Joseph T. Hare and John Alexander

In the early decades of American history, the federal criminal legal system was small and federal capital cases were few. Federal capital cases arose less from federal statutes that enacted distinct federal crimes than from the Constitution, Article II, Section II of which provided federal jurisdiction for maritime (including piracy) cases and cases involving multiple states. The only other type of federal capital case that arose during this era was mail robbery, a crime against a federal agency. The first case of this type occurred in Maryland. In March 1818, notorious highwayman Joseph Hare, joined by John Alexander, robbed the United States mail near Havre de Grace, stealing tens of thousands of dollars. They were arrested in Baltimore soon after when their appearance and the money they were spending drew attention.

Lancaster (Pa.) Intelligencer, March 25, 1818

The men were convicted and sentenced to death in May 1818. Hare’s brother, Lewis, only 19 years old, was also convicted but subsequently pardoned. A fourth man, William Wood, tried in Philadelphia as an accessory before the fact to the crime, was found guilty and sentenced to ten years of hard labor.

Hare and Alexander were hanged before a large crowd on September 10, 1818.

Lancaster Intelligencer, September 14, 1818

In a posthumously published confession, Hare claimed to have been a prolific thief.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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