City of London hoaxed by a False Proclamation of War, April, 1778
AT the sessions held at the Old Bailey in June, 1778, Alexander Scott was indicted for that he, on the 23rd of April last, unlawfully, wickedly and maliciously did publish false news, whereby discord, or occasion of discord, might grow between our Lord the King and his people, or the great men of the realm, by publishing a certain printed paper containing such false news; which said printed paper is of the tenor following: --
"In pursuance of his Majesty's Order in Council to me directed, these are to give public notice that war with France will be proclaimed on Friday next, the 24th instant, at the Palace Royal, St James's, at one of the clock, of which all heralds and pursuivants-at-arms are to take notice, and give their attendance accordingly. Given under my hand this 22nd day of April, 1778.
In this case the prisoner was imposed on by the artifices of some man who wished to take advantage of the credulity of the good people of England.
Scott was a bill-sticker. Between ten and eleven o'clock on the night of the 22nd of April, 1778, a person muffled up in a greatcoat, and having his hat strapped, went to the prisoner, and told him he came from Mr Strahan, the King's printer, saying, "You stick up bills for him?" Scott answered in the affirmative. The man said he wanted him to stick up some bills in the morning, saying he must stick some round the Exchange, and one at Wood Street, where war was to be proclaimed; and he demanded what Scott wanted for his trouble. The latter inquired how many bills he had, and the stranger said only a dozen. Scott said he would not charge Mr Strahan anything; but the other said he desired he should be paid, and asked if five shillings would do. Scott said it was too much; but his employer insisted on his taking the money, saying it was a thing that did not happen every day.
In the morning Scott stuck up nine of the bills about the Royal Exchange, and one at the end of Wood Street; and as he is an engine-keeper, as well as a bill-sticker, he went afterwards before justice Girdler to make affidavit respecting a fire that had happened.
Meanwhile the town was alarmed by the supposed extra ordinary news: stocks fell one per cent; and the circumstance coming to the knowledge of the Lord Mayor he sent to the west end of the town to inquire into the truth of the affair, and found it was all an imposition.
In the meantime Richard Willis having seen Scott stick up some bills at the Royal Exchange, and Thomas Thorn, one of the Exchange keepers, having taken them down, by order of the Lord Mayor, Joseph Gates, an officer, traced Scott to the Golden Cross, a public-house opposite Justice Girdler's, and told him he must go before the Lord Mayor, for he had been guilty of high treason. Scott said: "I hope not; I have a family of children." Scott said, on his trial, that he had read the proclamation, and did not know but that it was true; but he had never seen his employer since that time.
On the trial, the Earl of Effingham, Deputy Marshal of England, under the Duke of Norfolk, deposed that the paper was not printed by his direction; that he knew nothing of it till after it was stuck up, nor gave any authority to any person to print or publish such a paper.
Thejury did not hesitate, to give a verdict that the prisoner was not guilty.