Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

America's First Serial Killers

Young Tories

A sketch of Micajah 'Big' Harpe
A sketch of Micajah 'Big' Harpe

Musgrave says that they emigrated from Scotland as young children and were first cousins, the sons of John and William Harpe, who settled in Orange County, North Carolina (Breazeale says Georgia), but other sources indicate that they were born in America, and that it was their fathers who emigrated, around 1761. The families were seeking to run a plantation, and did so for a few years before the colonies entered a war. At some point as they grew older the boys changed their names, from William and Joshua to Micajah and Wiley, dropping the "e" and passing themselves off as brothers. Instead of becoming farmers, they fought in the war, but not on the side of the struggling young country. On the contrary, they were young Tories, loyal to Britain, and they happily participated in rampaging gangs that terrorized and plundered patriots. Musgrave recounts the battles in which they participated.

Micajah, born in 1768, was tall, big-boned, and muscular, with a vicious countenance. Although he was frequently grimy, people could still see that he was a redhead. He liked to arm himself with dangerous weapons: a hunting knife, a tomahawk, and a rifle. He did not much care who he hurt or killed.

His companion, the younger Harpe (born in 1770), was just as adept with weaponry but not quite as fierce or frightening. Apparently they were equally angry, and several writers note that they had once been arrested for a crime they did not commit, and were convicted and jailed for it. Whether they were out for revenge or were just ornery is hard to say. What's beyond dispute is the brutality they exhibited.

Categories
Advertisement