Sunday, November 28, 2021

Outlaws and Doctors

Photo by Patrick Doan

 My family, which came to America during 1629, has a checkered history. Yesterday my son Patrick visited the grave of a long dead Revolutionary War relative and it reopened a chapter in our family's history that we probably should forget, but it is incredibly interesting and at times confusing. 

The site of Levi Doan's resting place, along with his cousin Abraham, is just outside of a Quaker Cemetery near Doylestown, PA. They were part of the Doan Gang, a group of five brothers and one cousin who supported the British during the Revolution by spying on the American forces and stealing horses to support the Redcoats. But they were very complicated. The stories make them sound like a cross between Robin Hood and common thieves. 

The following story, from the referenced history of the gang, shows how the Doan's were more than common thieves and murderers:

A young mother whose husband was with Washington at Valley Forge could not obtain a travelling pass from the British in order to buy food for her children. Despite repeated petitions to the British leaders, the pass was not forthcoming. Spurned on by the cries of her hungry children, she finally set out for the mills along a series of back roads that would keep her from the sight of the British sentinels. The woman was so exhausted from hunger and the long journey that she was near death the following day when she endeavored to return home. Burdened by her sack of flour, she struggled along the road, periodically dragging her cargo through the woods to skirt the British guards along the way. Suddenly she was stopped by a man. She immediately assumed from previous descriptions that he was one of the Doans. She told him of her husband at Valley Forge and her hungry children and the stranger, Moses Doan, gave her his purse with all the money he had in it. He then warned her of another sentinel just ahead on the road and disappeared before she could thank him. She pressed on and was almost home when a British guard challenged her and demanded a pass. When she could not produce it, he demanded her sack of flour which the woman, weak from her journey, gave up meekly. At that moment Moses Doan appeared from the woods. She knew it was Moses by his clothing but his demeanor was quite different from the man she had met only minutes before. He shambled over to the soldier like an old man and asked that he return the woman's flour, even offering twice its value in gold. When the guard refused and then threatened to arrest Moses, he seized him by the throat and told the woman to grab her flour and run. As soon as she was safely away, Moses drew a pistol and shot the guard in the head. Instantly, the alarm went up from the guard house and along the line of pickets. Moses escaped into the woods where he found his horse and rode for the safety of the river. Before he was to finally escape he would shoot another guard and kill a British officer who was in the lead barge pursuing him across the Delaware. Having failed to capture him, the British soldiers later attributed his escape to supernatural reasons which served to further escalate the legend of Moses Doan.

Sometimes as we search for family history, we find more than really want to know. I was encouraged, however, since the Doan's who settled in Buck's County, PA, were from Israel's side of the family. My branch is from his brother Daniel who became a respected Doctor in the Barnstable, Massachusetts, area near where the family came to America. Daniel married Constance (Hopkins) Snow whose mother, Constance Hopkins, came to America aboard the Mayflower. Yes, they were both named Constance.

So wet are not all outlaws! Just a few of us!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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