Doan Treasury Graphic

Frequently Asked Questions

It’s been long believed that members of the Doan family were devout, pacifist Quakers that were turned violent by the American Revolution. Research has proven that several male Doan family members broke with Quakerism long before the Revolutionary time period. In 1711 Daniel Doan (great-grandfather to the principal Doan Gang members) was disowned from Middletown Meeting in Wrightstown Township, Bucks County for practicing astrology. Israel Doan Sr. (grandfather to the principal Doan Gang members) was disowned by Middletown Meeting in 1725. He was disowned due to his “…consummating his marriage contrary to our rules of our discipline…” Moses, Mahlon, Levy, Aaron, Joseph Jr., and Abraham Doan do not appear in Middletown or Plumstead Meeting records. 

Meanwhile the mothers of the outlaws, Rachel Vickers Doan and Esther Dillon Doan, did appear to be practicing Quakers. In 1751 Esther Dillon’s “disorderly marriage” is recorded in  Buckingham Meeting Minutes. She had married Joseph Doan Sr., who wasn’t a practicing Quaker. Despite this she continued to attend meetings. In 1799 when Joseph Sr. and Esther Doan decided to leave for Canada they asked for financial assistance which they received. Esther also successfully transferred her membership from Bucks County to Pelham Meeting in Canada. The letter written by Buckingham Meeting to Pelham referred to Esther as having “frequently attended” meetings.  In 1759 Rachel Vickers and her marriage to Israel Doan Jr.,  was recorded in the Buckingham Women’s meeting minutes. It was discovered that “...Rachel Doan (late Vickers) has accomplished her Marriage out of the Unity of Friends with one not of our Society."

A common Doan myth is that members of the Gang would hide out in the caves of Bucks County. This has not been fully substantiated by research. In fact, there were several Loyalists who were indicted and punished for harboring members of the Gang. These charges prove that they were provided homes or barns to stay in while on the run. For example, John Tomlinson provided his family's barn as a safe place for the Gang to prepare for the Bucks County Treasury Robbery. 

But, we cannot be absolutely sure that they didn’t spend any time hiding out in caves. Gang members were usually on the run and not living with their families. This would require sleeping in the woods or in other unsettled places. Notably Henry Mercer later interviewed a relative of Gang member Jeremiah Cooper. In this interview Mercer learned that the Gang would sometimes hide out  in several caves in Bucks county and New Jersey. 

The Doan Gang is famous for committing home invasion and highway robberies. What they did with the money they stole, has long been debated. Many Doan enthusiasts believe there is a cache of money hidden in Bucks County. This is unlikely for a few reasons. The Doan Gang, in addition to robbing, assisted several British prisoners of war return to British lines. This included purchasing new clothes, food, and other supplies. They also had to pay for their travel. This was not an inexpensive service to the British Crown.

Additionally, when members of the Doan Gang were attainted of outlawry or named in proclamations as thieves, finding work became difficult. Most members of the Gang were married or fathers. They had families to support and couldn’t afford to bury any of their money. 

Finally, there were upwards of sixty people in the Doan Gang. The stolen money had to be divided into shares. These shares were distributed to the members who actively participated in the robbery and those who provided crucial intelligence or assistance. While any robbery may have yielded a large amount of money, the final amount of each share would be significantly smaller.

It’s impossible to translate what the Doans stole in today’s currency. While the Doans were attracted to paper and coin currency, they also stole goods. Due to the scarcity or expense of creating certain goods, those were deemed more valuable than currency. What was valuable in the Colonial time period was determined by how costly were the materials used in its production, how many of the components were imported, and how skilled was the labor required to make it. Cloth or clothing was usually the most expensive item available to be stolen, while a musket or silverware would be less desirable. These valuations and the production of goods have greatly changed since the time of the Doan Gang. 

Value in early America was also determined through economic exchange. Goods or services could be bought for an agreed price, but payment could take many forms. Some early American transactions did not involve coins or paper money at all. Instead, goods or services, like wheels of cheese or mending fences, were traded. Currency exchanges were also complicated affairs. The value of paper money and coins changed when they crossed colony or state borders, due to different rates of exchange. Each colony or state issued its own valuation. It’s also important to remember that the inflation rate fluctuated constantly during and after the Revolution. The inflation rate was 30% at its peak in 1778. 

Research tells us that the Doan Gang sometimes hid stolen items in the homes of fellows Loyalists or robbery accomplices. For example, William Echas (or Eaches) and his housekeeper Mary Bulla were punished in September 1783 for receiving and harboring Moses Doan, Aaron Doan, and Mahlon Doan. During the same court proceedings they were acquitted of harboring Gang member Gideon Vernon and for “receiving stolen goods”.

A few months later, in March 1784, the Pennsylvania Gazette published a notice about a “quantity of goods” taken in Chester County in July 1783. The stolen goods had been held at William Echas’ home. The newspaper accused Echas of harboring a “banditti of robbers”. The men named in the newspaper notice (Samuel Wigton, Alexander Moor, Josias Ferguson, Joseph Grier Sr., and Thomas Stewart) were attempting to reunite the goods with their lawful owners. 

The stolen goods referenced were taken on July 21, 1783, when the Doan Gang robbed six homes in one night, including the home of Joseph Grier. 

Jesse and Solomon Vickers, two important members of the Doan Gang, provided crucial testimony in
August 1782. The two had been captured and offered a full pardon in exchange for divulging details of
robberies and naming fellow Gang members. In this testimony Solomon Vickers described the night of
the Bucks County Treasury Robbery and who participated. He says there were “…two men the name of
Woodwards [sic], from Jersey, first names I did not know, & we was not at liberty to ask each others
names…there was several others there who’s names I did not know.”

It’s clear from this testimony that not all members of the Gang knew each other. This layer of secrecy
would help the Gang commit crimes anonymously. It also meant that if, like the Vickers, someone was
captured and forced to confess that they couldn’t provide names even if they wanted to. Unfortunately
for the Gang, the Vickers testimony unmasked many of its members. But there are several members of
the Gang still unknown to us today, including the two mysterious Woodwards. Research has provided
some possibilities, but nothing has been confirmed.

Research has not uncovered any member of the Doan Gang working with the Revolutionary government to spy on the Gang and its activities. The closest event is when Gang members Jesse and Solomon Vickers turned state’s evidence to receive a full pardon. 

A few members of the Doan Gang did receive compensation from the British Crown for their services during the war. For example, Aaron Doan and Joseph Doan, Jr., both appear on the United Empire Loyalist (UEL) list. This honorific title was assigned to Loyalists who settled in Canada following the American Revolution, which was a British province at the time. One of the benefits of being listed as a UEL was land grants. Typically a UEL would receive 200 acres of land in Canada. If you had had your property seized by the Revolutionary government, this was an appealing offer. Both Aaron and Joseph, Jr., received land. Members of the Tomlinson family received allowances to reimburse them for expenses or money taken during the war. 

Unfortunately it is impossible to know all the items taken by the Doan Gang and their fate. We know the Doan Gang frequently stole items that they would put to immediate use such as clothing, weapons, and household goods. We also know of several Loyalists who were later indicted for storing stolen items at their house. Pursuers of the Gang would sometimes find these stolen items and attempt to return them to their legal owners. 

There is at least one member of the Doan Gang and family that has disappeared from the historical record. Mahlon Doan, brother to Moses, Joseph, Jr., Levy, and Aaron, disappears from the historical record in 1783. 

In July 1783, he is listed on a proclamation offering a 100 pound reward for his and others capture. After the Halsey Cabin Shoot-out in August 1783, the reward is raised to 300 pounds. He is then captured on September 27, 1783 by John Solomon Miller. Miller brings him to the prison in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. On October 9, 1783, Mahlon is moved east from Bedford County to Lancaster County prison. Shortly after he is moved west to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but on November 19, 1783 it is printed in the newspaper he will be transmitted to Philadelphia. 

This is the last mention of Mahlon Doan researchers have been able to find. 

A common belief is that he escaped from prison but there is no accompanying newspaper announcement, correspondence, or acknowledgement from the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council. There are two common theories on what happened to Mahlon following his alleged prison escape. They are recorded in letters from Doan descendants or scholars. 

In an 1885 letter from Alfred Doan to Henry C. Mercer there is a transcription of an interview with Levy Doan, son of Aaron Doan the outlaw. Levy was able to answer questions about his family before his death in 1884 at the age of 93. The question and answer portion of the letter that relates to Mahlon reads, “Do you know what became of your uncle Mahlon Doan? Answer, He escaped and went on board a ship to New York on which were 400 Loyalists. I believe they sailed for England. We never heard more of Mahlon.”

Another letter, this time from J.S. Kratz was written to Mercer in 1884, says, “All that I ever heard of Mahlon was that he was arrested, ironed, imprisoned and that he cut his heels off in order to get the irons off, escaped, and was never heard of afterwards.” There are several versions of this story that appear in Doan research. Many believe Mahlon cut off his heels to slip his feet out of the irons. One rumor is that he cut off his heels, escaped, and then drowned himself. 

None of these versions of events have been confirmed by research.

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