Executed for Forgery, at Edinburgh, 19th December, 1748
THE subject of this narrative was born of a Protestant family at Belfast, in Ireland, and received a liberal education. At the usual time of life he was apprenticed to a linen-draper residing in the town where he was born. Having served about three years, his master died; and, as the widow declined business, he engaged as clerk to a wholesale dealer, whose goods were principally sent to the London market and Chester fair.
He remained with his employer till his arrival at manhood; but at length absconded, in consequence of one of his master's servant-maids proving with child by him. He intended to settle in Dublin; but in his way to that city he met with a recruiting party belonging to the fourth regiment of foot, who urged him to drink till he became intoxicated, and then prevailed upon him to enlist.
Young, being handsome in person and accomplished in manners, was soon distinguished by his officers, who, on the first vacancy, promoted him to be a sergeant.
He marched from Tournay to join the regiment at Ghent, in Flanders, and arrived but a few days preceding that on which was fought the terrible battle of Fontenoy. His behaviour in that action was greatly commended by his officers, who, upon the return of the regiment to Ghent, conferred upon him many instances of particular respect, and appointed him paymaster to the company to which he belonged.
The regiment in which Young was a sergeant was one of those ordered into Scotland for the purpose of suppressing the rebellion, which broke out soon after the battle of Fontenoy; but, as a considerable loss of private men had been sustained, he was ordered to go upon the recruiting service to Chester, Manchester, Liverpool, and other places.
The recruits engaged by Young were paid the bounty-money without the least deduction, and he would not encourage them to spend any part of it in an extravagant or useless manner. In the space of four months he raised a hundred and fifty men; and it is presumed that the strict integrity of his conduct greatly promoted his success. Upon joining his regiment in Scotland, his officers advanced him to the post of sergeant-major, as a reward for his services. At the battle of Falkirk he put several of the rebels to death with his halbert, and behaved in other respects with remarkable intrepidity.
Upon the command of the army being assumed by the Duke of Cumberland, the regiment to which Young belonged was ordered to march to the north. On account of the singular bravery they displayed at the battle of Culloden, and the great slaughter of men, this regiment was not ordered to return to Flanders, but permitted to remain in Scotland.
Upon tranquillity being re-established in the Highlands, the fourth regiment was appointed to perform duty in Edinburgh Castle, and Young was dispatched to Bristol upon a recruiting expedition. He enlisted a considerable number of men at Bristol, and, on his return to Scotland, his officers complimented him with a handsome present. He was now sent to raise recruits in Yorkshire; and, while at Sheffield, in that county, he engaged in a criminal intercourse with the wife of an innkeeper, who, when he was preparing to depart, secreted property to a considerable amount, and followed her lover to Scotland. In a short time the innkeeper came to Edinburgh in search of his wife, and complained in passionate terms of the cruel and treacherous treatment he had received. The nature of his connexion with the woman being made public, Young appeared to be greatly disconcerted whenever be met with persons to whom he supposed the matter had been communicated; but in justice to his character we must observe, that, so far from encouraging the woman to rob her husband, he was entirely ignorant of every thing relating to that matter till her husband's arrival at Edinburgh. Notwithstanding the above affair, Young was still held in much esteem by his officers; and in a short tune the regiment was ordered to proceed to the North, and remained in the royal barracks at Inverness for above a twelvemonth.
Young being both sergeant-major and paymaster, many notes on the bank of Scotland necessarily came into his possession. While looking over some of these notes in the guard-room, a man named Parker, whom he had enlisted in England, observed that, if he had a few tools, he could engrave a plate for counterfeiting the notes on the Edinburgh bank. Young seemed to give but little attention to what the other said; but took him to an alehouse on the following day, and requested an explanation as to the manner of executing the scheme he had suggested. Parker informed him that, besides engraving an exact resemblance of the letters and figures, he could form a machine for printing such notes as should not he known from those of the Scotch hank.
In short, Young hired a private apartment for Parker, and supplied him with every utensil necessary for carrying the iniquitous plan into effect; and, in a short time, some counterfeit notes were produced, hearing a near resemblance to the real ones. Upwards of six months elapsed before the fraud was detected.
Orders being issued for the regiment to march to England, Young determined to procure cash for as many notes as possible previously to his departure from Inverness, knowing that in the southern parts the forgery would be liable to immediate detection. With this view he applied to Mr. Gordon, who was concerned in the stocking-manufactory at Aberdeen, and prevailed upon him to give sixty pounds in cash for notes expressing to be of the same value.
On his journey from Inverness, Mr. Gordon parted with several of the notes at different places; but, upon reaching Aberdeen, an advertisement in the newspapers, in the name of the governors of the bank at Edinburgh, convinced him that he had been deceived. In consequence of this Mr. Gordon wrote to the sheriff of Inverness, who immediately took Young into custody, and found three hundred notes, and the copper-plate from which they bad been printed, in his possession. Parker was admitted an evidence for the crown, and Young was removed to Edinburgh for trial before the High Court of Justiciary. After a trial that lasted a whole day, he was pronounced to be guilty, and sentenced to suffer death.
While this malefactor was under confinement be would not consent to be visited by the clergy, though several, from motives of humanity, were desirous of using their endeavours to prepare him for eternity. He was informed by his fellow-prisoners that, if he could procrastinate his execution beyond the appointed time, his life would of necessity be preserved; for that the crown law of Scotland declared that condemned prisoners should be executed between two and four o'clock on the days expressed. Being ignorant of the law, the unhappy man was amused by this story, and hoped to escape punishment by the following means: he secured the strong iron door of the room wherein he was confined in such a manner, that when the gaoler came, in order to conduct him to the place of execution, he could not gain admittance.
Upwards of fifty carpenters, smiths, masons, and other artificers, were sent for, to open a passage; but they all declined undertaking a business which they deemed to be impracticable, and were unanimously of opinion that an aperture could not be made in the wall without endangering the whole fabric.
Matters being thus circumstanced, the lord-provost and the rest of the magistrates assembled at the prison, and, after long debates, it was determined to form an opening to the room by breaking through the floor of that immediately above.
The opening being made, the prisoner leaped up, and, seizing a musket from one of the city guards, declared, with an oath, that, if any man attempted to molest him, he would immediately dash out his brains. Six of the soldiers, however, suddenly descended, and one of them received a terrible blow from the prisoner; but he was immediately after secured by the other five, and executed.
John Young underwent the sentence of the law in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh, about six o'clock on the evening of the 19th of December, 1748.
Young was not addicted to indulge himself in expensive pleasures; and we may suppose that his pay as a private soldier, added to the emoluments be derived from the posts of sergeant-major and paymaster to his regiment, would have proved equal to every reasonable gratification, especially in a country where the necessaries and conveniences of life were to be procured with moderate expense.
It must be acknowledged that his seduction of his master's maid-servant and the innkeeper's wife were offences of a most heinous nature; but in other respects his character was unimpeached: he was highly respected by his officers, and universally esteemed by all who were acquainted with him; be was in the way to preferment, and would, in all probability, have made a distinguished figure in life, had he been contented to proceed by the gradual advances to fortune; but, from the hint given by Parker, he conceived the hopes of speedily amassing great riches, without considering that wealth unjustifiably obtained must necessarily prove the source of affliction to the possessor.