James Allen.

Narrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts state prison online

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Online LibraryJames AllenNarrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts state prison → online text (page 1 of 5)
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Boston Medical Library
in the Francis A.Countv/ay
Library of Medicine -Boston

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2010 with funding from

Open Knowledge Commons and Harvard Medical School















^ I :^^, /O A

E:<TERF,D aceoiiling to Act of Congress, in the year of our Lord, one thousand,
eight hundred and thirty-seven, by Harkincton &. Co., in the Clerk's Office of the
District Court of Massachusetts.


I WAS born in the town of Lancaster, Worcester County, and State
of Massachusetts, on the IGlh of November, 1809. My parents were
in indigent circumstances; and it was my misfortinie to lose my moth-
er, by death, when I was three years of age. Shortly after her death,
my father removed to Clarendon, Vt, and left me in the care of my
grand-parent, with whom I resided until their death. I have never
seen my Father since he left Lancaster for Vermont, and do not know
whether he is living or not. After the death of my grand-parent, I
lived with several dilferent persons in Lancaster, and was employed
at farming in summer, and attended school during the winter months,
I was naturally hasty in my temper, active and ambiiious, and inclined
to have my own way in most respects. At eleven or twelve years of
age, I lived with Capt E. Carter, a blustering and intemperate man: he
treated me well when he was sober, but was fond of being late atthe
tavern and usually called me up to let him in when he returned home.
Not liking the place I ran awiy from Mr Carter's, after being with
him about three years, 1 went to Chester, Vermont, a dull place, and
after remaining there a few months, returned to I^ancaster again. —
On being paid for my services,! received two counterfeit five dollar bank
bills, which was nearly one half the whole sum due me. Whether
the bills were put upon me intentionally or not, it was a serious mis-
fortune to me at the time, and tended to sour my njind and cause dis-
trust of the honesty of my fellow men. After this, I was employed by
a man in Lancaster at the rate of twenty five cents per day. On set-
ling at the termination of the month, he paid me all into one dollar,
which sum I never afterwards received. Another afiair which under
my straitened circumstance, was not much calculated to soothe my
already irritated feelings.

In June 1824, 1 went to Charlestown, Mass, and obtained a situation
with a person who was employed in ship building. It was my inten-
tion to have learned the trade; but the weather being very warm, and
as I vv^as almost constantly subjected to a severe headache, 1 gave up
all hopes of succeeding at that employment and left it in the course of
a month. While at the ship yard, I was often sent into the front yard
of the State Prison for water. Little did I think, at that time of being
confined a prisoner witiiin its dreary walls. On leaving the sliij) yard



1 made several aUempts to obtain employment in the Merchant Service,
as a Seaman, but was in every ease abruptly refused by the owners;
I finally succeeded in getting employment on board a market fishing
schooner, under Capt J, Smith, a pretty clever sort of a man, when no(-
under the influence of ardent spirits, of which article he kept a full
supply on hand and was not often outdone by any of the crew in the
use of it. According to my usual practice, [ drank but little. Capt
Smith was committed to jail for debt, and did not nor has he since
paid the full amount of the wages due me for services on board his
vessel. Two or three days after leaving the vessel, 1 was requested
by a man, a stranger to me, to assist him in carrying a trunk, which I
presumed was his own property, to a house in Southack street, Boston.
On noticing the man more closely I observed he looked rather
suspicious and appeared to be acting with more than usual caution,
which led me to apprehend that all was not right with respect to the
trunk. I learned afterwards, that the man was Slepiien Symms,
an old State Prison convict, who was subsequently committed to the
Prison for the third time at which place he died of consumption, — •
Symms gave me ten dollars, for assisting him. This was the first
proceeding in which I ever had any thing to do with stolen property,
and was the precursor of my future destiny.

