This malefactor was a native of Spitalfields, and having a brother who was coachman to a gentleman of fortune, he conceived an idea of supplying his own extravagancies, by extorting money from his brother's master.
Calling on one Peter Salter, he took him to an obscure public-house near the Minories, where he developed his scheme, saying he might obtain a hundred guineas by sending a threatening letter; but was at a loss to think what house the money should he sent to: at length he fixed on a public-house, called the Shoulder of Mutton, at Billingsgate, whither he directed Salter to go, and wait till a porter should bring a letter directed to John Harrison, which letter Salter was to carry to Big, at an alehouse on Fish-street Hill.
Agreeable to this direction, Salter waited at the Shoulder of Mutton till a porter brought a letter, and spoke to the landlord and his son, who seemed surprised at reading the contents. Guilt is ever cowardly; and one of them going out, Salter imagined it was to call an officer to apprehend him; on which he slipped out of the house, and went to his companion on Fish-street Hill.
These associates in roguery taking a walk to Moor-fields, Big said he was undaunted by this repulse, and that he would write such a letter as would make the gentleman tremble; and he did not doubt of success. In consequence of an agreement between the parties, another letter was sent, ordering the gentleman to send a hundred guineas, inclosed in a parcel, to the Black Boy in Goodman's-fields, directed to John Harrison.
Salter went daily, and drank at this house, where he had hitherto been a stranger, in expectation of an answer, which he was to receive, guarding only against any artifice that might be used to apprehend him. While he was thus waiting, he read an advertisement in the newspaper, offering a reward for the incendiary.
At this juncture a, porter brought a letter, which he gave the landlord, who having read it, the porter said; "I have a parcel for one Mr. Harrison; do you know such a gentleman?" The landlord inquired if any person present answered to that name; but Salter was too much on his guard to do so; and drinking his beer without any sign of fear, he went to an alehouse near Aldgate, where he met his accomplice and told him a scheme was laid to apprehend him.
After some conference, they adjourned to a public-house near the residence of the gentleman to whom the threatening letters had been sent. Here Big sent for his brother, who attended, but said, as he was obliged to go out with his master, he could not stay with them. Big now observed that his brother had complained of the peevish disposition of his master, and asked if he did not intend to leave him. The brother replied, that his master had been very fretful for some days past: but added, "I have now found out the reason; for some vile rogue has sent a threatening letter, and swears he will murder him, if a sum of money is not sent to a public-house in Goodman's-fields."
When Big's brother was gone, he told Salter he would send another letter, whatever might be the consequence; but Salter persuaded him not to run the risk of a proceeding which must be followed by certain ruin.
A few days after this, the porter who had carried the letter and seen Salter at both the public-houses, happened to meet him, and suspecting that he might be the incendiary, delivered him into the custody of a peace-officer, on which he accused Big as the principal, who was thereupon apprehended and committed to Newgate, and Salter admitted evidence for the crown.
Big being tried at the Old Bailey, was sentenced to die; but, after conviction, he seemed to be of opinion that he had not been guilty of a capital offence in sending a letter to extort money. He was thought to be a Roman Catholic, since he refused the attendance of the Ordinary while he lay in Newgate.
He was hanged at Tyburn, on the 19th of September, 1729, but was so ill at the place of execution, that he could not attend the devotions proper for men in his calamitous situation.