Joseph Hare was born on a farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in about 1780. As a boy, he
was a tailor's apprentice and retained his love of 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, 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 scout. 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 victim.
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:
"Let not anyone 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 found
themselves embroiled in one bloody fight after another. However, there were respites and, on one
occasion, the men even 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
visualized 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 crowed of
fifteen hundred persons.
|The text of this page was donated by Ellen Pack, Adams County, MS. Thanks, Ellen!
Copyright 2000 Ellen Pack
The Outlaw Years by Robert M. Coates; published by the Literary guild of America, 1930