The Life of JOHN JOHNSON
In excuse of taking base measures to procure money there is no plea so often urged as necessity, and the desire of providing for a family otherwise in danger of want. The reason of this is pretty evident, since nothing could be a greater alleviation of such a crime. But the word necessity is so equivocal that it is hard to fix its true meaning, and unless that can be done, it will be as hard to judge of the reasonableness of such an excuse.
John Johnson, the criminal on whose life we are next to cast an eye, was born of a very honest and reputable family in the county of Nottingham, and received in his youth the best education they were capable of giving him. By this he became able to read tolerably and write well enough for that business to which he was bred, viz., a tailor. Throughout his apprenticeship he behaved himself virtuously and industriously, and left his master with the character of a faithful and deserving young man. When his time was out, and he had wrought for some time as a journeyman in the country, the common whim of coming up to London seized him; and after he had spent some time in town in working hard at his trade, he married a wife with whom he lived in good correspondence for many years, with the esteem and respect of all who knew him. But his family increasing and he consequently finding the charge of maintaining them rise higher than formerly, and, what was worse, that all he was capable of doing could not maintain them, he grew very melancholy.
After considering several projects for making his circumstances more easy, he at last pitched upon going into Lincolnshire, as a place where the cheapness of provisions might balance the number of mouths he had to feed. But he had not been long there before he discovered his mistake, for the smallness of wages made everything rather dearer than cheaper, which plunged him into new difficulties, and rendered him incapable of ease or satisfaction. While his wits were thus on the rack, and his invention stretched to the uttermost in order to find out some means or other to recoup his pockets, he unfortunately fell into the company of a man who, under the pretence of being his most zealous friend, became, though perhaps unwittingly, the instrument of his utter ruin. For his appearing ever disconsolate and melancholy gave the countryman an opportunity of prying into the cause of his concern, which he soon discovered to be the narrowness of his circumstances. As we naturally find ease in communicating our afflictions to others, so Johnson was ready enough to inform him of the truth of his affairs, and the man no less assiduous in endeavouring to help him out of these straits into which he had fallen.
At last, his Lincolnshire acquaintance told him there was but one way of recovering his misfortunes and living like a man without labour, to which Johnson began now to have a great aversion, and therefore he eagerly desired to be acquainted with this delightful way of getting on. With a grave face his associate told him that what he was about to propose could not be effected without some risk, but that a man could not expect to live without trouble or without hazard. Johnson said it was true, and desired only to be informed wherein the hazard consisted, as he would make no scruple of running it, for he lacked courage as little as any man.
Upon this his companion opened to him his whole scheme, which consisted in a method of counterfeiting the silver coin to a tolerable degree of likeness. Johnson was easily drawn in, for he thought there could be no speedier way of getting money than making it. His country friend helped him to the necessary implements, and Johnson applied himself with such earnestness to his new occupation that in a very short time he greatly outdid his master, giving the false money he had made so perfect a similitude to the specie for which he made it that it was impossible to distinguish it by the eye. But thinking it much more hazardous to attempt putting off in the country than it would be in London, and his fellow labourer being of the same opinion, they first went to work and coined a considerable sum according to their method, and they came up to dispose of it, as Johnson had proposed.
By this time misfortune and remorse had taught the poor man whose life we are writing to addict himself too much to drinking, especially to strong liquors, so that the first experiment he made of the practicability of getting rid of his false money was in putting off two sixpences to a distiller for gin, in which he succeeded without being suspected. But going to a shoemaker's and buying there a ready-made pair of shoes, he was seized for attempting to pay the man with two bad half-crowns, which though they looked pretty well to the eye, were nevertheless much too light when they came to be weighed against the metal that it was intended they should pass for.
When carried before a Justice his heart soon failed him and almost as soon as he was asked he revealed the whole truth of the matter, impeaching both the countryman who had taught him and a person with whom they had trusted the secret here in town. However, his confession was of little benefit to him, for at the next sessions he was capitally convicted and from thenceforward cast off all hopes of life. As he was a man who did not lack good natural parts, during the short time he had to live he endeavoured to make his prayer to God for the forgiveness of the many errors of his life, attending also constantly at the time of public devotion. Yet for all this he could not be persuaded that there was any great degree of guilt in what he had done, but imagined on the contrary that he was much more innocent than his fellow malefactors, regretting, however, the heavy misfortune he had brought upon himself and family, two of his children dying during the time of his imprisonment, and his wife and third child coming upon the parish. In which sentiments he continued until the day of his execution, which was on the same with the before-mentioned John Turner, this criminal being then about fifty years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals