Executed at Ely, 7th of November, 1750, for the Murder of his Wife, after first witnessing the Strangling of a Woman for murdering her Husband
JOHN VICARS'S grandfather and father were born at Oxford, and lived in good credit, till misfortunes obliged them to go to Dodington, in the Isle of Ely. His father dying and leaving him young, and his mother taking a second husband, he had but a slight education. At thirteen he was apprenticed to Mr J. Aaron, of Holkham, Norfolk, gardener to Thomas Coke, Esq. (now Earl of Leicester), where he served his time faithfully, and was employed in the gardens, till an intrigue with a married woman obliged him to leave that place. Having a recommendation to Mr Bridgman, gardener at Kensington, he went and worked some time there, and then engaged himself to Captain Duroy, of the Exeter man-of-war, and served him about nine months. Being paid off, he assisted in a party of smugglers about a year, and being taken prisoner, with others, by a custom-house smack, near Rye, was committed to the New Jail, in Southwark, tried, and acquitted by the indulgence of the Court. He then was employed in the Earl of Oxford's gardens at Chelsea, under Mr Miller, where he stayed one year.
Falling into company with one Anne Easom, he made love to her and married her. They lived seven years very happily, but had no children. About that time she began to be very much afflicted with illness, which altered her temper so much that it occasioned frequent uneasiness between them, and gave him such disgust that he enlisted in the Duke of Bedford's regiment as a six months' man, where he continued about a year, and then came to his wife again and lived with her till her death, which happened about twelve months after. He continued a widower about a year, in which time, observing one Mary Hainsworth to keep a great deal of company, he asked her one evening if they were all her sweethearts; she replied no. He then offered himself, met with great encouragement, and from that time he was refused no favours. But he had no intention of marriage, nor did he promise any such thing. They continued a criminal familiarity for a fortnight, all which time she pressed him to marry her. He told her there was no occasion for her to be in such a hurry; but she replied she was with child, and if he would not marry her she would get a warrant and force him. He said he should not care to be forced to do anything against his will; on which she replied, if he would not marry her she would certainly make away with herself. He then kept away for two or three nights, to see how she would behave. In the meantime came a hackney-coachman to town, with whom she seemed to be so very much taken that a woman who worked in Vicar's garden told him that he had lost his sweetheart. He said he was glad of that, thinking he had got a good riddance. But he was not so fortunate; for two or three nights after this the coachman left the place; on which she flung herself in his way and, he says, he was so simple as to renew their former acquaintance, but not on the score of marriage, which she well knew, and agreed readily to keep him company. But after two or three nights she threatened him again with a warrant if he would not marry her.
At last, his affections growing stronger on her repeated assurance that she would make him a careful and industrious wife, he unfortunately married her; but not till he had earnestly desired that if there was any other person for whom she had a greater respect than himself she would consider of it, for when once married it would be too late. This unhappy woman had learned the glover's business, which she followed, and they lived very lovingly for about two months; but after that time, he says, words frequently arose between them, occasioned by her adhering to bad advice given her by her mother, and others, by some of whom, she owned to him, she was advised to poison him. From words they came to blows, to which she provoked him, though he entreated her to forbear. At length she went away from him to live with her mother, and notwithstanding the most earnest entreaties refused to return. One day, going by her mother's house with some fruit, and seeing his wife there, he went in, offered her some fruit, and forced a kiss from her, desiring to be reconciled. Her mother came in and, after giving loose to her tongue in a virulent manner, fell to beating him, swearing she would kill him, and advising his wife, who had a knife in her hand, to stab him, which she endeavoured to do; but he, feeling something against his belly, ran backwards to the door, and fell upon the threshold, with the old woman upon him. He rolled her off, and, getting up, found his thumb cut, a hole in his shirt, and the skin ruffled; then, thinking himself in great danger, went home. But his mother-in-law and his wife swore the peace against him, and had a warrant to take him up. Upon 24th of April, therefore, to prevent their serving it, he went to a gentleman's about three miles from Whittlesea, to beg his advice, which was to make a bill of sale of his goods and go off. He resolved to do so, and came back to Whittlesea about six o'clock the same evening. By the way, on seeing his wife in the new shop which her mother had provided for her, his heart beat with love for her, but on the thought of her obstinacy, and that his life or ruin was what they aimed at, by laying him in jail, his resentment got the better of his reason. Stepping into the shop where she was sitting at work, and placing his left hand under her chin (he apprehended she thought he was going to kiss her, because she seemed to smile) and drawing his knife out of his pocket with his other hand, he made an attempt to cut her throat, but was prevented by her putting her hands up when she felt the knife. He then placed the point of the knife under her left ear, the back part upwards, and stuck it downward as they stick sheep. She once cried: "Murder!" He said: "Molly, it is now too late, you should have been ruled in time." He then ran into the street and called out for somebody to take him prisoner, but everyone was afraid; on which he threatened if they did not he would do more mischief; on which one Thomas Boone took hold of his arm, and he surrendered himself; but appeared as a lunatic till next day, when he was very calm.
This account was signed by himself, and it being reported that he had committed more murders, he further desired it might be explained as follows.
While he was gardener to R. Man, Esq., the garden was often robbed, on which his master set him to watch one night, armed with a gun and a hanger, and fixed a trap at the supposed place of entrance. The thief came, and soon saw reason to run off; but Vicars cut him in the leg with his hanger; besides which he was so unfortunate as to be taken in the trap, the teeth of which, reaching about the middle of his body, struck into him, so that, being carried before a justice and committed to Maidstone jail, he soon after died of his wounds; "but this I apprehend," says he, "cannot be deemed a murder."
While in prison he said that he dearly loved his wife, but her provocation was so great that he could not let her live, nor live without her, he first intending to kill himself also. He persisted in it that he should do the same again on such provocation, though he injured many in the same way without reluctance.
Vicars at the tree behaved very steadily, but penitent, praying with the minister and singing Psalm VI. A woman named Amy Hutchinson, who had been convicted for the murder of her husband, was present to be strangled and burnt for her crime, and Vicars expressed a desire to see her dispatched first.
Accordingly, her face and hands being smeared with tar, and having a garment daubed with pitch, after a short prayer the executioner strangled her, and twenty minutes after the fire was kindled, and burned half-an-hour. He went then to Vicars, who very undauntedly helped him to fix the knot, and immediately threw himself off, and expired in a few minutes.