Symms enquired where I boarded and offered to give me money any
time if I would call upon him. He kept a house for the accommodation of
females of ill fame who urged me to come there, but being young and
having no partiality for such company,! declined accepting the invitation.
About a week after the circumstance of the trunk,Symms called at my
boarding house, and in conversation remarked thai he knew of an
opportunity, which if improved would lead to securing a fortune. We
proceeded together to his residence, when he unfolded to me his place
of operation, which was to break a store at the corner of Charles and
Beacon streets and obtain possession of a large quantity of specie and
bank bills which he thought was left in the store by the occupant.
After considerable conversation, I concluded to make the attempt and
between eleven and twelve o'clock of that night we proceeded to the
store, which I succeeded,by means of a ladder, in entering at one of the
windows, in the second story. Symms remained outside for the pur-
of removing the ladder to prevent suspicion if any one should happen
to pass that way while I was in the store. I carried with me a small
pocket lantern, and steel, and tinder,&c. We presumed there was two
or three thousand dollars in money in the store, which however we
never found, if there. I broke the desk, found some silver and copper
coin and found a bag, which contained sixty dollars in silver, which,
together with a box, I handed out to Symms, after which we returned
to his residence. We divided the. spoil and I received thirty dollars,
for my services. This was the first time in my life, that I ever was
concerned in breaking into a building or was guilty of stealing pro-
perty, except in a few instances of taking fruit or some such trifling


In the course of six or seven days, after breaking into the store in
Charles street, I came to the town (Charlestown), and while in the
ceUar kept by Jones & Sawyer, I tliink, 1 observed one of the firm
lake money from a pocket book whicli appeared to contain a large a-
mount in bank bills, Thinking,as I had committed one crime,I might
as well go on in that way, and get money more readily than by labor,
I broke into the cellar that night, but found that the occupants had
taken the precaution to carry the pocket book home with them, and
therefore 1 got nothing. I told Symms what I had been doing, and
he discouraged me from any further attempts on cellars, by remarking
that the occupants generally took good care of their money, be-
fore locking up at night — a wise precaution, and which, if practised
hy every one in business, would leave but little prospect of success for
those who wish to live by their wits, instead of honest industry.
Symms informed me how to proceed in future to ensure success.

I again visited Charlestown — stole a bundle of cloth from on board
a fishing vessel — was pm-sued, arrested and sentenced to six months
iinprisonnient in the county jail at East Cambridge. This was in
October, 1824, and was the first time I was ever held in confinement.
1 was then about fifteen years of age, and the idea of being in prison,
•operated very painfully upon my feelings. I verily believe that if I
'had been discharged after the first week of confinement,! should have
been honest and steady ever after. In a short time, however. Jail
scenes and the society of the depraved and vicious became familiar,
and I lost, in a good dogree, the tender feelings v/hich influenced me
on being first committed. There was so much mirth among those in
confinement, that I soon became quite contented in my situation.
Shortly after I was committed, I was removed to a room in which was
confined a man by the name of Purchase, charged with burning his
grand-mother and causing her death. We concerted a plan for efiTect-
ing our escape: — Wm J. Young, a convict recently discharged from
this prison, was also one of the party. The attempt was made, but
proved unsuccessful. On being discovered we were separated. As I
was young and of small stature, the Jail- keeper did not suspect me of
being much interested or concerned. The truth was, however, that 1
performed nearly all (he work in the affair.

In the cell to which I was removed was George Munroe and Samu-
el Williams; and in the cell opposite to the door of ours, was old Wil-
lard: the latter, an old State Prison convict, and the two former have
also been confined here. They were almast constantly talking over
their scrapes and boasting of the success they had met with in the acts
of villany in which they had been frequently engaged. Their state-
ments I presumed were true, and of course received them with all the
credulity common to youth.

On the 16th of April, 1825, my sentence expired, and I w^as ac-
cordingly discharged from Jail. Destitute ofg^money, and having no one
near to assist me, I went to Boston, and bent ray course towards the-
house of my old acquaintance, Symms. He loaned me five dollars..
On the following Monday, which was the second day after my dis-


