Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Natchez Trace outlaw Joseph Hare and Madeline Price's father
- 2013 - 340 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|Natchez Trace outlaw Joseph Hare and Madeline Price's father|
In early 1807, during a winter so cold that snow covered the ground of Natchez country for several days, former Vice-President Aaron Burr courted a beautiful young woman named Madeline Price, who lived with her mother atop Half Way Hill, located on Liberty Road between Natchez and Second Creek.
Burr was the guest of Benijah Osmun at nearby Windy Hill Manor and often during his brief Natchez stay he reined one of Osmun horses to the little vine-covered cottage of widow Price and her daughter, Madeline. Mr. Price -- the widow's late husband and Madeline's father -- had been brutally murdered years earlier by the outlaw Joseph Thompson Hare, who spent much of his lifetime terrifying travelers along the Natchez Trace and elsewhere.
Historian John F.H. Claiborne wrote in the 19th Century that the Prices were from Virginia and before making the move to Mississippi Territory, Mr. Price sold their property. On the journey to Natchez, wrote Claiborne, Mr. Price was robbed of all his cash -- "a large fortune" -- and murdered by Hare, the "notorious....blood thirsty villain." The widow and Madeline were afterward forced to live frugally on their small farm on Half Way Hill.
Joseph Hare seemed to have developed a penchant for lawlessness when very young. He became one of the most feared robbers along the Natchez Trace and while Burr was visiting young Madeline, Hare was still on the loose, a menace to any human who crossed his path. While historian Claiborne wrote that Hare murdered Mr. Price, Hare's primary avocation was that of a robber and thief.
Born in Virginia in 1780, Hare when a boy worked as a tailor's apprentice, developing at a young age a flair for fashion that never left him. He started his criminal career the typical way, as a petty thief who lived on the run, stealing and robbing in big cities like New York and Baltimore before drifting south to New Orleans.
By then Natchez was American and part of the newly-created Mississippi Territory (1798), while New Orleans and Louisiana still belonged to the Spanish (until 1803). In New Orleans, Hare observed a curious trade route that provided men like him a perfect avenue for criminal activity.
As settlers began to populate the region, huge flatboats filled with goods of all types floated down the Mississippi making deliveries to Natchez and New Orleans. Everything onboard was sold as well as the flatboats. Steamboats were not yet in operation and it was too time-consuming, too costly and too much work to row or warp an empty flatboat against the current upriver.
At Natchez, many a flatboatman spent a few days under the hill partying before making the walk or horse ride home through the wilderness path to Nashville known as the Natchez Trace. These men traveled in groups for safety and no-good scoundrels like Joseph Hare observed that their pockets were filled with their earnings. He and others soon developed a lucrative livelihood ambushing these men.
In time, Hare became one of the most fear trace bandits -- called "highwaymen" two centuries ago. Hare and his goons often blackened their faces before emerging in a flash from the wilderness, guns and knives drawn.
By 1812, when he turned 32, Hare was becoming more and more psychotic, while at the same time realizing that at some point he would probably get caught. At one point in his life he kept a journal and made an entry one night about the his perilous lifestyle, writing that "it is a desperate life, full of danger, and sooner or later ends at the gallows."
Once he saw an apparition of a white horse in the dead of night on the trace. Spooked, he got careless, was captured, tried and imprisoned for robbery. While serving his five-year sentence, he reportedly studied the Bible, claimed to have found God and thought the white horse was the embodiment of Christ and a sign for him to change his evil ways.
But the good didn't take hold. A year after being released from prison, Hare, then 38, had put together another gang, including his younger brother Lewis and John Alexander. He had observed that a U.S. mail coach pulled by four horses ran a route between Baltimore and Philadelphia.
On March 12, 1818, the mail carrier, accompanied by U.S. Navy Lt. Thomas Ludlow, was ambushed by the Hare gang. Ludlow described the group as "white men...their faces blackened." All were slight in stature, he said.
Afterward, Ludlow dispatched a rider with a letter to officials reporting that "your mail wagon and myself were attacked by three highwaymen, each armed with a double barreled pistol and dirk. They had, previous to our arrival, built a rail fence across the road, and immediately on our driving up they leaped from behind the same, where they lay concealed, and presented their pistols, threatening to blow our brains out if we made any resistance."
The driver and Ludlow were tied to a tree while Hare and his companions spent the next four hours opening every single letter in search of money. Once every letter had been opened, Ludlow said the gang tied him and the mail carrier to the mail wagon, stole three of the post office's horses "and galloped off towards Baltimore."
They were all well dressed, said Ludlow, wearing "sailor's trousers and round jackets." Two were wearing hats, the other -- believed to be Hare -- was quite stylish, wearing "a silk handkerchief tied around his head."
Hare and his men had dashed off with $90,000. The next day, Hare couldn't resist spending some of the loot on the latest fashions. He and his brother walked into a clothing shop in Baltimore, displaying a wad of bank notes (about $20,000). Someone tipped off the police and they were arrested.
They were quickly tried and sentenced. Hare and John Alexander each were sentenced to death. Hare's little brother got 10 years. On the way to prison, Hare, in irons, knocked a constable off the trunk of a tree the two were traversing when crossing a creek. When being placed in a prison cell, Hare nearly bit off the finger of the jailer. Many details of the events were recorded in Baltimore newspapers.
Before the death sentence was carried out, however, Hare's lawyer appealed his sentence. The case, watched closely by the legal community, drew some of the top lawyers in the United States for the defense and top prosecutors for the U.S. government. At issue was whether the district court erred in allowing the trial to proceed after Hare and the other defendants refused, on the advice of attorneys, to enter pleas. It became a test of America's court system, which was still in its infancy, and heard by a U.S. Supreme Court justice, who ruled against the defendants.
Six months after his arrest, the Baltimore Telegraph reported that on September 10, 1818, Hare and John Alexander walked to the elevated gallows above the prison grounds and could be seen by an estimated 1,500 people who stood from the foot of the platform to hundreds of yards in the distance. The newspaper said Hare boasted that "for the last fourteen years of my life I have been a robber, and have robbed on a large scale, and been more successful than any robber either in Europe or in this country that I ever heard of."
He made no confession, however, in the gruesome murder of Madeline Price's father.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|