British Executions

James Whitney

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: highway robbery

Date Of Execution: 19 Dec 1694

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



Notorious Highwayman, who believed in dressing well. Executed at Smithfield, 19th of December, 1694

 THIS notorious malefactor was born at Stevenage, in Hertfordshire, where he was put apprentice to a butcher as soon as he was fit for servitude. He served his time, as far as we have heard, very faithfully; but was not long his own master before he took to the irregular courses that brought destruction upon him and branded his name with infamy.

 He took the George Inn, at Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire, where he entertained all sorts of bad company; but not thriving in this way he was in a little time obliged to shut up his doors and entirely give over the occupation. He now came up to London, the common sanctuary of such men, where he lived very irregularly, and at last, when necessitous circumstances came on him apace, wholly gave himself up to villainy.

 It was still some time before he took to the highway, following only the common tricks practised by the sharpers of the town, in which he was the more successful as he always went dressed like a gentleman, it being easier to impose upon mankind with a good suit of clothes than any other way whatsoever.

 When Whitney was grown a confirmed highwayman he one day met a gentleman on Bagshot Heath, whom he commanded to stand and deliver. To which the gentleman replied: "Sir, 'tis well you spoke first, for I was just going to say the same thing to you." "Why, are you a gentleman thief then?" quoth Whitney. "Yes," said the stranger; but I have had very bad success to-day; for I have been riding up and down all this morning without meeting with any prize." Whitney, upon this, wished him better luck and took his leave, really supposing him to be what he pretended.

 At night it was the fortune of Whitney and this impostor to put up at the same inn, when our gentleman told some other travellers by what a stratagem he had escaped being robbed on the road. Whitney had so altered his habit and speech that the gentleman did not know him again; so that he heard all the story without being taken any notice of. Among other things he heard him tell one of the company, softly, that he had saved a hundred pounds by his contrivance. The person to whom he whispered this was going the same way the next morning, and said he also had a considerable sum about him, and, if he pleased, should be glad to travel with him for security. It was agreed between them, and Whitney at the same time resolved to make one with them.

 When morning came our fellow-travellers set out, and Whitney about a quarter of an hour after them. All the discourse of the gentlemen was about cheating the highwaymen, if they should meet with any, and all Whitney's thoughts were upon being revenged for the abuse which was put on him the day before.

 At a convenient place he got before them and bade them stand. The gentleman whom he had met before, not knowing him, he having disguised himself after another manner, briskly cried out: "We were going to say the same to you, sir." "Were you so?" quoth Whitney. "And are you of my profession then?" "Yes," said they both. "If you are," replied Whitney, "I suppose you remember the old proverb, 'Two of a trade can never agree,' so that you must not expect any favour on that score. But to be plain, gentlemen, the trick will do no longer. I know you very well, and must have your hundred pounds, sir; and your considerable sum, sir," turning to the other, "let it be what it will, or I shall make bold to send a brace of bullets through each of your heads. You, Mr Highwayman, should have kept your secret a little longer, and not have boasted so soon of having outwitted a thief. There is now nothing for you to do but deliver, or die." These terrible words put them both into a sad consternation. They were loath to lose their money, but more loath to lose their lives; so of two evils they chose the least, the tell-tale coxcomb disbursing his hundred pounds, and the other a somewhat larger sum, professing that they would be careful for the future not to count without their host.

 Whitney, like a great many others of the same profession, affected always to appear generous and noble. There is one instance of this temper in him which it may not be amiss to relate. Meeting one day with a gentleman on Newmarket Heath, whose name was Long, and having robbed him of a hundred pounds in silver, which was in his portmanteau tied up in a great bag, the gentleman told him that he had a great way to go, and as he was unknown upon the road should meet with many difficulties if he did not restore as much as would bear his expenses. Whitney upon this opened the mouth of the bag, and held it out to Mr Long. "Here," says he, "take what you have occasion for." Mr Long put in his hand and took out as much as he could hold. To which Whitney made no opposition, but only said with a smile: "I thought you would have had more conscience, sir."

 Not long after his arrival in town, after a series of other adventures in the country, he was apprehended in Whitefriars, upon the information of one Mother Cosens, who kept a house in Milford Lane, over against St Clement's Church. The magistrate who took the information committed him to Newgate, where he remained till the next sessions at the Old Bailey.

 After his conviction, Sir S —-l L —-e, Knight, Recorder of London, made an excellent speech before he passed sentence of death, and on Wednesday, the 19th of December, 1694, Whitney was carried to the place of execution, which was at Porter's Block, near Smithfield. When he came there, and saw no hopes of any favour, he addressed these few words to the people:

 "I have been a very great offender, both against God and my country, by transgressing all laws, both human and divine. The sentence passed on me is just, and I can see the footsteps of a Providence, which I had before profanely laughed at, in my apprehending and conviction. I hope the sense which I have of these things has enabled me to make my peace with Heaven, the only thing that is now of any concern to me. join in your prayers with me, my dear countrymen, that God will not forsake me in my last moments."

 Having spoken thus, and afterwards spent a few moments in private devotion, he was turned off, being about thirty-four years of age.