A Highwayman who was witty with a Halter round his Neck and, being reprieved, found that Newgate would not have him. Executed 8th of September, 1686
JONATHAN SIMPSON was the son of a very wealthy inhabitant of Launceston, in Cornwall, and his father put him apprentice to a linen-draper in Bristol when he was about fourteen years of age. When he had served out his time, which he did with reputation, the same indulgent father gave him fifteen hundred pounds to set up with in the city, where he was free, and where he soon fell into great business and got money apace.
In less than a year after he had kept shop he married a merchant's daughter of the same place, who brought him a fortune of two thousand pounds. This was a great addition to his wealth; but the union proved unhappy, because the young lady was before engaged in affection to a gentleman of less fortune in the neighbourhood, whom her father hindered her from having, and with whom she continued a familiarity that soon displeased her husband.
Such a crisis as this must be a great trial for any man; but there can be no excuse sufficient to defend a person that invades the property of another. Almost any man in such a case would have run into extravagances; but none but a man who was viciously inclined would have turned highwayman, as Simpson now did. He had above five thousand pounds of his own, but his expenses were of a piece with the rest of his actions; for at the end of eighteen months he had not a penny left of all this large sum, or of all the money he had during that time taken on the road.
While his money lasted he played with the law; for though he was once or twice discovered, he made up the matter, and prevented a prosecution.
No sooner had Simpson wasted all his substance but he was apprehended and condemned at the Old Bailey for a robbery on the highway, and he must certainly have swung for it if some of his rich relations had not procured him a reprieve from above. It came when he was at Tyburn, with the halter about his neck, and just ready to be turned off in company with several others. As he was riding back to Newgate behind one of the sheriff's officers, the officer asked him if he thought anything of a reprieve when he came to the gallows. "No more," said Simpson, "than I thought of my dying day." A very pretty expression at that time.
When he was brought to the prison door, the turnkey refused to receive him, telling the officer that, as he was sent to be executed, they were discharged of him, and would not have anything to do with him again, unless there was a fresh warrant for his commitment; whereupon Simpson made this reflection: "What an unhappy cast-off dog am I, that both Tyburn and Newgate should in one day refuse to entertain me! Well, I'll mend my manners for the future, and try whether I can't merit a reception at them both the next time I am brought hither." He was as good as his word; for it was believed he committed above forty robberies in the county of Middlesex within six weeks after his discharge.
He was a very good skater, and made a practice of robbing people on the ice between Fulham and Kingston Bridge, in the great frost of 1689, which held thirteen weeks. He used to kick up their heels and then search their pockets.
One time a gentleman whom he stopped gave him a fine silk purse full of counters, which he took for gold, and so did not examine them till he came to his inn at night. When he found himself outwitted he made no words of it, but kept the brass booty in his pocket, looking out frequently for his benefactor, whom he knew to be often on the road. At the end of about four months he met his worship again, on Bagshot Heath, when, riding up to the coach —- "Sir, ' says he, "I believe you made a mistake the last time I had the happiness to see you, in giving me these pieces; I have been troubled ever since for fear you should have wanted them at cards, and am glad of this opportunity to return them. Only for my care I require you to come this moment out of your coach and give me your breeches, that I may search them at leisure, and not trust any more to your generosity, lest you should mistake again." The gentleman was obliged to comply by a pistol, and Simpson found at night that the freight of his breeches was a gold watch, a gold snuff-box, and a purse containing ninety-eight guineas and five jacobuses.
Another time he robbed the Lord Delamere on Dunmoor Heath of three hundred and fifty guineas, persuading his lordship first to send away all his attendants, on a sham pretence of two highwaymen that were just before who had robbed him of forty pounds. This action made his lordship swear never to do a good-natured deed again to a stranger. The robberies he committed on drovers, pedlars, market-people, etc., were almost innumerable. He stopped in one day nineteen of those people between London and Barnet, and took from them above two hundred pounds. He even ventured to attack the Duke of Berwick, natural son to King James II., and take from him his watch, rings and money, amounting in all to a great value.
This great malefactor was at last apprehended near Acton, by means of two captains of the Foot Guards, whom he attempted to rob both together. There was an obstinate fight between them, and Simpson behaved himself with so much bravery that in all probability he would not have been taken if one of the officers had not shot his horse under him, though he was before that wounded in both his arms and one of his legs. Nay, even when he was dismounted he defended himself till other passengers came up and secured him, which his adversaries were scarce able to do, they being also both very much hurt. When he was sent to Newgate he now found the keeper so much his friend as to receive him; neither did Tyburn this time refuse to bear his burden. He was hanged on Wednesday, the 8th of September, 1686, aged thirty-two years.