JOHN HARTLEY AND THOMAS REEVES
Footpads, who were executed at Tyburn on the 4th of May, 1722, after One had, by a Ruse, petitioned the King
JOHN HARTLEY and Thomas Reeves were indicted at the Old Bailey for stopping a journeyman tailor in the fields near Harrow and robbing him of twopence and his clothes, and because he had no more money they stripped and beat him most inhumanly, and bound him to a tree.
While he was in this wretched situation some persons who came by unbound him and took him to an ale-house, where he told the particulars of the robbery, mentioned the colour of his clothes, and described the persons of the robbers to the best of his power.
These circumstances were heard by a fiddler, who, going next day into a public-house in Fore Street, saw the fellows offering to sell the tailor's coat. The fiddler immediately proposed to be the purchaser, gave earnest for it and, pretending he had not money enough, said he would fetch the difference; instead of which he brought the party robbed, and he knowing the footpads they were taken into custody.
The evidence on their trial was so plain that the jury could not hesitate to find them guilty; in consequence of which they received sentence of death.
After conviction their behaviour was unbecoming to persons in their unhappy circumstances.
That of Reeves was particularly hardened; he would sing and swear while the other convicts were at prayers, yet he told the ordinary that he was certain of going to heaven.
The most curious circumstance arising from the detection of these offenders was the singular method which Hartley took to save his life. He procured six young women, dressed in white, to go to St James's and present a petition on his behalf. The singularity of their appearance gained them admission, when they delivered their petition, and told the King that if he extended the Royal mercy to the offender they would cast lots which should be his wife; but his Majesty said that he was more deserving of the gallows than a wife, and accordingly refused their request.
As they were going to execution the ordinary asked Reeves if his wife had been concerned with him in any robberies. "No," said he, "she is a worthy woman, whose first husband happening to be hanged, I married her that she might not reproach me by a repetition of his virtues." At the fatal tree Reeves behaved in the most hardened manner, affected to despise death, and said he believed he might go to heaven from the gallows as safely as from his bed.
These offenders suffered at Tyburn on the 4th of May, 1722.
We see, in the instance of these malefactors, from what a casual circumstance their detection arose. A man hears a description of them in a public house; the next day he goes accidentally into another ale-house, where he sees them offering the stolen goods for sale; and, by an honest deception, procures their being taken into custody. The poor fiddler had no interest in their detection but what arose from his abhorrence of vice; yet he was so regardful of what he had heard, that he became the immediate instrument of bringing them to justice.
Hence let us learn to admire the inscrutable mysteries of the providence of God, which, as they surpass our finite comprehension, should excite our wonder and our gratitude. Nothing can be hid from the all-seeing eye of Heaven; and the man that commits a crime with the hope of concealing it does but treasure up a fund of uneasiness for his own mind: for, even if the crime should be concealed from the public, he will be perpetually harassed with the corroding stings of a guilty conscience, and at all times carry with him a hell in his own bosom!