American Frontier Outlaw. Peter Alston was a late 18th - early 19th Century counterfeiter, horse thief, highwayman, and river pirate, who was believed to be the associate of serial-killer, Little Harpe and partner, in the murder of notorious outlaw leader Samuel Mason in 1803. Alston was also, the son of the 18th Century counterfeiter, Philip Alston, associated with Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, and Natchez, Mississippi.
Peter Alston was born the son of the notorious counterfeiter. His mother was one of the three wives of his father: Temperance Smith, Mary Molly Temple, or Mildred McCoy. Alston had two brothers, Philip, Jr. and John McCoy and two sisters, Frances and Elizabeth Elise. His grandparents on the side of his father were Solomon Alston and Sarah Ann "Nancy" Hinton Alston. John Alston, the brother of his father, was also, a notorious counterfeiter. The Alston family had its origins in the British Royal colony of the Province of South Carolina, where the Alston surname was very common. When and where he was born and where he grew up is not known, as there is scant information on his childhood and pre-criminal activities. He may have been born in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Natchez, West Florida, now Natchez, Mississippi, Fort Nashborough, Virginia, now Nashville, Tennessee, or Russellville, Virginia, now Russellville, Kentucky. Having been the son of an outlaw, Peter Alston probably moved wherever his father hastily moved their family, remaining as far away from the pursuit of the law. Even as an adult, No doubt, Peter Alson was not far from his father's criminal presence and influence.
According to Alex C. Finley, in The History of Russellville and Logan County, Ky, Peter Alston used the alias "James May", as Wiley Little Harpe had used the name "John Setton", as his alias. At other times, Alston also, used the aliases, Samuel May and Isaac May.
The earliest recorded use of the Peter Alston alias, James May, dated back to around 1797 or 1798, in Red Banks, Kentucky, now Henderson, Henderson County, Kentucky, where Alston appeared, with a woman, who claimed to be his lame sister, which could have been, one of his two sisters, Francis or Elizabeth. While at the Red Banks, Alston stole horses, but was caught in Vincennes, Northwest Territory, now Vincennes, Indiana, and brought back for trial. Peter Alson was never tried, as he broke out of jail the first night he was incarcerated.
Peter Alston later shifted his operations down river to Stack Island, on the lower Mississippi River, along with Samuel Mason, the notorious outlaw gang leader, after regulators cleaned the frontier criminal element out of western Kentucky and Cave-in-Rock, Northwest territory, now Cave-in-Rock, Illinois, in the summer of 1799. There Alston reunited with his father, Philip, and cast counterfeit silver coins, as well as taking part in Mason's river piracy operations.
Mason was captured in 1803, and was transported overland from New Orleans towards the Mississippi Territory for trial. He escaped en route, sustaining a gunshot wound in the process, and may have made his way back to his former gang. Mississippi Territorial Governor William C. C. Claiborne posted a $1,000 reward for Mason's recapture, which Alston and Harpe attempted to claim under the assumed names of "James May" and "John Setton." In so doing they presented Mason's severed head as proof that he was no longer at large. Their true identities were quickly discovered and both men were arrested for Mason's murder. When When Alston and Harpe appeared in Natchez with Mason's head, they were immediately identified and later convicted on February 4, 1804 and sentenced to be hanged on February 8, 1804 at the Gallows Field in Old Greenville, Mississippi. According to the book, "Mississippi; a Guide to the Magnolia State ", Harpe and Alston had their heads cut off and displayed on sharpened wood poles, along the north and south ends of the Natchez Trace, as a warning to other criminals. According to the book, The Outlaws of Cave-In-Rock the outlaws were buried in the Old Greenville Cemetery, which was roughly one hundred yards to the east of the Greenville jail and court house and around the same distance to north of the old hotel in the central part of the former town. Today, nothing remains of Old Greenville Cemetery or any trace that the town ever existed. Supposedly, the bodies of Harpe and Alston were later removed from this cemetery by outraged law-abiding citizens who did not want criminals buried in the only town cemetery in Old Greenville. The bodies were later, reburied in the Belle Grove Cemetery about a half a mile south of Old Greenville or in an unknown location.
Gravesite Details Body decapitated possibly lost, destroyed, or buried in unknown location.