing my bundle on the bricks for a pillow, I laid down and soon fell into a sound and undisturbed sleep, from which I did not awake until my ears were assailed by loud cries of “Gliddy Glongh, Gliddy Glotigh.”
I was not long in discovering that the sound came from a poor unfortunate maniac, of the name of Baggs, whom I had often seen in Carlisle and other places. I accosted him without apology, and saying, “George, be still,” the inoffensive idiot immediately replied, “Oh yes, Bill,” and without more ado retired to a corner of the entry, where he laid down and remained quiet until he fell asleep, much happier than hundreds who lie on beds of down under canopies of velvet. Notwithstanding my poor accommodations for rest, I rose at daybreak much refreshed, and returned to the old haunt at East Pennsboro, where I rejoined Connelly, my companion in iniquity.
We tarried here two days, and on the morning of the third commenced our journey to my mother’s. The conversation that passed between us on the road chiefly related to matters connected with the course of life in which we had so long been engaged, and the impressions made on my mind by recent circumstances favoring a change of conduct growing weaker and weaker, I soon yielded with a willing mind to every suggestion and proposition that came from my dangerous companion. We now agreed to renew our old trade of robbery and plunder, and as guilt becomes bolder by repetition, we possessed a kind of factitious courage, bordering on despair, increased greatly by the very circumstances of dangers we were in; conscious that having offended against the peace of society and the laws of our country, no prospect appeared of receiving another pardon.
On crossing the Juniata, an incident came to my recollection which I considered as a very unfortunate circumstance at the time it happened. It was as follows:
Having possession of a large sum of money in notes of the Carlisle Bank, which I had procured in exchange for counterfeits. I carefully placed them in a curious envelope, made of an alligator's skin, tanned at Havana, which the unfortunate Joseph Hare, lately executed at Baltimore, had purchased at Pensacola, and gave me for a keep-sake. On being pursued through the Tuscarora Mountains, I hid the skin with its contents under a large rock that projected over the river. During the spring freshet the rain had fallen in torrents, and the flood over flowing the bank, washed away the earth, and carried off the rock into the Juniata at least ten feet from its natural bed.
Returning to the spot about three months after the freshet, I discovered the ravages of the flood, and though I searched the bank of the river and the water below with the greatest care, I was unable to find money or purse, an accident at which I grieved much at the time, not only for the loss of the notes as regarded myself, but it distressed me not a little to think any of the Governor’s litter should profit so much by the disaster; unless, perchance, some fortunate waterman may have the good luck to discover it as he descends the river.
We moved on in this mood for some time, and determined not to risk much by petty thefts on the road, reserving all our skill and courage for greater exploits, more productive of gain, and at the same time as free from danger as enterprises of so daring a nature permitted.
No opportunity for plunder happened for some time, and our hopes began to languish, when calling at a miserable grog shop, we overheard a conversation between the landlady and a stranger, the latter informing her that a wagon loaded with store goods belonging to Hamilton & Page, of Bellefonte, was expected shortly to pass. This animating intelligence raised our drooping spirits, and to increase our ardor for plunder, McGuire, another of the gang, made his appearance at the door just as we were preparing to leave the house. Affecting to treat one another as strangers, and dissembling our knowledge of him and he of us, we took our departure, after giving a secret signal known only to the fraternity.
We had proceeded but a short distance before we were overtaken by our old companion, and having communicated to him the information we got at the tavern, we concluded upon making another bold push to retrieve our fallen fortunes. To accomplish our views with more security, we concerted the plan of robbing the wagon in the Seven Mountains, and accordingly proceeded to execute our purposes. The attempt was crowned with success, and the spoil divided. Elevated with our good luck and inflamed with liquor, we made another attempt to rob the store of Mr. James Potter, of Penn’s Valley, the next morning; but though we commenced the operation before the break of day, and had the advantage of being armed with rifles, we were unexpectedly discovered, and dreading to encounter Mr. Potter and his family, whom I knew to be a brave and resolute man, we decamped on the first notice of a surprise without making any resistance.
After this, McGuire was dispatched to Bellefonte to reconnoitre, and seek safe and suitable objects of plunder. Assuming the appearance of a gentleman, he was dressed out in the best suit we could furnish, and in this character entered one of the shops with the pretended view of purchasing store goods, while his chief intention was to gain information and make his observation of the premises, particularly as to the manner of securing the store at night, and the vigilance or carelessness of the owner.
Abandoning the project of robbery by force, we now resolved to attain by stratagem what we dreaded to effect by violence. A new scheme was adopted: McGuire was to return in the garb and character of a laborer, to procure employment, and after gaining admittance into the family as a domestic, he was to carry out a secret correspondence with us, and as soon as the plot was ripe for action, introduce us into the store the first night the storekeeper might be absent. But owing either to his imprudence or the sagacity of the storekeeper, he was suspected to be an impostor and refused employment.
On the return of McGuire, the news of his failure filled us with new terror, when we agreed to separate for a time, the better to avoid detection and elude the officers of justice. For several days I concealed myself in the most lonely places I could find around Bellefonte, and at night slept, or rather lay in the woods, under the most distressing feelings of fear and alarm. The least noise was sufficient to disturb me, and the dismal scream of the screech owl terrified my imagination with awful forebodings.
One night, while I lay under a large oak, my thoughts were much engaged in meditating upon the forlorn condition to which I had brought myself by my imprudent and criminal conduct—sleep had forsaken my eyelids, and my attention was alive to every noise around me. The shaking of a tree, or the fall of a leaf produced agitation and trembling; thus I spent the night, anxious for the return of morning, and vainly expecting that the light of day, while it would dissipate the darkness that overspread the earth, might also remove the deep gloom that pervaded my mind.
Alas, the sun shines only for the innocent and happy; and those who are not innocent and free from guilt can no more expect to find happiness either in this world or that to come, than they can look for sunshine in the midst of night, without disappointment. During the night I had heard a strange noise, not unlike the cracking of a horsewhip, and my mind dwelling on the recent circumstance of the robbery in the Seven Mountains, the alarm of conscience induced me to imagine that the noise proceeded from the whip of the plundered wagoner, who had come in pursuit of me. I jumped up and stood upon my feet, expecting every moment to see the wagoner in person, and feel the lash of his whip. The moon shed but a dim light through the thick foliage of the wood, obscuring my vision, and preventing me from seeing even the nearest objects.
I saw no human figure, heard no human voice, and concluded that the noise was nothing but the unreal creation of a disturbed imagination. After walking about for a few minutes, I returned to my resting place under the oak, and lay under its branches until the day dawned, when I awoke from a broken sleep of not more than half an hour’s duration.
The first noise that saluted my ears was a repetition of the same sound I had heard during the night; and again the poor wagoner appeared in full view to the eye of my affrighted fancy; but the terror of fancy can never equal the horror of reality. Instead of the wagoner and his whip, I perceived one of the most terrific objects that ever appalled the human sight. A tremendous snake with two heads lay within five feet of where I was, alternately jumping up from the ground, twisting and coiling itself and at intervals dashing its tail against the trunk of a hickory sapling. It ceased to move for an instant and darted at me the angry look of a swollen and distended eye. Horror transfixed me to the spot as fast as the oak near which I stood.
Superstition, like fear, generally accompanies guilt, and I now believed the serpentine monster before me was nothing less than the devil, who had left the infernal abyss, and reappeared in the same form he had assumed when he tempted and deceived our first frail parents in the garden of Eden. The design of his visit I considered to be for no other purpose than to carry me off with him to the lower regions, body and soul, as a just punishment for ray manifold transgressions; and every other fear was swallowed up in the dreadful apprehension of being instantly devoured by the two-headed monster.
Notwithstanding the violence of terror which I now suffered, the impulse of self-preservation and the love of life restored me to a degree of recollection and composure sufficient to enable me to fly from the impending danger. I assumed desperate courage, and snatching up my rifle, fled with the utmost velocity the feet of man are capable of, just as this wonder of nature had resumed its occupation of striking its tail against the tree.
I continued my flight for several miles, and did not cease running until exhausted nature called for rest. Having reached a safe hiding place, I concealed myself in the retreat until night-fall, when I expected the cloud of guilt-concealing darkness might afford greater security to my attempt to procure some food to relieve the pressing calls of hunger.
Wandering about from farm to farm, I happened to espy a smoking oven, and seizing a favorable opportunity, I stole a loaf of half-baked bread, the sweetest morsel I had eaten in my life, as long fasting and want of sleep had given a keen appetite to my empty stomach. After securing in my handkerchief the remains of the loaf, I ascended to the top of a large hay-barrack, and lay there till morning, enjoying as composed a sleep as it was possible for one to do, suffering the same effects from an affrighted imagination, which I experienced from recent scenes of terror and horror.
I know my relation of this incident may be considered by many too wonderful for belief, but I assure the reader on the word of a dying man, that I am within the bounds of truth when I say that the snake of which I have just spoken would have measured at least twenty feet in length, and had two heads and two tails, one of the tails appearing to come out of the mouth of the other, with two large frightful eyes in each head.
Before the separation of my companions, we had previously agreed upon meeting at the Bald Eagle. I found them there waiting for me with impatient anxiety, and after accounting for my detention we stole a canoe, and proceeded in it until within a short distance of the Big Island. Here we put to shore, and wearied with carrying our stolen burdens, we burned a part of the goods of Messrs. Hammond & Page. The smell drawing some persons to the spot, a discovery took place, which ended in the arrest of McGuire. Connelly and I now separated to wander in the adjacent hills, each taking his rille, and fixing on the plan of firing and whistling as the signal for finding one another.
The next morning we crossed the river, got our breakfast, stole some bullets at a house close by and started for the Sinuemahoning. We reached the junction of Bennet’s and the Driftwood-Branch; and, proceeded up the Driftwood-Branch. We arrived in the afternoon at the house of Samuel Smith, and stopped to shoot at a mark with some persons who happened to be there. While engaged in this sport, several persons hove in sight, and recognizing Connelly and me, they demanded our immediate surrender, observing that if we surrendered we should be well-used.
Connelly swore a terrible oath, that sooner than do so he would blow them all to hell. Having determined never to deprive a fellow-being of life, except in necessary defense, I was reduced to the painful alternative of being overpowered by numbers, or shoot at them to save myself. Seizing a gun I snapped it twice, firing at random, but it did not go off. At the same moment Connelly fired his, aiming point-blank at one of the party in pursuit. Having procured another gun, I fired it also, without aiming at anyone in particular. The fire was returned, with another request for our surrender.
We now perceived that all hopes of escape were cut off, and actuated by a false spirit of revenge, we uttered the most improper threats of defiance, and called aloud for them to fire away, discharging our guns at the same time. The fire was answered with a volley from the assailants; Connelly escaped the shots, but I was wounded in the right arm, a little above the wrist, and fell. Connelly started to run, but as he retreated through a grain field over the creek, he was fired at, and afterwards was found hid in a tree top, with a severe wound in his groin, immediately below the belly, the bullet penetrating the left side and descending had come out at the outside of the right thigh.
Having dressed our wounds with all the skill and care they were capable of, the party who took us purchased a canoe, and prepared, to move us down the river, and on Sunday, the 3rd of July, landed near the Big Island, in Lycoming County. We were then taken to Carskadden’s tavern, and attended by three physicians and a minister of the gospel.
My unhappy companion, receiving no assistance from medical aid, and no comfort from the ministerial offices of religion, died that night in gloomy sullenness. Peace to his ashes. Though the period allowed for repentance was short, may the mercy of God be greater than his repentance, and forgive all his sins and all his crimes.
I was removed to this place as soon as my wound permitted, and with as much tenderness and humanity as the nature of the case allowed of.
I have now brought the history of my adventures to a close, having given as faithful a relation of the more important incidents of my life as my memory enables me to recollect in my present distracted state of mind, and suffering condition of bodily pain. I have been thus particular to gratify the wish of a near and dear friend, who has always taken the greatest interest in my fate, attended me frequently in my illness, and who has promised to remain the friend of my wife, whom a few days more will make a widow, and the father of my children, soon to become the orphans of charity without his protecting care.
In addition to my anxiety to oblige one who was my friend in adversity, I have been induced to undergo the painful task of making this confession, with the hope and belief that the publication of my unhappy case may be useful, not only to my surviving companions, and to society in general, but more especially to youth of the rising generation; operating as a solemn warning to old and young against indulging in the same wicked practices which have distinguished my unhappy life, and brought ruin on myself, and disgrace upon my family and connections.
The ways of sin can have no pleasure in them. If every robber and criminal found as little satisfaction in following the pursuits of vices I have done, he must confess their insufficiency to obtain happiness, or even a common share of tranquillity. During the day I have felt as if the eyes of all men were upon me, and at night was under a constant dread of secret apprehension.
