Pete's February 1997 Article.


"Outlaw David Lewis Terrorized this Area" - by Pete Bennett

For the first quarter of the 19th century, the outlaw David Lewis terrorized three states and Canada, including this area. It is believed that much of David Lewis's loot is still buried in parts of Central Pennsylvania, including a chest of valuables hidden by the outlaw in 1820 near Bellefonte in Centre County. David Lewis was born in Carlisle in 1790 the son of Lewis Lewis, one of the regions most respected citizens. Left fatherless at an early age, David Lewis worked at several jobs to support his widowed mother, whom he adored.

The coming of the war with Great Britain in 1812 changed David's life forever. Enlisting in a Pennsylvania regiment he was in constant trouble due to a lack of accepting discipline.

He enlisted under an assumed name in an artillery company and was ready to desert when his scheme was thwarted. He was arrested, tried and sentenced to hang. However, the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. The young man despite being heavily shackled, escaped leaving the ball and chain on the floor of his cell. He had picked the lock. Hiding out in a cave near Carlisle, Davis Lewis conducted a reign of terror for almost a year, robbing lone travelers and stage-coaches. Posse after posse was thwarted as the outlaw eluded his pursuers. It is believed that thousands of dollars in gold and silver is buried near the cave he used as a hideout because he had little opportunity to spend his loot.

He next appeared in Burlington, VT as the leader of an international smuggling and counterfeit gang, conducting a profitable traffic in war materials with the enemy. Attacking the settlers on both sides of the boarder, the Lewis gang incurred the wrath of both Canada and America. Flooding the area with bogus paper money, the gang made a shambles out of Vermont's economy. Lewis began to operate on a wholesale basis, hiring the worst cut-throats and hoodlums on either side of the boarder. Great wagon loads of stolen merchandise were hauled through Vermont's famous "Smugglers Notch," where it was disposed of in one of the many "thieves markets" operated by the Lewis gang. Acquiring the power and dignity of a wealthy nobleman, David Lewis turned his attention to New York. He appeared in Albany as a guest in the home of John Jacob Astor. While an auction was being conducted, he charmingly relieved the guests of all of their jewels, an enormous haul.

In 1816, a gang member named Reed was arrested for passing counterfeit money. He revealed the whereabouts of David Lewis and the outlaw was arrested in Bedford, PA. However he escaped from the Bedford jail as easily as he had the Carlisle jail. The Lewis gang reorganized and started staging one robbery after another from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The people of Dauphin, Perry, Cumberland, York, Adams, Franklin and Bedford counties became alarmed at the numerous and outrageous robberies committed in their regions by the gang. Many people were robbed and forced to give up their jewellery, watches and other valuables. Goods consigned to stores in the area towns were plundered.

David Lewis was captured again and lodged in the Chambersburg jail. Along with a companion named Connelly, Lewis again escaped under the noses of his guards. A $600.00 reward was offered as the two outlaws moved northward into Karthaus and Driftwood area where on the night of June 30, 1820 they were surrounded by a posse in a house on the Bennetts Branch, near Driftwood. When called upon to surrender Lewis laughed derisively. The posse opened fire and both outlaws were gunned down. Badly wounded Connelly died that night in the Lock Haven jail and the wounded Lewis was taken to the Bellefonte jail. Many times during his confinement there Lewis was ask where his loot was buried. Always he would reply: "I can see it from here." David Lewis died on July 13, 1820 two weeks after his capture. He is buried in cemetery at Milesburg PA. History reveals that Lewis had been married and that his wife survived for many years after his death. They had a daughter named Mary Ann. None of the hidden loot was known to have been found in Pennsylvania or Vermont. Much of it, likely remains to be found, here in the rattle-snake infested caves of good old Central Pennsylvania.


footnote:

Lewis and Connelly are mentioned in the book "History of Cameron County" published in 1991 by the Cameron County Historical Society. Most of my information was taken from a 1964 article published in the Williamsport Grit (author unknown.)


COPYRIGHT 2017 Pete Bennett

All rights Reserved.

 

 Comments: petebennett@hotmail.com  or Return to Pete's "All American" Home Page. or sign my Guest Book.