Revolutionary War

“Doan Gang” of Early National Pennsylvania, Fantastic Archive

In October 1781, just days after General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, a band of more than a dozen British Loyalist outlaws led by the Doan brothers of Plumstead Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, robbed the county treasury at Newtown.  During the Revolutionary War, these Quakers had stolen horses from their neighbors and sold them to the British in Philadelphia and Baltimore. They also served as spies for the British. In response to the Newtown robbery, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania offered a reward of £100 for the apprehension of each of the outlaws. Over the next two years, small groups of the gang continued to rob the persons and homes of tax collectors and a mail carrier in Chester and Bucks Counties, Pennsylvania.

 

In the summer of 1782, the authorities began arresting members of the gang and holding them in the Newtown jail. In late July, the court tried Jesse Vickers and sentenced him to death. It offered him a pardon if he would reveal his accomplices, and he and his brother Solomon Vickers gave full confessions. The court also tried one of the family patriarchs Israel Doan, convicted him of harboring the outlaws, and sentenced him to six months in jail, later extended to one year. His brother Joseph Doan Sr. fled to avoid arrest. The court tried John Tomlinson, in whose house the gang often met, convicted him, and sentenced him to be hanged. He was executed publicly on October 17, 1782, in Newtown.

 

Meanwhile, the Doans continued to commit robberies late in 1782 and early in 1783. On June 30, 1783, the Pennsylvania government offered a reward of £100 each for the capture of Moses Doan, Abraham Doan, Amos Dillon, and other robbers. Three weeks later, Levi Doan and Mahlon Doan were added to the list. A few months later, a new proclamation raised the reward to £300. On July 21, 1783, the Doans robbed six houses near the village of Dublin, but Joseph Doan Jr. was captured and placed in the Newtown jail. He was tried, sentenced to death, but escaped in September 1784. A group of citizens captured and killed Moses Doan in a small cabin where he was hiding, but Levi and Aaron Doan escaped.  In September 1783, Joseph Doan Sr. was captured in Maryland, and his son Mahlon Doan was also captured separately. Both escaped from the Bedford County jail, and Mahlon fled to England.  In the summer of 1784, remaining Doan gang members Abraham, Aaron, and Levi Doan were captured in western Pennsylvania and in Baltimore County, Maryland. After a lengthy legal process, Aaron Doan obtained a pardon in May 1787 in exchange for leaving the United States and never returning. The court tried Abraham and Levi Doan, and they were executed by hanging on September 24, 1788.

 

These remarkable documents all relate to the efforts to bring various members of the notorious Doan gang to justice in the late 1780s and 1790s. Their actions and reputation may even have interfered with a second cousin’s renewal application for a tavern license a decade later.

 

 

1) WILLIAM BRADFORD JR., Autograph Document Signed Secretarially, Indictment of Joseph Doan, December Session, 1786. 1 p., 9.5” x 15.5”.

 

“one Joseph Doan late of the County afd [Bucks Yeoman afterwards to with the sd thirtieth day of November afd in the year afd [1786 into the same Messuage with the appurtenances afd in Plumstead afd in the County afd with Force & Arms & with strong hand unlawfully did enter & the sd Joseph Thomas from the peaceable possession of the sd Messuage with the appurtenances afd then & there with force & Arms & with strong hand unlawfully did expel & put out & the sd Joseph Thomas from the possession of the sd Messuage with the Appurtenances afd with Force & arms & with strong hand unlawfully & injuriously did keep out to the great Damage of the sd Joseph Thomas against the Form of the Statutes in such case made & provided & against the peace & dignity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

 

The grand jury, with Andrew Long as foreman, found a True Bill in the case of this indictment, and the judge or a clerk added, “Issue process to bring in Deft” Since Joseph Doan Jr. had escaped from the Bucks County jail in early 1784, it is unlikely that the sheriff ever found him for this indictment.

 

Joseph Doan Jr. (1752-1844) was borne in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and was considered the most studious of the Doan brothers. He married his first cousin Mary Doan, and was a teacher in a log school before joining the gang. He allegedly taught school in New Jersey for more than a year under an assumed name; then fled to Canada, perhaps because of this indictment; taught school in Ontario; may have fought against the United States in the War of 1812, but was at least made a prisoner of war; and unsuccessfully attempted to return to Bucks County in 1823 to claim compensation for his father’s land that had been seized in the 1780s.

 

William Bradford Jr. (1755-1795) was born in Philadelphia, the son of patriot and printer William Bradford, the rival of Benjamin Franklin. The younger Bradford graduated from Princeton in 1772, where his classmates included James Madison and Aaron Burr. He served as a colonel in the Continental Army before his health forced him to resign in 1779. He began practicing law in York and served as Attorney General of Pennsylvania from 1780 to 1791. He served on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1791 to 1794.  In January 1794, President George Washington appointed him as Attorney General of the United States to succeed Edmund Randolph. Bradford died in office eighteen months later.

