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


a Highwayman

James Wright, the malefactor whose life we are going to relate at present, was born at Enfield, of very honest and industrious parents, who, that he might get a living honestly, put him apprentice to a peruke-maker. At this trade, after having served his time, he set up in the Old Bailey, and lived there for some time in very good credit. But being much given up to women, and an idle habit of life, his expenses quickly outwent his profits, and thus in the space of some months reduced him to downright want. This put him upon the illegal ways he afterwards took to support himself in the enjoyment of those pleasures which even the evils he had already felt could not make him wise enough to shun.

He was very far from being a hardened criminal, hardly ever robbing a passenger without tears in his eyes, and always framing resolutions to himself of quitting that infamous manner of life, as soon as ever it should be in his power. He fancied that as the rich could better spare it than the poor, there was less crime in taking it from them, and valued himself not a little that he had never injured any poor man, but always singled out those who from their equipage were likeliest to yield him a good booty, and at the same time not be much the worse for it themselves. He had gone on for a considerable space in the commission of villainies with impunity, but at last being apprehended for a robbery committed by him in the county of Surrey, he was thereupon indicted and tried at the ensuing assizes at Kingston, and by some means or other, was so lucky as to be acquitted, no doubt to his very great joy; and on this deliverance he again renewed his vows of amendment.

After this acquittal a friend of his was so kind as to take him down to his house in the country, in hopes of keeping him out of harm's way; and indeed 'tis highly probable that he had totally given over all evil intention of that sort, when he was unfortunately impeached by Hawkins, one of his old companions, and on his evidence and that of the prosecutor whom he found out, Wright was taken up, tried and convicted at the Old Bailey. When he perceived there was no hope of life he applied himself to the great business of his soul, and behaved with the greatest composure imaginable. He declared himself a Roman Catholic, yet frequented the chapel all the time he was in Newgate, and seemed only studious how to make peace with God.

When the fatal day of execution approached, he was far from seeming amazed, notwithstanding that after mature deliberation he refused to declare his associates, or how they might be found, saying that perhaps they might repent, and he hoped some of them had done so, and he would not bring them to the same ignominious death with himself. The fact he died for, viz., robbing Mr. Towers, with some ladies in a coach in Marlborough Street, he confessed, also that his companion called out to him, "What, do they resist? Shoot 'em." He suffered with all the outward signs of penitence, on the 22nd of December, 1721, being about thirty-four years of age.