Who robbed on the Highway together, the Woman being executed in 1685 and the Man being killed by a Gunshot Wound
THESE two criminals flourished from the year 1680 to 1684, during which time they committed a great number of robberies and frauds. Their natural inclinations to such a manner of living first brought them together, and kept up the union between them till they were separated by justice, though we cannot learn that they were ever married, Joan only assuming the name of her companion, as is common in such cases, the better to colour their living together, and impose on the world.
Edward Bracey had been a highwayman before he fell into company with his pretended wife, who was the daughter of a wealthy farmer in Northamptonshire, named John Phillips. The beginning of their acquaintance was Bracey's making love to her in hopes of getting a large sum of money out of the old man for a marriage portion, and then leaving both wife and father-in-law. But he was very agreeably deceived; for Joan was as good as he. She suffered herself to be first debauched by him, and then consented to rob her father, and go along with him on the pad; all which she accordingly accomplished. They now passed for husband and wife wheresoever they went, frequently robbed together on the highway, and as often united in picking of pockets and shoplifting at all the country fairs and markets round about.
It was next to impossible that they should continue this course of life long together without coming into trouble. One or the other of them was often in danger of the gallows, but they had both the good fortune to escape till they had got a large quantity of money. The dread of justice more than a desire to live honestly now prevailed upon them to quit their vocation and take to some creditable business, in which they might spend the remainder of their days in quiet, and live comfortably upon what they had acquired by their industry. In order to do this they took an inn in the suburbs of Bristol, where they met with success, having a large trade in particular for wine, which was occasioned by the beauty of our landlady. It is no uncommon thing for a husband to get money by his having a handsome wife, especially if they have both art enough to manage an intrigue, which was the present case. All the gay young fellows of the place came to drink with Madam Bracey, purely for the sake of having an opportunity to discover their love. She gave them all encouragement so long as they could spend a great deal of money, and then took care not only to turn them out of doors, but to expose them sufficiently.
It may not be amiss to give an instance of this her manner of using her suitors. One Mr Day, an eminent citizen of Bristol, was among the number of her humble servants. He made her a great many fine proposals, and she received them all with abundance of complaisance, consenting at last that he should make use of the first opportunity that offered to take a night's lodging with her. In a little time Mr Day was informed that his landlord, Bracey, was to be abroad on such a night, and that nothing could happen more favourably to his wishes. He went at the time appointed with all the ardour of a lover, and was received by a maidservant, who told him her mistress had gone to bed, and waited impatiently for him; but desiring him however to pull off his clothes, and leave them in another room, where he might be concealed, and have time to dress himself again, in case any surprise should happen. The innocent Mr Day thanked her for the contrivance, and hugged himself in the thought of the mistress's sincere affection, because the maid was so careful for his safety.
Mrs Abigail led him to the room appointed, put out the candle on account of mere modesty, and stayed at the door while Mr Day undressed himself; which he did in two minutes. Now the best of the comedy was to be played: our tractable maid conducted the gallant to a door, which she told him opened into her mistress's chamber, bid him enter softly, and immediately turned the key upon him. Here Mr Day wandered about to find the bed, and pronounced the name of Mrs Bracey as loud as he dared, that she might give him directions; but no Mrs Bracey answered. He was sufficiently amazed at the oddness of the scene, but was yet more surprised when he tumbled down a pair of stairs against the back door of the house. The contrivance was now plain; he saw that mistress and maid were agreed not only to balk his passion, but to strip him of his clothes also. It was in vain to call and make protestations; he received no other answer than that the back door was only bolted, and he might open if he pleased, and go about his business.
This door opened into a narrow dirty lane, down which the common sewer ran; and there was no going out at it unless you got into a coach, or upon a horse, directly off the steps, which was the only use made of it, and that not often, especially in the winter-time, as it was at present. Mr Day knew all these inconveniences; but the terrible pinching cold, and the shame of being discovered if he stayed till broad daylight, made him go out, wade through the mud, and make the best of his way home, where he was heartily laughed at by those friends to whom he told the story; which were only such as he could not conceal it from, and even upon these he laid the severest injunctions imaginable never to divulge a word of it. They kept the secret from everybody else, but diverted themselves privately with poor Mr Day all his life afterwards.
Everyone whom our honest innkeepers imposed on were not, however, so easy as Mr Day; so that in less than a twelvemonth's time their house became so scandalous that they were obliged to leave it, and then they had nothing to do but to take to their old courses again, being by this time pretty well got over the apprehensions they were under of a halter. At their first setting out again they played such a trick as was hardly ever matched, which was the woman's contrivance as well as Bracey's. We shall relate this also, in as few words as we can conveniently.
A young gentleman who had spent his fortune had used their house all the time they had been at Bristol, and got a pretty deal into their debt. They knew he was heir to an estate of about a hundred pounds a year, which was kept from him only by the life of an old distempered uncle, and they had a mighty itching to get this reversion into their hands. In order to this, Joan threatened him grievously with a prison for what he owed them, till she perceived he was heartily frightened, and would do anything to keep his liberty. She knew besides that he was viciously inclined, and only wanted a little introduction to be made anything of that they could wish. Upon this she told him what she and her husband were going upon, and prevailed with him to join them. In a day or two after she informed him that a rich tradesman was coming to Bristol with a large quantity of money, and that he must accompany her husband to-morrow to take it from him. Accordingly Bracey and the young man set out, stopped a person on the road, and took from him above a hundred pounds, with which they returned home together. The man that was robbed had been sent out with the money in his pocket for that very purpose.
As soon as the fact was over, and they had got their dupe safe, madam told him plainly that he must make over the reversion of his estate to them, or her husband should immediately swear the robbery upon him, and get him hanged for it. The terror he was under, and the promise of liberty upon complying, made him do all they desired. After which they still kept him in their house till they had sold it again, obliging him to assure the purchaser that he had received a valuable consideration of Mr Bracey; which was readily enough believed, because everybody knew the young gentleman's extravagances. They got fourteen hundred pounds by this bargain, with which they immediately made off, leaving the unfortunate spark to lament his folly. The name of this young man was Rumbald.
Joan after this usually dressed herself in men's apparel, and she and her fellow-adventurer committed a great many robberies together on the highway. At last, however, fortune put an end to their progress in iniquity; for as they were robbing a person of quality's coach together in Nottinghamshire, madam was apprehended, and carried to Nottingham Jail. At the next assizes she was condemned by the name of Joan Bracey, and in April, 1685, she was executed, aged twenty-nine years.
Her pretended husband got off at the time she was taken, and concealed himself for some time after by skulking about the country. One day, being at a public inn, he was seen by somebody whom he had robbed, who immediately got assistance, and came to take him, being at the stair-foot with armed men before Bracey knew anything of the matter. It happened that in the room where he was, one of the drawers had left his cap and apron, which Bracey in a moment snatched up and put on, running downstairs ready to break his neck, and crying out as he ran, "Coming, gentlemen, coming," as if he were waiting upon company above. This stratagem preserved his life a little longer, for the gentleman who came to secure him, not apprehending anything, let him pass as a drawer, though he had taken so much notice of his face before; so that he got his horse out of the stable and rode off while they were searching the house for him. Two or three of his companions, who were with him in the inn, and knew nothing of the occasion of his running down so, were apprehended and brought to justice.
This escape, however, did him but little service; for about three or four days after, stopping at a little house to drink, and leaving his white mare, on which he usually robbed, at the door, another gentleman who had suffered by him came by, alarmed the neighbourhood upon his knowledge of the beast, and beset the house before he had the least notice. As soon as he heard a noise of men at the door he ran out, and attempted to mount; but two or three pieces were instantly discharged at him, one of them killing his mare, and another taking off several of his fingers. He then endeavoured to leap over some pales, and get off by the back side of the house, when another discharge was made at him from a fowling-piece, which lodged several great goose-shot in his guts, and wounded him so that he dropped down on the place and died in three days afterwards.