 

 

2) PATRICK HUNTER, Autograph Document, Bill of Costs, May 17, 1787. 1 p., 8.25” x 4.75”.

 

This bill presents Patrick Hunter’s costs of £5-15-6 in providing bread and wood for keeping Thomas Doane, Israel Doane, and Jonathan Doane for 24 days.

 

Hunter was the jailer at Newtown, then the county seat of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1782, he received the reward for capturing John Tomlinson, who was later executed in Newtown. Thomas Doan was the youngest son of Israel Doan’s brother Joseph.

 

Patrick Hunter (1735-1810) served as jailer for Bucks County and also as collector of Newtown. According to county lore, everybody could buy rum at the tavern adjacent to the jail, including prisoners, and Hunter served as both bartender and jailer, though he had difficulty keeping prisoners in jail. In his will, he left the instruction, “Make no provision for son William he having gone and left no legal issue in this part of the world.”

 

 

3) JOSEPH DYER, Autograph Document, Bill of Costs, [March 1788. 2 p., 8.25” x 11.5”.

 

This bill presents blacksmith Joseph Dyer’s costs of £4-10-9 for work done for the county jail. Charges and services include 5 shillings, 6 pence “To Mendg Hoppels & revits (puting on Thos Doan)” and 5 shillings “to puting on hoppels on (Jonathan & Israel Doan)” on April 21, 1787, and 5 shillings “to taking of & putin on Irons (Israel Doan)” on April 25.

 

Blacksmiths were necessary to the operation of jails, as they had the skills necessary to place iron shackles on prisoners and take them off. This statement of costs covers nearly a year of the services of blacksmith Joseph Dyer in placing hobbles and irons on various prisoners, including Thomas, Jonathan, and Israel Doan during the imprisonment mentioned in the previous document. On April 1, 1788, Bucks County Commissioners Nathaniel Ellicott, William Bryan, and Thomas Jenks Jr. approved the bill and ordered the County Treasurer to pay Dyer.

 

Joseph Dyer (1729-1793) was a blacksmith and also served as tax collector for Plumstead Township. On the evening of February 10, 1783, members of the Doan gang entered his house, “treated his family very ill, threatening to burn and destroy all he had, if ever he collected taxes from any of their friends again,” and robbed him of nearly 60 pounds in silver, and more than 80 in State money, one silver mounted hanger, one pair of money scales, three yards of homemade cloth, and one pair of silver knee buckles. They also broke his guns. In a subsequent notice in the newspaper, he and two other collectors offered a reward of $150 for their capture and closed their notice, “There is great reason to suspect one of the above robbers is named Doan.”

 

 

4) ELEAZER DOAN ET AL., Autograph Document Signed, Petition for a Tavern License, August 1795. 1 p., 8.25” x 13.25”.

 

“The Petition of Eleazer Doan an old Tavern-keeper in Plumstead township, Bucks County Humbly sheweth That as your Petitioner’s License expires the tenth of this instant in the old House now belonging to Josiah Brown wherein he hath kept Tavern for these seven years past and as he your Petitioner is now removed to a House of his own lately erected on a Lot of Land bought of the said Brown at about twenty perches from the old House at the intersection of the road leading from Black’s ferry on the Delaware to Norris Town with the Durham road a stand far more commodious than the other where he wishes with your honors approbation to remove and continue the Tavern keeping business having a good House and other conveniences suitable Humbly Prays your honors recommendation that he may obtain a License to carry on the same there agreeable to Law and he as in duty bound shall ever pray.”

 

The sale of alcohol by the glass in a tavern was regulated by local communities, and operators of taverns had to purchase an annual license to keep a tavern, often in conjunction with a store. Perhaps in part in response to his name, Doan’s petition was initially “rejected,” though a subsequent notation indicated it was “Allow’d.”

 

Eleazer Doan (1742-1811) was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. About 1769, he married Mary Kinsey. He was a second cousin of the Doans who were the principal members of the Doan Gang. Their grandfather Israel Doan (1699-1797) and his grandfather Eleazer Doan (1691-1757) were brothers. Like the other Doans, Eleazer Doan was a member of the Society of Friends or Quakers. In 1788, he purchased the old Price Tavern in Plumstead, where he kept an inn. In 1795, as this document details, he built a new tavern nearby and operated it until his death. In 1784, he was arrested and tried for harboring the Doan gang. Because the evidence was insufficient, the jury acquitted him.

 

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Item: 63560

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