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


a Thief

Stupidity, however it may arise, whether from a natural imperfection of the rational faculties, or from want of education, or from drowning it wholly in bestial and sensual pleasures, is doubtless one of the highest misfortunes which can befall any man whatsoever; for it not only leaves him little better than the beasts which perish, exposed to a thousand inconveniences against which there is no guard but that of a clear and unbiased reason, but it renders him also base and abject when under misfortunes, the sport and contempt of that wicked and debauched part of the human species who are apt to scoff at despairing misery, and to add by their insults to the miseries of those who sink under their load already.

James White, who is to be the subject of the following narration, was the son of very honest and reputable parents, though their circumstances were so mean as not to afford wherewith to put their son to school, and they themselves were so careless as not to procure his admission into the Charity School. By all which it happened that the poor fellow knew hardly anything better than the beasts of the field, and addicted himself like them, to filling his belly and satisfying his lust. Whenever, therefore, either of those brutish appetites called, he never scrupled plundering to obtain what might supply the first, or using force that might oblige women to submit against their wills unto the other.

While he was a mere boy, and worked about as he could with anybody who would employ him, he found a way to steal and carry off thirty pounds weight of tobacco, the property of Mr. Perry, an eminent Virginian merchant; for which he was at the ensuing assizes at the Old Bailey, tried and convicted, and thereupon ordered for transportation, and in pursuance of that sentence sent on board the transport vessel accordingly. Their allowance there was very poor, such as the miserable wretches could hardly subsist on, viz., a pint and a half of fresh water, and a very small piece of salt meat "per diem" each; but that wherein their greatest misery consisted was the hole in which they were locked underneath the deck, where they were tied two and two, in order to prevent those dangers which the ship's crew often runs by the attempts made by felons to escape. In this disconsolate condition he passed his time until the arrival of the ship in America, where he met with a piece of good luck (if attaining liberty may be called good luck) without acquiring at the same time a means to preserve life in any comfort. It happened thus.

The super-cargo falling sick, under the usual distemper which visits strangers at first coming if they keep not to the exact rules of temperance and forbearance of strong liquors, ran quickly so much in debt with his physician that he was obliged immediately to go off, by doing which six felons became their own masters, of whom James White was one. He retired into the woods and lived there in a very wretched manner for some time, till he met with some Indian families in that retreat, who according to the natural uncultivated humanity of that people cherished and relieved him to the utmost of their power.

Soon after this, he went to work amongst some English servants, in order to ease them, telling them how things stood with him, viz., that he had been transported, and that for fear of being seized he fled into the woods, where he had endured the greatest hardships. The servants pitying his desperate condition relieved him often, without the knowledge of their mistress until they got him into a planter's service, where though he worked hard he was sure to fare tolerably well. But at length being ordered to carry water in large vessels over the rocks to the ship that rode in the bay underneath it, his feet were thereby so intolerably cut that he was soon rendered lame and incapable of doing it any longer. The family thereupon grew weary of keeping him in that decrepit state he was in, and so for what servile scullion-like labour he was able to do, a master of a ship took him on board and carried him to England.

On his return hither, he went directly to his friends in Cripplegate parish and told them what had befallen him, and how he was driven home again almost as much by force as he was hurried abroad. They were too poor to be able to conceal him, and he was therefore obliged to go and cry fruit about the streets publicly, that he might not want bread. He went on in this mean but honest way, without committing any new acts that I am able to learn, for the space of some months. Then being seen and known by some who were at that employed (or at least employed themselves) in detecting and taking up all such persons as returned from transportation, White amongst the rest was seized, and the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey convicted on the Statute. He pleaded that he was only a very young man, and if the Court would have so much pity on him as to send him over again, he would be satisfied to stay all his life-time in America; but the resolution which had been taken to spare none who returned back into England, because such persons were more bloody and dangerous rogues than any other, and when prompted by despair, apt to resist the officers of justice, took place, and he was put into the death warrant.

Both before and after receiving sentence, he not only abandoned himself to stupid, heedless indolence, but behaved in so rude and troublesome a manner as occasioned his being complained of by those miserable wretches who were under the same condemnation, as a greater grievance to them than all their other misfortunes put together. He would sometimes threaten women who came into the hold to visit modestly, tease them with obscene discourse, and after his being prisoner there committed acts of lewdness to the amazement and horror of the most wicked and abandoned wretches in that dreadful place. Being however severely reprimanded for continuing so beastly a course of life, when life itself was so near being extinguished, he laid the crime to his own ignorance, and said that if he were better instructed he would behave better, but he could not bear being abused, threatened and even maltreated by those who were in the same state with himself. From this time he addicted himself to attend more carefully to religious discourses than most of the rest, and as far as the amazing dullness of his intellects would give him leave, applied to the duties of his sad state.

Before his death he gave many testimonies of a sincere and unaffected sorrow for his crimes, but as he had not the least notion of the nature, efficacy or preparation necessary for the Sacrament, it was not given him as is usually done to malefactors the day of their death. At the place of execution he seemed surprised and astonished, looked wildly round upon the people, and then asking the minister who attended him what he must do now, the person spoke to instructed him; so shutting his hands close, he cried out with great vehemence, "Lord receive my soul."

His age was about twenty-five at the time he suffered, which was on the 6th day of November, 1723.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals