The Life of THOMAS REEVES
a Notorious Highwayman and Footpad
As it is not to be denied that it is a singular blessing to a nation where no persecution is ever raised against persons for their religion, so I am confident that the late Free Thinking principles (as they have been called) have by their being spread amongst the vulgar, contributed greatly to the many frauds and villainies which have been so much complained of within these thirty years, and not a little to encouraging men in obtaining a subsistence and the gratification of their pleasures by rapines committed upon others rather than live in a laborious state of life, in which, perhaps, both their birth and circumstances concurred to fix them.
Thomas Reeves was a very remarkable as well as very unfortunate instance of that depravity in moral principles of which I have been speaking. By his friends he was bred a tinman, his father, who was of that profession, taking him as an apprentice but using him with the most indulgent fondness and never suffering him to want anything which was in his power to procure for him, flattered himself with the hopes of his becoming a good and happy man. It happened very unfortunately for Reeves that he fell, when young, into the acquaintance of some sceptical persons who made a jest of all religion and treated both its precepts and its mysteries as inventions subservient to priestcraft. Such notions are too easily imbibed by those who are desirous to indulge their vicious inclinations, and Reeves being of this stamp, greedily listened to all discourses of such a nature.
Amongst some of these companions who had cheated him out of his religion, he found some also inclined to practise the same freedom they taught, encouraged both by precept and example. Tom soon became the most conspicuous of the gang. His boldness and activity preferred him generally to be a leader in their adventures, and he had such good luck, in several of his first attempts, that he picked up as much as maintained him in that extravagant and superfluous manner of life in which he most of all delighted. One John Hartly was his constant companion in his debauches, and generally speaking an assistant in his crimes. Both of them in the evening of the ninth of March, 1722, attacked one Roger Worebington, near Shoreditch, as he was going across the fields on some business. Hartly gave him a blow on the head with his pistol, after which Reeves bid him stand, and whistling, four more of the gang came up, seized him, and knocked him down. They stripped him stark naked and carried away all his clothes, tying him hand and foot in a cruel manner and leaving him in a ditch hard by. However he was relieved, and Reeves and Hartly being soon after taken, they were both tried and convicted for this fact.
After the passing sentence, Reeves behaved himself with much indifference, his own principles stuck by him, and he had so far satisfied himself by considering the necessity of dying, and coined a new religion of his own, that he never believed the soul in any danger, but had very extensive notions of the mercy of God, which he thought was too great to punish with eternal misery those souls which He had created. This criminal was, indeed, of a very odd temper, for sometimes he would both pray and read to the rest of the prisoners, and at other times he would talk loosely and divert them from their duty, often making enquiries as to curious points, and to be informed whether the soul went immediately into bliss or torment, or whether, as some Christians taught, they went through an intermediate state? All which he spoke of with an unconcernedness scarce to be conceived, and as it were rather out of curiosity than that he thought himself in any danger of eternal punishment hereafter.
Hartly, on the other hand, was a fellow of a much softer disposition, showed very great fear, and looked in great confusion at the approach of death. He got six persons dressed in white to go to the Royal Chapel and petition for a pardon, he being to marry one of them in case it had been procured, but they failed in the attempt, and he appeared less sensible than ever when he found that death was not to be evaded.
At the place of execution, Reeves not only preserved that resolution with which he had hitherto borne up against his misfortunes, but when the mob pushed down one of the horses that drew the cart, and it leaning sideways so that Reeves was thereby half hanged, to ease himself of his misery he sprung over at once and finished the execution.
Hartly wept and lamented exceedingly his miserable condition, and the populace much pitied him, for he was not twenty years of age at the time he died; but Reeves was about twenty-eight years of age, when he suffered, which was at the same time with John Thomson, before mentioned.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals