An amorous Highwayman, who was executed at Leicester in May, 1708
JACK OVET, a shoemaker by trade, was born at Nottingham, where his abode was for four or five years after he had served his apprenticeship. But being always of a daring, audacious disposition, his unruly temper induced him to keep very lewd and quarrelsome company, and depending on his manhood, it inspired him with an inclination of laying aside his mechanical employment to translate himself into a gentleman, by maintaining that quality on the highway.
Immediately equipping himself, as a highwayman ought, with a good horse, hanger and pistols, he rode towards London; and on the road had the good success of robbing a gentleman of twenty pounds, who, being one of great courage, told Ovet that if he had not come upon him unawares, and surprised him at a disadvantage, he should have given him some trouble before he would have parted with his money. Quoth Ovet: "Sir, I have ventured my life once already in committing this robbery; however, if you have the vanity to think yourself a better man than me, I'll venture once more. Here's your money again; let it be betwixt us, and whoever of us is the best man let him win it and wear it." The gentleman very willingly accepted the proposal, and making use of their swords on foot, Jack Ovet had the fortune to kill his antagonist on the spot.
Not long after he killed another man in a quarrel at Leicester; but flying from justice he still cheated the hangman of his due, and without any dread pursued his unlawful courses to the highest pitch of villainy. One day, in particular, meeting the pack-horses of one Mr Rogers, who went from Leominster, in Herefordshire, to London, and being in great want of money, he turned one of them out of the main road into a narrow lane, where, cutting open the pack, he found therein about two hundred and eighty guineas in gold, besides three dozen of silver-hafted knives and forks and spoons, which he carried off. The other pack-horses had gone about two miles before Mr Rogers missed this; and then making a strict search after it, he found it tied to a tree, and the pack thrown off its back and rifled of what was most valuable.
Another time Jack Ovet, meeting with the Worcester stage-coach on the road, in which were several young gentlewomen, robbed them all; but one of them being a very handsome person, he entertained such a passion for her exquisite charms that when he took her money from her he said: "Madam, cast not your eyes down, neither cover your face with those modest blushes; your charms have softened my temper, and I am no more the man I was. What I have taken from you (through mere necessity at present) is only borrowed; for as no object on earth ever had such an effect on me as you, assure yourself that if you please to tell me where I may direct to you, I'll upon honour make good your loss to the very utmost." The young gentlewoman told him where he might send to her, and they parted. It was not above a week after that before Jack sent the following letter to the aforesaid gentlewoman, who had gained such an absolute conquest over his soul that his mind ran now as much upon love as robbing:-
MADAM,-These few lines are to acquaint you that though I lately had the cruelty to rob you of twenty guineas, yet you committed a greater robbery at the same time in robbing me of my heart; on which you may behold yourself enthroned, and all my faculties paying their homage to your unparalleled beauty. Therefore be pleased to propose but the method how I may win your belief, and were the way to it as deep as from hence to the centre, I will search it out. For by all my hopes, by all those rites that crown a happy union, by the rosy tincture of your checks, and by your all-subduing eyes, I prize you above all the world. Oh, then, my fair Venus, can you be afraid of Love? His brow is smooth, and his face beset with banks full of delight; about his neck hangs a chain of golden smiles. Let us taste the pleasures which Cupid commands, and for that unmerited favour I shall become another man, to make you happy. So requesting the small boon of a favourable answer to be sent me to Mr Walker's, who keeps an ale-house at the sign of the Bell in Thornbury, in Gloucestershire, give me leave to subscribe myself your most humble servant to command for ever,
THE GENTLEWOMAN'S ANSWER
SIR,-Yours I received with as great dissatisfaction as when you robbed me, and admire at your impudence of offering me yourself for a husband, when I am sensible 'twould not be long ere you made me a hempen widow. Perhaps some foolish girl or another may be so bewitched as to go in white to beg the favour of marrying you under the gallows; but indeed I should venture neither there nor in a church to marry one of your profession, whose vows are treacherous, and whose smiles, words and actions, like small rivulets through a thousand turnings of loose passions, at last arrive to the dead sea of sin. Should you therefore dissolve your eyes into tears, was every accent a sigh in your speech, had you all the spells and magic charms of love, I should seal up my ears that I might not hear your dissimulation. You have already broken your word in not sending what you villainously took from me; but not valuing that, let me tell you, for fear you should have too great a conceit of yourself, that you are the first, to my remembrance, whom I ever hated; and sealing my hatred with the hopes of quickly reading your dying speech, in case you die in London, I presume to subscribe myself yours never to command,
This was the end of Jack Ovet's warm amour, and he was soon after as unsuccessful in his villainy as he was here in love; for committing a robbery in Leicestershire, where his comrade was killed in the attempt, he was closely pursued by the country, apprehended, and sent to jail, At last, the assizes being held at Leicester, he was condemned. Whilst he was under sentence of death he seemed to have no remorse at all for his wickedness, nor in the least to repent of the blood of two persons which he had shed; so being brought to the gallows, on Wednesday, the 5th of May, 1708, he was justly hanged in the thirty-second year of his age.