Alas!, the only happiness I ever tasted was in the bosom of my family, and in the society of my wife. When, after a guilty round of crime and dissipation, I have returned to the little room that contained my beloved Melinda, the calm abode of humble virtue, and found her engaged in the concerns of domestic industry — when I have entered by surprise and perceived her, unseen, sitting at the wheel, and heard her singing the old song of Bess and her Spinning Wheel, I have been overpowered with feelings of delight, and shed tears of joy.
Although I deeply lament my second marriage, and blame myself for involving an amiable stranger in distress and misfortune, I pray for her forgiveness, and hope she will continue the mother and guardian of my little girls, whose tender years will require all her care and all her instruction to raise them up in virtue and industry.
When I last saw them they promised to be as beautiful as the daughters of Job; should they be as virtuous as their lovely name sakes. I shall not have lived altogether in vain, but may be honored after my death in the honors paid to them, and have the disgraceful end of an ignominious life washed away by the virtuous offspring of my Jemima and Kesiah.
Philadelphia, in my opinion, is by no means a good place to bring up a family. There are fewer snares and temptations in the country than in the city; under this impression, I recommend it to my wife to return to Fayette, as soon as she can make the necessary arrangements for a removal of her and children.
While I have been in jail, I have received every attention due to one in my situation, not only from the physicians of the town, but the ladies and gentlemen generally; and to Sheriff Mitchell and his excellent lady I should be most ungrateful indeed if I did not express my thanks for the many kind offices of humanity and benevolence they continued to bestow on me from the first day of my lodgment in jail. The jailer and his family have been equally kind and good; and I die at peace with all men. The party who pursued and took me, I sincerely forgive for being the instrument of my death. Acting under the authority of the law, they performed only their duty as good citizens, and have set an example worthy of imitation, in risking their lives to save society and liberate the country from the depredations and terrors of a desperate band of robbers, counterfeiters, and outlaws.
To the amiable minister who visited me in jail, and prayed for me and with me, when I lay on my miserable pallet, looking with fear and trembling in awful suspense for the approach of death, I return the unfeigned thanks of an oppressed sinner, for his frequent intercessions at the throne of grace in my behalf. And you, my kind friend, who have promised to remain with me and close my eyes, accept my grateful acknowledgments for all you have done for me, and when you have seen me laid with decency in the grave, bear to my mother the last token of remembrance she will ever receive from her dying son — a small lock of hair, cut with his own hand from the head of the unfortunate, but repentant.
Belefonte Jail, 12th July 1820.
/s/ DAVID LEWIS.
The Sun, (New York, N.Y.). March 10, 1889
AN OLD NEW YORK GANG
How A Member Robbed Mrs. John Jacob Astor Eighty Years Ago
The Curious Story of “Lewis the Robber” — Deserter, Counterfeiter, Thief, and Highwayman — His Career in New York — How His Confession Resulted in Electing Joseph Hiester Governor of Pennsylvania
Harrisburg, Pa., March 9. — It is probably not known to the Astor family of today that the wife of their ancestor was robbed one day in a store in Broadway eighty years ago of laces and jewels that might have been today among the rich heirlooms of the family; but such is the fact, and the story of how the theft committed is told in a quaint manner by the thief himself in a rare pamphlet I found today in the Pennsylvania State Library. The pamphlet details also the workings of a gang of crooks that had their headquarters in Pearl street at that time and gives some particulars of queer municipal and social customs prevalent in the city then. The pamphlet has the following title:
Confession and Narrative of David Lewis: An account of the life and adventures of this celebrated counterfeiter and robber, from the commencement of his career until the period of his death in the jai at Bellefonte, in consequence of a wound received in the attempt to retake him by the Posse Comitatus of Centre county. —Carlisle: Printed and published by John McFarland. 1820.
There is not a man woman or child in the Susquehanna, Cumberland or Juniata valleys to whom the name of Lewis the Robber is not as familiar as their own and the stories that are told of him around the fireside and over the social glass at the tavern would furnish plots for many a blood curdling romance. But so shadowy is the reality in the existence of the man who was once the terror of all this country round that I had never been able to obtain any substantial information about him until I ran across the old pamphlet referred to. No one even knew his name. He was simply Lewis the Robber.
David Lewis, according to his confession, was the son of the Deputy Surveyor of Northumberland county, Pa., and he was born in Carlisle. He was wayward from a child, and at the age of 17, in 1807, ran away from home and enlisted in the army. He did not like army life and he deserted. He led a wild life for a year and then reenlisted at Carlisle, and tried to desert again. Being discovered, he was tried by court martial and sentenced to be shot. Through the pleadings of his mother and the efforts of influential civilians Gen. James Wilkinson, commandant at Carlisle Barracks (now the Indian school), commuted young Lewis’ sentence to a term of imprisonment in the barrack’s guard house. Lewis managed to escape, and hid himself in a cave near Carlisle, which is known as Lewis’ Cave to this day. He subsequently ventured to go to his home in Northumberland county, where he met a tin peddler who hailed from Burlington, Vt. The two became boon companions and the peddler finally confided to Lewis that he was really an agent of a gang of counterfeiters whose headquarters were in Burlington, and he solicited the young man to return with him to Burlington and join the gang. Lewis did so. He learned there all the tricks and methods of counterfeiters, remaining in Vermont a year in learning the business. He then started to return to Pennsylvania, having on his person several thousand dollars in counterfeit money which he intended to utilize among “the innocent and confiding Pennsylvania Dutch.” At Troy N. Y. he accidentally made the acquaintance of General Erastus Root6 “who was campaigning for the election of Gov D. D. Thompson.” Before they parted they had cracked several bottles of wine and Lewis purchased from General Root a horse for which he paid in counterfeit money.
That same night General Root was arrested for offering to pay a bill with the bogus money and narrowly escaped being thrown in prison as his story was not believed. Then a search was made for the real culprit, and he was found in a house on the outskirts of Troy. Lewis was re-arrested and lodged in the Troy jail.
While Lewis was awaiting his trial a young woman, who lived with her widowed mother in a house opposite the jail, saw Lewis at his jail window, and fell in love with him. The jailer’s daughter was a friend of this young woman, and she one day conducted her to Lewis’ cell, and introduced her to him. Lewis, tradition says, was a remarkably handsome man, of splendid physique. In his confession he does not give the name of this girl, for reason that it “was one of the best in Troy.” He called her Malinda. He told her that his imprisonment was the result of a conspiracy, and, the jailer’s daughter agreeing to let him out of jail, he induced the girl to elope with him. They walked all the way to Albany, where they were married, “in a mean tavern at the end of State street.” He paid the minister in counterfeit money, a large amount of which he had managed to secrete in his clothing. From Albany the couple started on foot for New York, but got a ride most of the way from a teamster. They stopped at the New England Hotel, but, “the next day,” says Lewis, “I procured a room in a small house up an alley that leads into Pearl street, the great resort of merchants, and which, from its narrowness and extensive business, afforded, as I thought, better opportunities for my trade than any other.”
He soon fell in with a lot of men he found to be members of a gang of thieves and desperadoes, and he was not long in joining them. He says it is impossible to recount “the many adventures, thefts, and burglaries, the depredations, frauds, and robberies that were committed and practiced by him and the rest of the gang during my continuance in that place,” or the “many tricks and stratagems we adopted to deceive the city watch, and the various schemes we successfully made use of to over reach and elude the police and vigilance of that great metropolis. The success of our Pearl street establishment exceeded my most genuine expectations. The carelessness of domestic servants and shop boys in securing the doors and windows of dwelling houses and stores; the improper practice of keeping front doors unlocked during the nights of the performance at the theatre; the negligent manner in which watchmen perform their duties more of whom we found asleep than awake, and some of them not infrequently parading the streets in a state of inebriety, were propitious circumstances in affording facilities for our midnight operations.”
“The theatre, the Battery, the auction rooms, hotels, taverns, boarding houses, and the wharves were the principal places which we haunted with most success, and we often waylaid youth and others to great advantage on their return from houses which, alas! Are but too common, and more frequented than a regard to their own health, the peace of families, and the police of a well-regulated city justify.”
“The association which I had formed in New York was governed by certain rules and regulations, and, to make them more binding and appear more solemn, they were written on parchment in ink of blood drawn from our own veins, while we kneeled in a ring or circle with our hands mutually clasping each other, and one of the band standing in the centre with a basin to receive the red fluid of life. According to one of the articles, the fruits of our joint spoliations were to be divided among us at stated and fixed periods, and for the purpose we processed with all the formula of a bank direction, having a President, directors, cashier, teller and clerk. The depository of our plunder was denominated a ‘vault’ and committee of examination were regularly appointed to inspect its contents and report to the company at a general meeting. A dividend was declared every Sunday night.”
“On one occasion I attended the ‘ladies’ auction room in Broadway. I had taken my stand on the opposite side of the street and lounged about until 11 o’clock when a handsome equipage stopped, and I saw a lady descend and enter the room. I immediately recognized her to be the wife of John Jacob Astor, Esq., one of the richest merchants in the city, and who report said, was very liberal in his presents of money to supply Madame’s pin-money establishment. I soon crossed over, and, ‘dressed like a gentleman in true dandy style,’ the sure passport to admittance into ladies’ society, entered the auction room and saluted the ladies with all the graceful ease of an old acquaintance. The experienced salesman, knowing that the best plan for picking a lady’s purse was to dazzle her eyes, soon exhibited to the view of his fair customers the finest lace and the most elegant jewelry that the work ships of France ever produced. The sale commenced, and before many minutes had passed away I saw Mrs. Astor pack into her velvet bag several pieces of lace and as many ornaments of jewelry as might suffice to decorate at least half a dozen brides. After she had completed her purchase she carelessly threw her reticule on a bench in a remote corner of the room and immediately opened a brisk conversation with a surrounding group of male and female companions, who buzzed around her and viewed with one another for volubility and nonsense. The Babel of voices could not fail to attract the attention of the other spectators who crowded the place, and, while some were occupied in talking and the rest engaged in listening admiration, I laid hold of the bag with apparent carelessness and quickly left the room unobserved, taking a French leave of the company”
Lewis reported to the gang the result of the robbery of Mrs. Astor, but presented his wife with one piece of the lace. For this he was tried and found guilty of “concealing goods” from his associates, and was unmercifully beaten by them. He took his wife and went to New Brunswick, N. J., where he left his wife and went to Philadelphia. There he planned a most audacious scheme, which would now be called a badger game. This scheme was to decoy Stephen Girard out of town and keep him prisoner until he gave a check for $25,000 on his own or some other bank. If that failed, Lewis had a plan to rob the Dock Street Bank by making his way up the sewer and gaining entrance to the vault. Before he completed his plans he received word that his wife and child were very ill, and he returned to New Brunswick. “That was all that saved Girard his $25,000,” Lewis laconically remarks.
His wife got well and Lewis went to the Canadian border and joined the American Army, “for purpose of plunder.” He was made a teamster. He deserted, taking the team with him, and returned to Pennsylvania, where for five years he terrorized the whole of central Pennsylvania.
He broke repeatedly from the Bedford, Carlisle and Chambersburg jails, but was kept in the former long enough, in 1816, to be tried for a bank robbery, for which he was sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. He served one year, when he was pardoned out by Gov. Findlay. He resumed his career of crime, and in the summer of 1820 committed a highway robbery in Centre county. A Sheriff’s posse ran him down in a swamp. He refused to surrender, and was shot, an accomplice of his being killed at the same time. Lewis was captured and placed in Bellefonte jail. His right arm and shoulder had been shattered by the gun shot, and he was told that nothing but amputation of the arm could save his life. He replied that he would die then, and refused to let the operation be performed.
James Duncan7was at the time a famous lawyer and politician of Pennsylvania. He lived in Cumberland county. Gov. Findlay was a candidate in 1820 for reelection. His opponent was Joseph Hiester. Duncan was opposed o Findlay, but the latter was very popular, and his election seemed a foregone conclusion. But Duncan believed he saw a way that Findlay might be defeated through Lewis the Robber. Duncan had been influential in saving Lewis’ life at the time he was under sentence of death for desertion from the army, and he went to Bellefonte jail to see the notorious outlaw. Lewis knew that he would die of his wound, and Duncan had no difficulty in inducing him to make a confession of his life to him, with the understanding that it was to be published. Duncan obtained all the material, edited it, and so cunningly drew attention to Governor Findlay’s apparent friendship for Lewis in pardoning him, and succeeded in so shrewdly fixing the responsibility, by interference, for several years of Lewis’ criminal career on the Governor, that the pamphlet, circulated in the community where the outlaw had been the greatest terror to the people, turned public sentiment against Findlay and he was defeated. This old pamphlet, therefore, has much of historic value as well as being the curious story of a great outlaw’s life. Gov. Hiester was not slow to recognize Duncan’s service in so shrewdly turning Lewis’ confession into a powerful political engine, and appointed him Auditor-General.
Statement of H. M., still living in Doubling Gap in 1853.—“ When Lewis was here he generally concealed himself in the cave up the Gap. Some rods above the cave is a beautiful spring that breaks out more than half way up the mountain, which is about sixteen hundred feet high. I frequently visited, and sometimes stayed with him at the cave. We had the stream running from the spring brought to the mouth of the cave. Everything was so comfortably arranged in and about the cave, that it was quite a comfortable home. I remained about the Gap and cave some six or eight months, with the exception of a few short intervals. A friend lived in the hollow at the sulphur spring, in a small house that he built, and which we called our tavern. We could see his door from the cave; and having an understanding with “our host,” could always tell when there was any danger, as on such occasions he would hang out a red flag. If all was clear, and it was considered safe to come down, a white flag was hung out. There were some persons in the valley who were our friends; one particularly, who was an endless talker, and sometimes talked too much. Lewis was a great favorite with the ladies. Some of them used to furnish us with the comforts of life, and several times visited us at the cave. We had a number of little parties at the tavern, and had great times. A number of the mountain ladies would come, and some of the men, and we would every now and then have a dance. This was the way we carried on whenever Lewis was here. The cave was neatly fitted up, and would accommodate five of us comfortably; there was just that number of us acting together that stayed at the cave.
We did not rob in the neighborhood of the Gap, except to get such things as were necessary for us to live on. We lived on what we got in this way, and what was brought to us. I shall never forget the kindness of the people.
In late June, 1820, a Centre County posse comitatus overtook Lewis and his accomplices following the hold-up of a Bellefonte-bound wagon train on the Seven Mountains road. A gun battle ensued in which one cohort escaped, another, Connelly, was killed and Lewis was severely wounded.
The physician treating Lewis told him he would certainly die if he did not allow amputation of his right arm. His reply was “then I will die.”
The wound developed gangrene and at the age of 30, Davy Lewis, the Robber, died in the Bellefonte, Pennsylvania jail on July 13, 1820. According to records in the Huntingdon County Library, Lewis was buried in Milesburg Borough, Centre County, Pennsylvania.
From his statements and countless rumors, it is possible that Lewis left several stashes of booty. Shortly before his death, he wrote to a friend, a farmer in Spruce Creek Valley, telling him that one such stash was hidden in "a dank hideout room" from which he said he could see the workmen in the old woolen mill going about their tasks. That woolen mill stood in the center of what is now Indian Caverns' parking lot.
Some treasure-hunters believe Lewis may have concealed the entrance to one of the cave rooms opening from the Lost Tunnel in the cave so perfectly that no one has been able to discover it. Long stretches of the cave have been explored, and the remains of ladders that had been nailed together with hand-made nails were found at places of difficult ascent.
One resident of Franklin Township spent over twenty years in search of the treasure. Armed with a lantern and a ball of twine, to avoid becoming lost in the labyrinth of passages. He maintained his search until death ended his quest in the 1920s.
Cumberland County in the Time of Lewis
Cumberland County came into force by the action of Governor James Hamilton, January 27, 1750. It was formerly part of Lancaster County.
The County lies in the valley between the Blue Ridge and the Kittatinny or Blue Mountain. The limestone section is comparatively level, and the soil superior to that of the slate. The valley is drained by the Yellow Breeches on the Southeast, and by the Conodoguinet creek on the Northwest. The population were descendants of the first settlers, Germans and Scotch-Irish. It amounted in 1800 to 25,386; in 1810, when greatly reduced by the commencement of other counties, to 26,757. There were also: 13 aliens, 23 deaf and dumb, and four blind. The produce: wheat, rye, oats, flour, whiskey, peach and apple brandy, live stock and salted provision. About 250,000 barrels of flour were sent to market annually. There were six furnaces and four forges in the county. There was also a woolen manufactory on Mountain creek, in South Middletown township. There were about 25 churches in the county.
East of town were extensive barracks and other buildings erected during the revolutionary war.
Springs and Caves in 1832.
There are some springs and a limestone cave near Carlisle which merit attention. The Sulphur Springs about four miles north of the town, on a branch of the Conodoquinet creek, were formerly much frequented, and there is here a large building for the accommodation of visitors. In the centre of a large field, a mile and a half north of town, is Hogshead Spring, in a conical excavation nearly sixty feet in circumference, a limestone wall on one side, and a gentle and regular descent upon the other. Six or eight feet below the summit is an arched opening, through which is a passage declining at an angle of 40°, and 10 feet deep, wide enough to admit a man stooping. At the bottom of this cavity is a pool of delicious water, apparently stagnant, yet sweet, cool, and refreshing; qualities which it always preserves, but there are no visible means by which the basin receives or discharges it.
On the banks of the Conodoguinet, about one and a half miles from Carlisle, is a cave, once the haunt of David Lewis. The entrance is by a semicircular archway, seven feet high, in a limestone rock, of twenty feet perpendicular elevation. So true and finished is the curve of this portal, that the spectator is induced to believe it to have been perfected by art; and such opinion is corroborated by the apparently dressed surface of the interior.
The first or ante-chamber has a length of ninety yards, and is high enough to admit the visitor to stand erect. Three passages branch from it. That on the right is broad and low, and from the moisture of the stones, frequently difficult of access. It leads to a chamber as large as the first. This apartment bears the name of the Devil’s Dining Room. Some persons assert that there is a narrow and unexplored passage leading from it. The centre passage from the ante-chamber is very narrow, and in direction, similar to a winding stair and is impassible after a progress of ten yards, and terminates in a perpendicular excavation. The left hand passage, at the distance of three or four feet from the entrance, turns suddenly to the right, and extends nearly thirty yards, with sufficient breadth and height to permit a small boy to creep along it; but it becomes thenceforth too straight for further progress.
About seven feet from the entrance of this gallery are several small pools of water formed by the drippings of the roof, which have been mistaken for springs.
This cavern is dark and damp and must be examined by torch light. An opinion prevails in the neighborhood that the Indians formerly made it a deposit for their spoils, and an asylum in seasons of danger, and it may possibly have served as a tomb; but none of the articles usually buried with the Indians have been found here; yet human bones were formerly seen in it. Newville, south of Lewis’s cave, in Mifflin township, and frequently visited by Lewis, the robber, and his accomplices, was incorporated by Act 26th February, 1817, and in Lewis' day contained about 100 dwellings and several mills and 530 inhabitants, six stores, three taverns, and twi churches.
Lewis’s mountain county was taken by Act of 9th March 1, 1771, from Cumberland County. It is highly favored with a superfluous supply of hills with such continental appellations as Scrub Hill, Sideling Hill, Town Hill, Clear Ridge, Warrior's Ridge, Tussey’s Mountain and Dunning’s Mountain and the Allegheny.
The editor of the Bellefonte Patriot gave the following spirited passage:
“True we have mountains, but we have plains, and our mountains are as valuable as valleys. First, they preserve health; we have no fever, nor chills; but many births and few deaths; second, our mountains abound with fine timber of every kind and quality; and third, with mineral wealth; and fourth, when fruit is destroyed by frost on our valleys, it is preserved on our mountains. In short, for fertility of soil, mineral resources, manufacturing advantages, and everything which can contribute to man’s comfort and happiness, it is scarce equalled, certainly not surpassed, by any county in the State. It is none of your whortleberry, cranberry, or hemlock counties, calculated to nurture wolves, bears and panthers, and not for the residence of man; but a county abounding with advantages which have not yet been duly estimated, but which undoubtedly will be, when the West Branch canal is constructed, and the American protecting system goes into vigorous operation.”
The county in 1790 had a population of 13,124; in 1800, 12,039; in 1810, 15,740; in 1820, 20,248, and in 1830, 24,557, including one slave and 432 colored people. There were 35 aliens, 13 deaf and dumb, and 8 blind persons. In those days the usual wages for good farm hands were from $5 to $7 per month, including board; if by the day, from 31 to 37| cents. Cradlers got about 75 cents and reapers and mowers 371 to 50 cents. Here is a graphic pen picture from a writer of those good old days. “When we wish to clear a piece of land, we in the first place stake it off, and provided with a grubbing hoe, take up by the roots ever}' bush or sapling which a stout man can shake in the root by grasping the stem and bending it forward and backwards.”
“If the roots give to this action it is called a grub and must be taken up. Dog-wood, iron-wood and witch hazel are always classed among grubs whether they shake in the roots or not. We then cut down everything which docs not exceed 12 inches across the stump.”
“Such parts of the saplings as are fit for ground-poles are chopped at the length of II feet. Next the trees are deadened, leaving one or two for shade. This process consists in chopping entirely round the tree a curf of three or four inches wide. The advantage of deadening timber is immense; labor is saved in chopping down and burning the stuff. Indeed, in this country it is not possible to cut down the timber, unless we live in the vicinity of Bedford, because farmers are not rich enough to pay for it. In eight or ten years the timber begins to fall. When the ground is pretty well covered with old logs, the farmers go in to nigger off. This is effected by laying the broken limbs and smaller trees across the logs and put ting fire to it. Boys or women follow to chunk up the fire. In a day or two the logs arc cut to a length of 12 to 15 feet.
When the trees are thus reduced to lengths that can be handled by men, the owner has a log-rolling.
“He gives the word to eighteen or twenty of his neighbors the day before the frolic, and when they assemble they generally divide the force into two companies. A captain is chosen by acclamation for each company, and the captains choose their companies, each naming a man alternately.
“When the whole is formed they set to work, provided with hand 14 spikes, and each company exerts itself to make more log heaps than the other. Nothing is charged for the work, and the only thing exceptionable in these frolics is the immoderate use of whiskey. In general, great hilarity prevails, but these meetings, like others in this county, are sometimes disgraced by dreadful combats between the persons composing them. In addition to our log-rolling frolics, we have frolics to haul out dung, to husk corn, and to raise our buildings.
“The corn husking is done at night. The neighbors meet at dark; the corn has been previously pulled, and hauled in a pile near the crib. The hands join it, the whiskey bottle goes round, the story, the laugh, and the rude song are heard. Three or four hundred bushels are husked by ten o’clock; a plentiful supper is provided, and sometimes the frolic ends with a stag-dance, that is, men and boys, without females, dance like mad demons, to the time of a neighbor’s catgut and horse hair.” “We raise no cotton or sugar cane, but we manufacture sugar from the sugar maple. A tree is calculated to produce, a season, a barrel of water of thirty gallons, and it requires six gallons to make a pound of sugar. A average price of maple sugar is from six to ten cents per pound.”
Bedford, County Seat. The chief attraction of Bedford is the mineral springs in its vicinity. The curative power of these springs is said to have been discovered in 1804 by a mechanic of Bedford, while fishing for trout in the stream near the principal fountain. He was attracted by the beauty and singularity of the waters flowing from the bank and drank freely. They produced purgative and sudorific effects. He had suffered many years from rheumatic pains and formidable ulcers in the legs. On the en suing night he was more free from pain, and slept more tranquil than usual, and this unexpected relief induced him to drink daily of the waters, and to bathe his limbs in the fountain. In a few weeks he was entirely cured. The happy effect which they had on this patient, led others, laboring under various chronic diseases, to the springs.
In the summer of 1805 many valetudinarians came in carriages and encamped in the valley, to seek from the munificent hand of nature their lost health. The old jail of Bedford was the one out of which David Lewis and others escaped.
Pioneers of the Cumberland Valley
The hardy pioneers of the early history of the valley, in penetrating the vast forests in their westward march of civilization, in determining their location, were always tempted by the streams of water flowing through the deep recesses of the forest, or were attracted by the various springs found in the wilderness. Some of these springs possessed peculiar medicinal properties, and are yet remembered on account of their containing some remedial virtue.
This is chiefly so on the north side of the valley, skirting the base of the Kittatinny Mountains, and in a few isolated eases found near the centre of the valley, but not outside of the shales or slate rock formations.
The principal ones which have a wide celebrity, and the most commonly known, are the Mineral Springs of Doubling Gap. The early history of these springs is somewhat in doubt, but it is a certain fact that Doubling Gap, to the pioneer settlers, was one of the earliest known of the numerous gaps in this range of mountains.
This gap has figured prominently in the traditions of the first settlers, and was quite prominent as a commanding pass from the Shoshone Indians on the south to the fierce Tuscororas on the north long before the time that a white settler had dared to set a foot in this wild region. During the colonial Indian wars an Indian trail from the Susquehanna, starting from the mouth of the Juniata and following a direct course through Doubling Gap, thence to the mouth of Brandy Run, at the Conodoguinet creek, continued to the intersection of the great trail leading from the Susquehanna river to the Ohio in the west. In fact it is asserted that the springs in the gap were well known and resorted to frequently by the Indians who had learned of their health-giving properties, and their location and medicinal properties were handed down from one generation to another. Certain it is, that to the earliest settlers they were well known, and it is fairly to be presumed they received their knowledge from the wild inhabitants of the forest.
An early writer, in referring to Doubling Gap, says:
“The place for many miles around is invested with many historical facts and legends connected with the early settlements of the country. It was in the adjoining valley (Sherman’s) and on these mountains that Big Beaver, a chief of the Shoshones, with his tribe in 1752 and for years before had their hunting grounds, having been driven in 1677 from Carolina and Georgia. This valley was the grave of many of his children and the scene of many a massacre. It was where the far-famed and many-named Captain Jack—the Black Rifle—the Wild Hunter, etc.—entered the woods, built his cabin and cleared a little patch of land within sight of the spring and: amused himself with hunting and fishing. He was happy, having not a care, but on returning home one evening found his cabin, burnt and his wife and children brutally murdered by the Indians.
From that moment he forsook civilized man, lived in caves, protected the inhabitants from the Indians and seized every opportunity for revenge that offered.”
It is authentically stated that the person here referred to was one Joseph Ager, or Aiger, who with his father and mother located' here as early as 1751; that on returning home, weary from a day’s hunt, he found his aged father and mother murdered and scalped by the Indians. This was about the year 1755. Over their dead bodies, it is said, he swore eternal enmity to all Indians and devoted him self to their destruction. Burying the bodies of his beloved parents he returned to the mountains and secreted himself along the Indian trail, and many an unsuspecting savage fell beneath the unerring aim of his deadly rifle. Here he lurked for years, little known among the haunts of the white man, but ever on the path of the red man, sleeping in the open air even in times of the most extreme danger and fleeing only when pursued by an overpowering band of Indians to the recesses of his rocky cavern. He was held in such dread by the tribes which infested this region that their trail through the gap was almost wholly abandoned by them. Scores of gory scalps hung from the roof of his rocky caves; his prowess struck terror to the savages and his exploits and his name traversed the wilderness beyond the Alleghenies to the headwaters of the Ohio River. lie at last was surprised and fell into the hands of his savage foes, who scalped him alive and tortured him to death at or near the spring that is the headwaters of the stream flowing into the valley below. A mound of stones was raised over his body by his friends; and some of the older inhabitants of that section affirm its remains could be distinctly seen until very recently.
One of the oldest block-houses in the valley was built along this trail a short distance below the springs; portions of its remains still existed years ago and were well known to many who resided in that locality not many years ago.
Doubling Gap was formerly known as McFarlan’s Gap. James McFarlan located about 1000 acres of land just below the gap and we find in the court records of the County for April, 1791, the petition for a road “from Thomas Barnes’ sulphur spring in the gap formerly known as McFarlan’s Gap to Carlisle.” The above indicates the original name of the gap, but at what time subsequent to the year 1791 it assumed its present name, we have no definite knowledge. The formation of the gap is peculiar, being formed by the lapping or turning of the mountain back on itself, being shaped on its summit somewhat like the letter S. Facing you from the south stand ing in the valley below is Round Knob, rising about fourteen hundred feet above tidewater; on the top of this is Flat Rock, one of the most noted lookouts in this range of mountains from which, as has been said, “…may be had a view of peculiar and exceptional beauty and grandeur.” The whole Cumberland Valley, from the Susquehanna with its varied scenes and objects, its wealth of agriculture, its busy towns, fields and forests, is placed before you.
Beyond you, limiting your range of vision, is the blue boundary of the South Mountain, while below you is the silvery line marking the tortuous flow of the Conodoguinet, winding through the land scape on its way to the majestic Susquehanna.
In the valley between the mountains are located the springs with a large and commodious hotel 150 feet in length, with fountains, pavilions, lakes and large shaded lawns. Of the great summer re sorts which invite the dwellers of cities to their cool shades and sparkling waters, few can oiler superior inducements, as a cool and delightful summer resort, to those held out by Doubling Gap Springs. Its climate is cool and refreshing, the elevation is high, the atmosphere pure and bracing, the nights cool. At first, the water was carried away in vessels, and used at home; then an occasional visitor found boarding in a neighboring family, and, as the reputation of the waters increased, a summer boarding house was provided, which was located a short distance below the springs on what is now known as the Fruit Farm. It was used as a hotel as early as 1800, and was one of the places in the mountains frequented by Lewis, the robber. This hotel was well patronized by travelers on the State road leading from Cumberland County to Bloomfield, and had a number of different proprietors until about the year 1846, when an association was formed for the purpose of enlarging the old building or erecting a new one for the accommodation of the numerous patrons of the Springs. This association was composed of the following members, to wit: FrederickWatt s, Samuel Ahl, Jamison Hannon, P. A. Ahl, Joseph Hannon, John Dunlap, Thomas McCandlish, James McCandlish, Thos. A. McKinney, John Waggoner, Robert Laird, Samuel Murray Davidson and Jacob Sterrett. This management disposed of the springs to Scott Coyle, who erected the large and commodious hotel now on the grounds, about the year 1856, and has been a popular resort ever since its erection and are now owned by the Messrs. Ahl, of Newville, Pa.
Part way up the knob, on the path to Flat Rock, is the remains of Lewis’ Cave, a deep recess under a shelving rock. This was the retreat of Lewis, the robber, a notorious outlaw, well known throughout the counties adjoining this range of mountains. Here be hid from justice during the years 1816-20. Lewis practiced communism — at least he boasted that he was not a robber, but an equalizer, because he took from the rich and gave to the poor, single handed, usually, but sometimes with an assistant. He had fast friends in the few inhabitants of the gap, who would frequently assemble with him at the summer hotel, as then kept, and pass a jolly night at the expense of the generous outlaw.
A writer of the history of Cumberland County, Dr. Wing, stated that the old hotel was kept by one Nicholas Howard, or as some assert Jacob Howard of Newville, who was a fast friend of Lewis. When the coast was clear of all danger lie would hang out a flag from the upper window of his hotel, which was visible from the eave, and otherwise kept him acquainted with the movements of the officers of the law, who were seeking his apprehension. When dangerous persons were around, or the officers were on the lookout, he had to confine himself to his cave and was compelled to rely for his supplies through some of his friends in the neighborhood. It was universally believed that this friendly service was performed by one Robert Moffitt, who was noted for his tender feelings and kindheartedness, and who for one moment never supposed that he did wrong in befriending one, even an outlaw.
The waters of these springs were submitted to Prof. James C. Booth, a practical and competent chemist of the U. S. Mint, Phildelphia, who reported the following in his analysis: The odor of sulphureted hydrogen, perceived at some distance from the spring, imparts to this water the peculiar properties of the Sulphur Springs. Besides this ingredient, I find in the waters carbonate of soda and magnesia, Glauber salt, Epsom salt and common salt, ingredients which give it an increased value. After removing the excess of carbonic acid which it contains, there is an alkaline re-action.
The chalybeate water readily yields a precipitate after ebullition or continued exposure has expelled the excess of carbonic acid.
Besides the bi-carbonate of iron, which is its chief characteristic, it also contains Epson salt, common salt and carbonate of magnesia. The immediate surroundings of the hotel exhibit the natural fitness of the place for a summer retreat. The temperature in mid summer usually ranges ten degrees below that of the centre of Cumberland Valley, a refreshing breeze being one of its almost constant features. The place is easy of access, being but eight miles from the railroad, and the distance from Baltimore only 120 miles, Washington 115 miles, Philadelphia 145 miles, and Harrisburg 40 miles.
Seated on the piazza of the hotel, gazing dreamily at The hills, Rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun; the vales stretching in pensive quietness between; The venerable woods, all complaining brooks that make the meadows green; we can imagine the stirring events of those early days when the smoke of the Indian’s wigwam floated lazily through the tops of the majestic oaks, and his fires reflected in the waters of the valley; when the panting deer bounded along the trail pursued by the dusky hunter; the warrior’s echoing whoop resounding through the forest; the blaze of some attacked settler’s dwelling; the inmates 21 startled from their peaceful slumber by the fierce war-cry of his enemy, rushing from the deadly peril within, only to be met without by the deadly tomahawk and the reeking scalping knife. The white hunter pursuing cautiously the Indian trail, glancing furtively from side to side and penetrating the gloomy forest with his piercing eye; the timid traveler watching for and fearing the attack of the bold and daring robber, Lewis, that chivalrous highwayman whose exploits have been the subject of many a story, and many an oft-repeated tale.
But now, how changed. Instead of forests are beautiful groves with winding promenades; the echoing whoop and the shrill war cry has given way to the merry laugh of many male and female voices, and instead of the dusky savage and the bold highwayman, are many of the inhabitants of the busy towns and populous cities who seek this cool and delightful mountain resort for pleasure, recreation and health.
” Like the shadows in the stream, Like the evanescent gleam Of the twilights’ failing blaze; Like the fleeting years and days, Like all things that soon decay Pass the early scenes away.”
”We are under many obligations to S. D. Mowery, Esq., for the interesting chapter on Doubling Gap. On August 13th myself and family visited the famous summer resort, and also climbed the mountain to the historic Lewis’ Cave. To say that we were delighted, weakly expresses our emotion; we were infatuated with the grand scenery and magnificent surroundings. Through the generosity of the owners of this resort, Col. Daniel V. Ahl and P. A. Ahl, Esq., we were recommended to the courtesy of our host. Mr. G. T. McIntire, the proprietor, who, with his genial clerk, Mr. P. B. Holler, and their estimable wives, entertained us in a right royal manner. Thanks, a genuine historic thanks.” — Ed.
Captain Irvine probably was the young lawyer of whom the following record is made in Dr. Wing’s History of Cumberland County: “On the 5th day of December, 1800, a complaint is made to the Court by Thomas Duncan, Esq., stating that Frederick John Haller, Esq., a member of the Bar, had, on the evening of the first of December, in open court, behaved in an indecent and disorderly manner to Wm. N. Irvine, a young gentle man reading law under the direction of Mr. Duncan. There are several depositions, one of which reads: ‘That.on the afternoon of the 3d of December the deponent was present in court sitting near to Wm. N. Irvine and Frederick J. Haller, and heard Frederick J. Haller say that some person was an ordinary looking fellow. Wm. N. Irvine said that he did not look worse than he did himself. Frederick Haller then told Mr. Irvine that he must look a great deal better than he did — and further the deponent says; “not so much only in regard to the appearance of these rival beauties;” but it was further certified that. Mr. Haller had called Mr. Irvine an impudent young puppy. Whereupon the Court did suspend the said Frederick John Haller from practicing law as an attorney in the Court of Common Pleas aforesaid. Mr. Haller was reinstated in March Term, 1801.” The History of Cumberland and Adams Counties, issued in 1815, referring to the “Carlisle Light Infantry,” does not give the name of Captain Irvine among the list of the several captains. ↩︎
Honorable John Creigh, Associate Judge of Cumberland County. ↩︎
Judge James Hamilton was considered an excellent lawyer and was a tolerable speaker. In 1806 he was appointed President Judge of this Judicial District, in which position he continued until his death, in 1819. ↩︎
On the banks of the Conodoguinet, about one and a half miles from Carlisle, is a cave, once the haunt of David Lewis. The entrance is by a semicircular archway, seven feet high, in a limestone rock, of twenty feet perpendicular elevation. So true and finished is the curve of this portal, that the spectator is induced to believe it to have been perfected by art; and such opinion is corroborated by the apparently dressed surface of the interior.The first or ante-chamber has a length of ninety yards, and is high enough to admit the visitor to stand erect. Three passages branch from it. That on the right is broad and low, and from the moisture of the stones, frequently difficult of access. It leads to a chamber as large as the first. This apartment bears the name of the Devil’s Dining Room. Some persons assert that there is a narrow and unexplored passage leading from it. The centre passage from the ante-chamber is very narrow, and in direction, similar to a winding stair and is impassible after a progress of ten yards, and terminates in a perpendicular excavation. The left hand passage, at the distance of three or four feet from the entrance, turns suddenly to the right, and extends nearly thirty yards, with sufficient breadth and height to permit a small boy to creep along it; but it becomes thenceforth too straight for further progress. About seven feet from the entrance of this gallery are several small pools of water formed by the drippings of the roof, which have been mistaken for springs. This cavern is dark and damp and must be examined by torch light. An opinion prevails in the neighborhood that the Indians formerly made it a deposit for their spoils, and an asylum in seasons of danger, and it may possibly have served as a tomb; but none of the articles usually buried with the Indians have been found here; yet human bones were formerly seen in it. ↩
Samuel McGaw, Esq., of Good Hope, gives the following as a tradition of the neighborhood: “An old resident of the neighborhood, named Samuel Miller, was with the party making the arrest. After they were arrested Miller struck with his fist and kicked Lewis, whereupon Lewis swore that he had never killed a man in his life, but if he ever had an opportunity he would kill him (Miller). ↩︎
Member of the New York State Assembly in 1818, 1819, 1820 and 1820–21; and was a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821. He was Lieutenant Governor of New York from 1823 to 1824, but was defeated when running for re-election on the ticket with Samuel Young in 1824. ... Root also served as Major-General of the New York State Militia. ↩︎
James Duncan (1756 – June 24, 1844) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.James Duncan born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended the common schools and Princeton College. He served as the first prothonotary of Adams County, Pennsylvania. During the American Revolutionary War he was appointed as a lieutenant in Colonel Moses Hazen’s 2nd Canadian Regiment on November 3, 1776, and on March 25, 1778, was promoted to captain.