Joseph Hare was born on a farm in Chester
County, Pennsylvania in about1780. As a boy, he was a tailor's apprentice,
and retained his love for fabric and clothing for his entire life.
Joseph's early life consisted of a series
of petty crimes in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Taking
a trip to New Orleans on a sailing ship, Joseph decided to remain in the
south, rather than return to his home. New Orleans did not change
his perspective, however, and he soon returned to his life of crime.
Gathering three companions, Joseph began
following farmers and peddlers on their trek back north from New Orleans
to Natchez, then along the Natchez Trace, with the intent to rob and steal
the cash the peddlers had received from selling their wares and produce.
Joseph and his gang of thieves did not
simply pounce upon their victims. They disguised themselves by rubbing
berry juices on their faces, giving themselves a grotesque appearance that
frightened their victims even more. The gang continued traveling
north along the trace, robbing one victim after another along the way.
Just south of the Tennessee line, Joseph
and his men found a cave-like area in which to rest between robberies.
Here they were well hidden by a thick cane brake, and with beds made of
feathers, the gang remained comfortable. They even began trading
with the Indians, led by an Indian squaw named Hay Foot who acted as a
Joseph Hare, however, remained restless.
He had difficulty sleeping, and began riding out alone during the day.
He made careless errors, and at one point was almost killed by an intended
After three months the gang left their
cane brake hide-out. They had accumulated quite a bit of money, and
were eager to spend it. They headed north to Nashville, then to Louisville
where they traveled by flatboat down the Ohio, over to the Mississippi,
then all the way south to New Orleans, where they remained for the next
seven months. Finally, their money spent, the gang once again
left New Orleans, headed north to Natchez, and back onto the Trace, this
time carrying Spanish passports. Camping in a cave just outside of
Natchez, Hare began a diary. He wrote:
not any one be induced to turn highwayman by reading this book and seeing
the great sums of money I have robbed, for it is a desperate life, full
of danger, and sooner or later ends at the gallows."
Life was not peaceful or quiet for the
Hare gang, even in New Orleans, where they constantly found themselves
embroiled in one bloody fight after another. However, on one occasion,
the men hosted a cotillion.
Leaving New Orleans for a third time,
Hare and his men were arrested by the Spanish. These were the days
shortly before the Spanish American War. Tempers were short, and
the Spanish passports notwithstanding, the Hare gang was accused of being
American spies. They were arrested and thrown in jail. Ironically,
they were released when a group of guests who had attended the cotillion
wrote letters of testimony as to their character and honesty. Once
again, the gang left New Orleans, returned to the Natchez Trace, and resumed
their evil ways.
It was during this third trek that Hare
was first captured. While running from pursuers, Hare had envisualized
seeing a magnificent white horse on the trail. Shaken, he stopped
and prepared to stay all night at a house along the Trace. The delay
cost him his freedom. The posse arrived a short time later.
Hare spent the next five years in jail.
His time was spent in Bible reading, and writing his confessions.
Upon release, Hare left the wilderness, convinced that the "white horse"
he had seen was Christ, who had appeared to warn him of his sins.
True or not, the apparition did not have a permanent effect. Within
one year of his release, Hare was arrested a second time after robbing
a night mail coach out of Baltimore.
Hare almost escaped the death penalty
by virtue of a loophole, but his luck did not hold. On Thursday morning,
September 10, 1818, Joseph Thompson Hare was hanged before a crowd of fifteen
The Outlaw Years,
by Robert M. Coates; Published by The Literary Guild of America,
New York, 1930.
Prepared for Early SW
MS Territory by Ellen Pack