Green Infrastructure Adventure: Sheriff ‘Devil Dave’ Miller

It was in this spot in 1835 that Lancaster County Sheriff “Devil Dave” Miller helped three prisoners escape.

This naturally begs two questions. Why did he do it and why here?

Why here is simple. Before becoming the Fulton Theatre, this location was home to the county jail. The stone foundation along Water Street is all that remains of the former prison.

The plaque you are looking for is to the left outside of view in this image.

To understand the why he did it, it helps to have some background on Miller.

One of Lampeter’s most famous native sons was the eccentric although amiable “Devil Dave” Miller. Miller served as the Lancaster County Sheriff in the 1830s. He had been elected to his post running on an Anti-Mason platform. Miller was a humanitarian and an avid horseman who suppressed race riots against Blacks. He was also a military veteran, early railroad entrepreneur, and owned a hotel.

David Miller (1795-1858)

Part of Miller’s notoriety came in 1834 while serving as Lancaster County 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 Lancaster County Courthouse in Centre Square
Imagine Miller riding his horse through the front door of the courthouse pictured above.

The following year in 1835, Miller aided three prisoners in their escape from the county jail while serving as sheriff.

Lancaster County Jail built circa 1750 and site of the Fulton Theatre since 1852.

What would motivate the chief law enforcement officer for the entire county to do such a thing?

As it turned out, 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 by themselves, apparently to “cover” for Sheriff Miller. It wasn’t until years later that Miller admitted his part in the escape.

Did I forget to mention that Miller was also a supporter of the Underground Railroad?


%d bloggers like this: