Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 Lives of Remarkable Criminals: James Butler


a Most notorious Highwayman, Footpad, etc.

James Butler was the son of a very honest man in the parish of St. Ann's, Soho, who gave him what education it was in his power to bestow, and strained his circumstances to the utmost to put him apprentice to a silversmith. James had hardly lived with him six months when his roving inclination pushed him upon running away and going to sea, which he did, with one Captain Douglass in a man-of-war.

Here he was better used than most young people are at the first setting out in a sailor's life. The captain being a person of great humanity and consideration, treated James with much tenderness, taking him to wait on himself, and never omitting any opportunity to either encourage or reward him. But even then Butler could not avoid doing some little thieving tricks, which very much grieved and provoked his kind benefactor, who tried by all means, fair and foul, to make him leave them off. One day, particularly, when he had been caught opening one of the men's chests and a complaint was thereupon made to the captain, he was called into the great cabin, and everybody being withdrawn except the captain, calling him to him, he spoke in these terms.

"Butler, I have always treated you with more kindness and indulgence than perhaps anybody in your station has been used with on board any ship. You do, therefore, very wrong by playing such tricks as make the men uneasy, to put it out of my power to do you any good. We are now going home, where I must discharge you, for as I had never any difference with the crew since I commanded the 'Arundel', I am determined not to let you become the occasion of it now. There is two guineas for you, I will take care to have you sent safe to your mother."

The captain performed all his promises, but Butler continued still in the same disposition, and though he made several voyages in other ships, yet still continued light-fingered, and made many quarrels and disturbances on board, until at last he could find nobody who knew him that would hire him. The last ship he served in was the "Mary", Capt. Vernon commander, from which ship he was discharged and paid off at Portsmouth, in August, 1721.

Having got, after this, into the gang with Dyer, Duce, Rice and others, they robbed almost always on the King's Road, between Buckingham House and Chelsea. On the 27th of April, 1723, after having plundered two or three persons on the aforesaid road, they observed a coach coming towards them, and a footman on horseback riding behind it. As soon as they came in sight Dyer determined with himself to attack them, and forced his companions into the same measures by calling out to the coachman to stop, and presenting his pistols. The fellow persisted a little, and Dyer was cocking his pistol to discharge it at him, when the ladies' footman from behind the coach, fired amongst them, and killed Joseph Rice upon the spot.

This accident made such an impression upon Butler that though he continued to rob with them a day or two longer, yet as soon as he had an opportunity he withdrew and went to hard labour with one Cladins, a very honest man, at the village called Wandsworth, in Surrey. He had not wrought there long, before some of his gang had been discovered. His wife was seized and sent to Bridewell in order to make her discover where her husband was, who had been impeached with the rest. This obliged him to leave his place, and betake himself again to robbing.

Going with his companions, Wade, Meads, Garns and Spigget, they went into the Gravesend Road, and there attacking four gentlemen, Meads thought it would contribute to their safety to disable the servant who rode behind, upon which he fired at him directly, and shot him through the breast. Not long after, they set upon another man, whom Meads wounded likewise in the same place, and then setting him on his horse, bid him ride to Gravesend. But the man turning the beast's head the other way, Meads went back again, and shot him in the face, of which wound he died.

When Butler lay under sentence of death he readily confessed whatever crimes he had committed, but he, as well as the before-mentioned criminal, charged much of his guilt upon the persuasions of the evidence Dyer. He particularly owned the fact of shooting the man at Farnham. Having always professed himself a Papist, he died in that religion, at the same time with the afore-mentioned criminal, at Tyburn.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals