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The First Bank Robbery in the US

Article by Wendy Moyer

Late summer in Philadelphia during 1798 was a deadly time in the city’s history. At that time Philadelphia was not only the largest city in the United States, it was the capital of the sate and the nation as well.

A lot of people were trying to flee the city that summer because it was being ravaged by the yellow fever plague. However most people had no choice but to stay and pray for the best. Consequently, about 1,300 of Philly’s citizens would succumb to an agonizing death.

Patrick Lyon, a blacksmith, and his nineteen year old apprentice, booked passage on a small sailing ship in order to leave the city. But within two days after they disembarked in Delaware the young man had died of the disease.

News of an amazing bank robbery eventually reached Lewistown, the city where Lyon was staying.

The story that unraveled was that 2,821 was stolen from the Bank of Pennsylvania at Carpenters’ Hall between sometime between Saturday night, August 31 and Sunday morning, September 1, 1978.

Coincidentally, the last job that Lyon did before leaving Philadelphia was a rush job where he was asked to change the locks and fittings on two of the Bank of Pennsylvania’s vault doors.

Since there weren’t any signs of forced entry the police determined that the robbery was an inside job.

Lyon learned through an acquaintance that he was the one who was suspected of committing the crime. So he decided to return to Philadelphia in order to straighten out the situation. Instead, when he arrived, he was thrown into the Walnut Street Prison.

It took awhile but ultimately the truth came out.

The actual culprits were Isaac Davis and his partner. Davis was a member of the Carpenters’ Company who had visited Lyon’s shop. Davis’ partner was a bank porter named Thomas Cunningham. He was the inside man who secreted himself in Carpenters’ Hall the night the bank was robbed.

After pulling off what seemed like a perfect heist, Davis started to deposit the money he robbed in Philadelphia banks, including the same bank that he robbed the money from.

After being confronted with questions about his sudden fortune Davis agreed to return the money in exchange for a pardon.

However, even after Davis confessed the police and the bank still insisted that Lyon had made an extra key to the vault and he ended up staying in prison for several more weeks.

Within a year after his release Lyon authored a book about the bank robbery. This paved the way for a major lawsuit against the law officials and the bank that kept him imprisoned. Ultimately, after the most renowned Philadelphia lawyers fought it out, a jury awarded Lyon ,000 for being falsely imprisoned.

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