The Quaker Highwayman, who after being fooled by a "Spirit" led a Life of Crime, and was executed at Maidstone in April, 1691
JACOB HALSEY was born in Bedford, the chief town in Bedfordshire, of very wealthy parents, who were Quakers, and accordingly bred him up in that persuasion from his infancy.
When he was arrived at man's estate he pretended to be wonderfully gifted, and the spirit abounded so powerfully in him that he frequently held forth in the meetings of the Friends twice or thrice a week. Nay, he either pretended to be, or was, so very enthusiastically given, that he affirmed, with all the gravity imaginable, that he nightly dreamed dreams and saw visions, and had sundry comfortable and enlightening revelations.
Hereupon one of his neighbours, an arch unlucky weed, resolved to put Halsey's faith, or rather folly, to the test whether he really believed what he pretended to affirm and preach to others; which brought poor Jacob into a very ugly scrape, as we shall see in the sequel; for this neighbour, getting upon the house one night when it was very late, called out twice or thrice, with a loud voice, to Halsey: Jacob, where art thou?" Halsey, at last hearing the voice, starts out of his bed naked, and, running to the window whence the voice seemed to come, cries out: "Here am I! Oh, what is thy will?" Quoth the wag in the same voice, who could hardly forbear laughing: "Arise presently, Jacob, my beloved, my chosen one, and go to the church, or rather steeple-house, and break all the windows."
Immediately Halsey hurries on his clothes, gets a long pole, runs to the church, and demolishes all the windows, lead and all; zeal being never so well pleased as when it is set a-tearing and doing mischief. But poor Yea-and-Nay suffered severely in the flesh for this zealous fit; for, being taken in the fact, he was committed to Bedford jail, and before the matter was made up it cost him above four hundred pounds, between the charges of the Spiritual Court and at common law. He was above three months under confinement, during which time, being a facetious sort of a fellow —- what we call a "wet Quaker" —- he would drink and keep company, notwithstanding his persuasion, with the felons in Bedford Jail, asking them several questions, and being very inquisitive in examining into the art and mystery of thieving. There was one rogue more acute than the rest, with whom he would daily converse, and one time, as the were drinking together, he acquainted him with the several lays which the thieves went upon, and amongst the rest informed him of a set of rascals who wore cloaks and hats cocked up on one side, with a plume of feathers on the other, whence their fraternity received the name of "Plumers."
The exercise of these gentry by daytime was to stroll about the streets and create quarrels upon nothing, only to draw a crowd together, that they might twitch a cloak, or pick a pocket, among the confused multitude. But in the night they had recourse to a different method of practice. Some of them had the industry to insinuate themselves into gentlemen's company and, enticing them to play, pick their pockets of their money by new-invented cheats. These had the policy to keep so fair a correspondence with the constables and justices' clerks that they very seldom under- went any disgrace or punishment, unless they encountered some very powerful adversary, whose purse was not only better lined than theirs, but who had interest enough to make even the justices' commission shake if they offered to protect or screen them, as those trading justices always do who go snacks with their clerks.
In short, after this thief had acquainted Halsey with the chief secrets of his calling and profession, he took the liberty of asking him if none of them apprehended hanging. "Scarce any of us," answered he, "ever suffer such a thing to enter into our thoughts; so far from it that we frequently are present at the execution of our comrades, without the least fear or terror; for nothing dazzles our eyes or is capable of moving our hearts like the insatiate thirst of invaluable gold."
As soon as he was set at liberty, Halsey, being sensible how he had been imposed upon in the affair of the voice which commanded him to break the church windows, was very much ashamed of his ridiculous folly, and would willingly have had it forgotten; but the people flouted him, and jeered him continually, throughout the town of Bedford. Nay, what was worst of all, he could never appear in the streets or go about his business without having a whole tribe of boys and girls hollowing and hooting after him. This exasperated him so much at last, that, being weary of his life, he was resolved to quit the country, and be revenged of all the churchmen that fell into his clutches, though it were at the hazard of his own neck. He resolved then upon following the road; and, in order thereunto, metamorphosed his cropped hair into a peruke, his formal hat to one pinched and cocked, his diminutive cravat to a ranting neck-cloth, and his precise coat, without plaits, to one more fashionable, designing to hide his knavery as much as he possibly could by such an alteration. But nevertheless, even under this disguise, he would always rob in the language of the lambs.
Accordingly, one day, meeting with an old wicked usurer of Bedford, between Barnet and St Albans, he rode on with him very peaceably for three or four miles; when, coming to a convenient place for his intended purpose, "Look thee, friend," says he, "I am not like one of those profane ones, who spoil men in the terrifying words of 'Stand and deliver.' No, I say again, I am not one of that wicked stamp, but an Israelite that spoils an Egyptian with all the good humour, peace and quietness in the world; so open thy purse-strings straight, and lend what thou hast, without any grumbling."
The old usurer, not liking this mild way of parting with his mammon any more than that of being more roughly handled, refused Jacob his money, and made great resistance; whereupon Halsey shot his horse, and after taking from him about sixty pounds, resolving to punish him yet further, for moving his righteous spirit to wrath, made him cast his arms about a large elm-tree, and bound them fast together with a strong cord. This done, he left him to stretch out his neck like the cock of a conduit, whose head, not being fixed to the body, may be set higher or lower at pleasure, and look out to see when some good person would come by and deliver him.
Another time, Jacob, overtaking a country curate between Abingdon and Oxford, accosts him in this manner: "Friend, imagining thee to be some Philistine going to spoil an honest Israelite for tithes, I must make bold to spoil thee first; wherefore, thou wicked one, deliver thy mammon to the righteous, that he may convert it to a better use than to exhaust it in gluttony and pride, otherwise I shall send thee to the bottomless pit before thy time is come by the course of nature." The parson made several hums upon the matter, but finding the resolute Quaker would not be said nay, gave him a bag containing thirty-two pounds, after which they parted.
Jacob was at last apprehended in attempting to rob the Earl of Westmoreland, not far from his seat near Wateringbury, in Kent, and being committed to Maidstone jail, was condemned at the assizes held there in April, 1691, and executed a few days afterwards.