Capt. Samuel Ross Mason

Is your surname Mason?

Research the Mason family

Capt. Samuel Ross Mason's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


Capt. Samuel Ross Mason

Birthdate: (64)
Death: 1803 (63)
Jefferson County, Mississippi, United States (Gunshot/Tomahawk )
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Mason and Mary Meason
Husband of Rosanna Dorsey
Father of Dorsey Mason; Thomas Mason; Isaac Mason; Samuel Mason, Jr.; Magness Mason and 1 other
Brother of Rachel Worthington and Maj. John Mason
Half brother of Lt. Thomas Meason and Isaac Meason

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Capt. Samuel Ross Mason

Samuel Mason or Meason (1739–1803) was a Revolutionary War militia captain on the frontier, who following the war, became the leader of a gang of river pirates and highwaymen on the lower Ohio River and the Mississippi River in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was associated with Cave-in-Rock, Stack Island, and the Natchez Trace.

Early life and Revolutionary War service

Mason was born in Norfolk, Virginia and raised in what is now Charles Town, Virginia, where he lived until moving to what is now Ohio County, West Virginia in 1773. During the American Revolution, Samuel Mason was a captain of the Ohio County Militia, Virginia State Forces. According to Ohio County court minutes dated 7 January 1777, Mason was recommended to the governor of Virginia to serve as captain of the militia. On 28 January, he was present and cited as a captain from Ohio county at a “council of war” held Catfish Camp. Catfish Camp was located at or near present Washington, Pennsylvania. On 8 June 1777, Mason wrote a letter from Fort Henry, now Wheeling, West Virginia, to brigadier general Edward Hand, at Fort Pitt. The letter was signed Samuel Meason. On 1 September 1777, he was wounded but survived an ambush by Native Americans near Fort Henry. Most of the men in his company perished during the attack. He moved again in 1779, this time to what is now Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he was elected justice of the peace and later selected as associate judge, leaving for Kentucky in 1784. Mason's surname was spelled interchangeably as Meason in many of the early records. This is explained in at least two family histories of the Mason/Meason family. One is Pioneer Period and Pioneer People of Fairfield County, Ohio by C. M. L. Wiseman, dated 1901, and the other, Torrence and Allied Families by Robert M. Torrence, dated 1938.


Mason moved his family in the early 1790s, to the Red Banks, now Henderson, Kentucky. He later settled downriver on Diamond Island and engaged in criminal activity. By 1797, he moved the base of his river piracy further downriver to Cave-in-Rock on the Illinois shore. Mason's gang of pirates openly based themselves at Cave-in-Rock, where they had a brief association with serial killers Micajah Harpe and Wiley Harpe, until the summer of 1799, when they were expelled by the "Exterminators" under the leadership of Capt. Young of Mercer County, Kentucky. Mason moved his operations downriver and settled his family in Spanish Louisiana and became a highwayman on the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. In April 1802 Mississippi Governor William C. C. Claiborne was informed Mason and Wiley Harpe had attempted to board a boat of a Colonel Joshua Baker between Yazoo and Walnut Hills, which is now Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Arrest and death

According to Spanish colonial court records, Spanish officials arrested Mason and his men early in 1803 at the Little Prairie settlement, now Caruthersville, in southeastern Missouri. Mason and his family members were taken to the colonial government in New Madrid, where a three-day hearing was held to determine whether Mason was a pirate. Although Mason claimed he was simply a farmer who had been maligned by his enemies, the presence of $7,000 in currency and 20 human scalps in his baggage convinced the Spanish he indeed was a pirate. Mason and his family were taken under guard to New Orleans, where the Spanish governor ordered them handed over to the American governor in the Mississippi Territory, as all their crimes appeared to have taken place on American territory or against American boats.

While being transported upriver, Mason and gang member John Sutton (aka Wiley Harpe) overpowered their guards[disambiguation needed] and escaped, with Mason being shot in the head during the escape. Although one 1803 account {Rothert .p. 247} claimed Captain Robert McCoy was killed by Mason in the escape attempt, McCoy, the Commandant of New Madrid, actually died in 1840 – nor was he crippled by Mason. The American governor immediately issued a reward for their recapture, prompting Sutton and another man to bring Mason's head in an attempt to claim the reward (whether they killed Mason or whether he died from his wound suffered in the escape attempt has never been established). They were recognized as two of the pirates, arrested, tried in federal court, found guilty of piracy, and hanged in Greenville, Mississippi in early 1804.

Fictional representation and historical inaccuracies

Mort Mills portrayed this historical river pirate leader in The Wonderful World of Disney's live-action miniseries Davy Crockett.

view all

Capt. Samuel Ross Mason's Timeline

November 8, 1739
Age 36
Age 63
Jefferson County, Mississippi, United States