charge, I came to Clmilestown, and in tlie niglit, lime, broke llie store
kept, I think, by BriLlge &. Orne, near the old bridge, but obtained on-
ly about one dollar in change. The next night I broke a grocery store
near the head of Russia \vharf,kcpt by Colburn. and obtained but about
fifty cents in change; took nothing bat coin from either place, except u
glas^ of wine. Same night broke the store ofDeblois & Tremlet, I
think — entered the compting room and found a heavy roll containing
about one hundred dollars in doubloons and Spanish gold. Next morn-
ing I exchanged them for other money. With a portion of the money
I purchased cloth, and expended the balance in company with an a-
bandoned female who bo-arded at Syrams's house. In a!)out three
weeks my money was alt expended, and in order to replenish my cof-
fers, I broke a store, kept I ihrnk, by Bennet »fc Brown, near the liead
of Long wharf,and obtained about .4^2'60 in silver,and conveyed it to^ my
boarding house, taking the precaution to bury it in the back yard. —
This was about the middle of May 1825, and the money lasted me a-
bout one month. Aboitt the latter part of May 1825, I formed an ac-
quaintance with a man, wbo is now living, but whose name I do not
wish to mention. He proposed to visit Worcester with me, with a
view, if practicable, to break and enter the Worcester Bank. Oh ex-
amination however, we found it was situated rather too near a dwel-
ling-house to make the attempt with safe£y,and therefore gave up the
project. On our return, we broke a store in Concord, kept, as near as
I can recollect, by a Mr Burr. Found no money and took nothing;
merely committed a little mischief by scattering the p-apers about near
the window by wdiich we entered the building.

Shortly afier our visit to Worcester, we went to examine the Lynn
Bank; decided upon making an attempt to break it. The night we
^elected for that purpose, it so happened there was a meeting near by,.
and we could not commence operations so early as was intended. We
found so much difficulty in oar progress, and having commenced work
late, that at daylight, we had not succeeded in forcing the lock of
the vault, and were obliged, for safety V sake^to ubandori the enterprise,,
though within sight of the money. A few nights after the attempt at
Lynn, we broke a store in Boston, occupied, 1 believe, by a firm under
the nanie of Brown & Train, situated near the head of Central wharf.
■ Found about five or six dollars in money, a gold seal which we valued
at fifteen dollars, some silver pencil cases,one pair of pistols and a pock-
.et book— the whole valued at about thirty or thirty-five dollars. Not
wanting the pistols then, we placed them and the pocket book along
sideof a man who lay asleep in a small boat at a wdiarfas we passed
along. The man was afterwards suspected of breaking the store, ar-
rested and examined before the Police Court.' The evidence, however,
not proving sufficient, he was not bound over for trial. I and my ac-
complice were present in court during the examination. There ap-
peared to be much prejudice against the man in the minds of the spec-
tators, most of whom thought him guilty, especially the constables,who
remarked after he wasdiseharged,that it was of no use to arrest a man,:


foi- the .Tiiilge (Wliitmu!)) would not bind him over, if ever so guilty.
They appeared much dissalij-fied at (he Judge's deoisiou.

A tew days after tliis afrair, I secreted myself in a store on

, just before it was closed at nitht and \vas locked in. At a pro-
per timel ascended to the second story, broke the desk, a«d found a
roll of bills and a watch, and joined my friend who was near, on the
outside, waiting for me. We returned to Symm's and on looking
over our plunder found the bills were worthlesp,being on broken banks
amounting in ail to $600, the v.'atch was vahied at thirty dollars. —
Early in June, 1825, 1 formed an ac<?iUainlancc with William Ross,aa
Irishman, 1 think, who had but recently been discharged from this
prison. He was a famous rogue, and was afterwards executed in
Canada, together with two or three others of his associates for robbing
a priesi*

Ross came to board at, Symms's. He was rather unwilling to hazard
any tiling in this State, as he had been twice in the State Prison here,
and on a third commitment would be liable, under the severity of the
laws of tliis Slate, to be sentenced for life. He and my friend there-
fore went to Providence, and broke a store and sold some of the goods
in Boston, ^ly friend was arrested on suspicion of having stolen goods.
He stated that he received the goods. I being present at the Police
Court at the time, immediately went to Symms's and informed Ross
ofthe circumstance. He imn^ediately left the house and proceeded to
the burying-ground on the Common, to keep a look out. In about
tv,'enly minutes the officers were at the house in pursuit of hinij they
searched the house, but of course, did not succeed in finding liim. —
Ross remained on the Conimon three or four days; I carried him
breakfast and dinner there, and at night he would go out to Roxbury.
He was desirous of raisitig some money as soon as possible, in order to
get off out of the vvay. He said he could rai.-e it most readily with the
pistol, on the highway. Accordingly we went on the road leading to
Brighton, and remained utitil ten, P. M. Nothing favorable present-
ing itself, we returned. Next day. according to previous arrangement,
\VQ went to the woods in Rosbury, and took a station near the road. —
Our conversation, wliile, was principally in relation to crimes,
he being well versed in the subject, while 1 was, as it were, but a no-
vice. He remarked upon the most sure and safe means for successful
enterprises. He considered highway robbery most likely to result favor-
ably with respect to gain, but considered it by far the moat dangerous
niodc of securing unlawful gains, and in his opinion, ought not to be
undertaken W'ithout using every precaution for personal safety — that
a nian should be prepared to hazard his life in such cases,which a man
of spirit should not hesitate to do- if occasion demanded it in order to
raise funds.

Ho spoke ofthe severity of the criminal lav»^ against offenders on the
highway, and thought on that account, highway robbery should not
he followed as a profession. He gave me a history of his life: said he
had escaped from the State Prisons of Maryland, New York and Mas-
sachusetts — ijiat he had been a rogue from early life, and once robbed


Ills fntlier, linferip.d lie had been guilty of highway rob! cry in form-
er times. He was a generous hearted fellow, a good scholar, and could
write and engrave well. I do not think l)e had ever been guilty of
murder; nor do I think that any one but a coward would take human
life, except in self defence. In that case 1 think it justifiable; and
even if I was robbing a man, and found it necessary to kill him, in
order to save m}^ own life, I should not think it wrong; it would be
i^aerely acting in self defence. The first law of nature is self preserva-
tion, and tliis principle would justify me in any measure necessary for
the preservation of life. In the course of our conversation, Ross hint-
ed tliat there might be money deposited in the office of the British
Consul, in Boston, and advised me to examine the place and break it
if possible. As nothing of importance passed on the road, we separat-
ed about ten, P. M.; Ross remarking that he intended to leave this
part of the country, and tliat probably we should never meet each oth-
er again in this world — which has proved to be the case, lie proceed-
ed to Lower Canada, and, as has been before stated, was executed on
the gallows, in company with several others of his associates, for rob-
bing a priest of fSOOO.

I returned to Boston, and the next day reconnoitered the Consul's
office, and broke and entered the building the following night. I look-
ed over the papers in his office and desk, and took an article, which,
on examination next day, proved to be the stamp or seal of His Bri-
tanic Majesty's Consul at Boston. About this time, June IGih, 1B25,
I fell in with my former associate, whose name I decline giving. We
talked over the subject of a journey to Keene, N. H., for the [purpose
of reconnoitering and breaking, if practicable, the Bank in that place.
Having made our arrangements accordingly, and hired a good horse
and wagon, we soon left Boston for the place of our destination, car-
rying with us a good supply of tools, the better to enable us to efi'ect
the object of our visit. I had once visited the Bank for the purpose
of getting a bill exchanged, and knew, therefore, something of the lo-
cality and interior of the establishment.

Notwithstanding the precautions v.-e had taken, we found, on trial,
that our tools were not suitably prepared to force an iron door, which
protected the vault, and which I had not foreseen would be met in
our progress. Discovering a contiivance of the Cashier to enable him
to ascertain if any attempts had been made to force the doors of the
Bank, and presuming therefore, that our proceedings would be discov-
ered, we concluded to give up any further eflbrts, and therefore, after
taking out of the banking room several hundred dollars in bank bills
and a quantity of cents and securing them on the side of the road,
started again for Boston. About daylight we were passed by the stage
and^several persons on the road; and on its being discovered i hat an
attempt had been made to break the vaults of the Bank, we were sus-
pected, pursued and overtaken same day about four o'clock, P. M. — •
As we drove very fast, we did not for a moment su-pect the persons
coming up behind us were in pursuit, and were not therefore prepar-
ed for resistance. Two men in a wagon, and one in a chaise rode

*faE HtGttWAYMAN. 9

along side of Us, and enteiing into conversation, inquired if we were
goino; to Boston, and giving' us to understand that they had a mes-
sage they should Uke to send, and continued to approach us along side
until they gained a good position for stopping us; upon which they in-
formed us that we were su-pected of breaking the Cheshire Bank, at
Keene, and they should arrest us, which they did, and returned to
Keene with us without delay.

I should not have been taken quite so easily a few years after this
affair; but from our peculiar situation, and being a mere boy, I could
not make resistance with any prospect of success. Next day we were
examined at Keene, and were bound over for trial at the October term
of the S. J. Court. Our bonds were set at $600 each, and not, hav-
ing friends or means of our own, were committed to Jail for safe keep-
ing. We gave information of the place where we obtained our horse
and chaise; but I do not know whether the owner, Mr John Brittan
of Boston, ever obtained his property again.

While in jail, we were treated well by the keeper, and kindly by
the Bank officers. After being in confinement a few weeks, we made
aa attempt to break out, but not succeeding, were put in irons.

Some iron bars had been placed perpendicularly on the outside of
our window to prevent the introduction of tools and other articles from
without: these bars tended to prevent a wholesome and necessay circula-
tion of air, and therefore we requested the .Tailor to have them removed.
We considered the request resonable; but the Jailor thought otherwise,
and declined granting it. 1 threatened if they were not removed to burn
them outjbeing secured in wood work. Shortly after, we made the exper-
iment, and were in hopes of not only securing a better circulation of air,
but of opening a passage for the more free exercise of our bodies: the
fire however communicated with the wood work on the outside of the
prison, which was discovered by the Jailor, and of course our hopes

We made no further elTorts to effect an escape before the day of trial.
For this attempt we were chained down to the floor, but having suc-
ceeded in from outside, we finally sawed off our chains. —
After this we were suffered to remain without them but were under a
very strict watch.

I never, in my life, was committed to jail when I had not tools
secreted in my clothing or in some other perfectly safe place, which
were siifiicient to insure escape by sawing off bars, grates or in some
other way, except the first time when I was committed at East Cam-

After I was found out, however, they generally watched me so closely,
that no possible chance presented itself of using -them with success. —
On being arraigned for trial in October, 1825, I found an indictment
had been made out against me not only for breaking the Bank, but
for attempting to burn the Jail. We had no counsel and were convict-
ed: I was sentenced to five years hard labor for breaking the Bank:
and ten days solitary confinement and ten years hard labor for attempt-
ing to burn the Jail. My friend and associate in the Bank affair,



received a sentence of five years for his part of that transaction. On
Sunday the 23d of October,1825,\ve were committed to the State Prison
at Concord N. H. in pursuance of the conditions of our sentences.

There were four of us couHuitfed at that time: on our arrival, the
warden, caused us to be searched, but did not succeed in obtaining but
about twenty dollars, in bank bills, which I had stowed away in each
side of my mouth. After being dressed in the common prison clothing
we were ordered into the cells, not however before another search was
made by examining our mouths and other places, to asertain if we had
any money about us.

Finding what was going on, I slipped the money from my moutli
to my hand, and held it against the palm with my thumb, and again
'eluded discovery. Next morning my hair was cut short, and I was
put to the employment of stone cutting. I soon discovered that money
was useful in prison as well as outside: various articles could be obtain-
ed by means of teamsters and others, visiting the prison on business:
even rum was not difficult to be got by those who wanted it.

1 was received into prison under rather a bad name from the jailor
at Keene and also from others; and was accordingly watched pretty
close; for the first three weeks therefore, I kept quiet and orderly,
after a while, thinking there might be a chance for escape, I fixed a
hook upon a pole and made an attempt to scale the yard wail: I had
nearly reached the top, climbing up the pole, when the sentry discover-
ed me and hailed, threatening to fire, if I did not immediately return
back. Fire away, said I, which he did, and being near, wounded me

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Online LibraryJames AllenNarrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman : being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts state prison → online text (page 1 of 5)