The Life of THOMAS BURDEN
Thomas Burden was born in Dorsetshire, of parents in tolerable circumstances, who being persons getting their living by seamen, they bred up their son to that profession, and sent him very young to sea. It does not appear that he ever liked that employment, but rather that he was hurried into it when he was very young by the choice of his parents, and therefore in no condition to choose better for himself. He was up in the Straits several years, and while there in abundance of fights, at which time he had so much religion as to apply himself diligently to God in prayer for his protection, and made abundance of vows and resolutions of amendment, if it pleased the providence of God to preserve his life. But no sooner was the danger over, but all these promises were forgotten until the next time he was in jeopardy.
At this rate he went on until the war was over, and notwithstanding the aversion he always had to a military kind of life, yet such was his unconquerable aversion to labour, that he rather enlisted himself in the land service than submit thereto. Going, however, one day to Hounslow to the house of one of the staff officers of his regiment, and not finding him at home, but only a corporal who had been left at the house to give answers, with this corporal he sat chatting and talking until night; so that being obliged to stay there until the next morning, a discourse somehow or other happened between him and the person who entertained him, about William Zouch, an old man who lived alone on the common. And Burden having been drinking, it came into his head, how easily he might rob such an old man. Upon which, he immediately went to his house, and finding him sitting on the bench at his door, he began to talk with and ask him questions. The old man answered him with great mildness, until at last Burden drew an iron instrument out of his cane, threatening him with death if he did not reveal where his money was. Zouch thereupon brought it him in a pint pot, being but one-and-thirty shillings. Then tying the old man in his chair, Burden left him. But it seems he did not tie him so fast but that he easily got loose, and alarming the town, Burden was quickly taken, having fled along the Common, which was open to the eye for a long way, instead of taking into the town or the woods, which if he had, in all probability he might have escaped. When Whittington and Greenbury apprehended him, he did not deny the fact, but on the contrary offered them money to let him go.
After his conviction he manifested vast uneasiness at the thoughts of death, appearing wonderfully moved that he who had lived so long in the world with the reputation of an honest man, should now die with that of a thief, and in the manner of a dog. But as death grew nearer, and he saw there was no remedy, he began to be a little more penitent and resigned, especially when he was comforting himself with the hopes that his temporal punishment here might preserve him from feeling everlasting misery. With these thoughts having somewhat composed himself, he approached the place where he was to suffer, with tolerable temper and constancy, entreating the people who were there in very great numbers to pray for him, and begging that all by his example would learn to stifle the first motions of wickedness and sin, since such was the depravity of human nature that no man knew how soon he might fall. At the same place he delivered a paper in which he much extenuated the crime for which he suffered, and from whence he would feign have insinuated that it was a rash action committed when in drink, and which he should certainly have set right again when he was sober. In this frame of mind he suffered, on the 29th of April, 1724, being then about fifty years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals