The expectation of the local sheriff is that he put people in jail, not help them escape. However, that’s exactly what Sheriff “Devil Dave” Miller did in 1835 when he helped three prisoners break out of the county jail.
This, of course, naturally begs the question, why.
Before answering, it helps to have some background on Miller.
As one of Lampeter’s most famous native sons, “Devil Dave” Miller was an eccentric although amiable character. He served as the Lancaster County Sheriff in the 1830s. Miller had been elected to his post running on an Anti-Mason platform. He was a humanitarian and an avid horseman who suppressed race riots against Blacks. Miller was also a military veteran, early railroad entrepreneur and owned a hotel.
Part of Miller’s notoriety came in 1834 while serving as sheriff. On one occasion, he returned a bench warrant by riding his horse up the courthouse’s steps and then down the courtroom’s main aisle, where he dismounted in front of the bench and presented the documents to Judge Lewis in person.
The following year in 1835, Miller aided three prisoners in their escape from the county jail while serving as sheriff.
What would motivate the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county to do such a thing?
As it turned out Miller was a supporter of the Underground Railroad and bounty hunters had abducted two formerly enslaved women and one of their sons as runaways who had been living here in rural Lancaster County. They were held in jail while waiting for transport to the Carolinas. However, before this could happen, Miller opened their cell one night and let the trio walkout.
The women told sympathizers that they escaped using a butter knife to pick the lock, apparently to “cover” for Miller. It wasn’t until years later that Miller admitted his part in the escape.
Recently I had the pleasure of doing the “Local History Nugget” segment for Lancaster Connects. In the episode, I talked about ‘Devil Dave’ Miller. Check out the video below.