A sacrilegious Villain who murdered a Footman and was executed on the 16th of April, 1703
JACK WITHERS was the son of a butcher, born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, where he served an apprenticeship with his own father. Want of business when he was out of his time made him come up to London, and his evil genius, when he was there, soon threw him into the way of destruction, for he engaged himself with a society of thieves, by a conversation he got into, from whence he was sent into Flanders for a soldier, as was then the custom of dealing with offenders who were not judged worthy of death. While he was abroad he could very indifferently brook the being obliged to live on a foot soldier's pay, which bore no proportion to his late expenses. This put him on a great many shifts, and made him take all opportunities of making up the deficiency of his income.
Going into a church in Ghent, where the people were all at High Mass, and seeing most of them cast money into a box that stood under an image of the Virgin Mary, it made his fingers itch for the coin; so, watching for a fair opportunity, with a crooked nail he picked the lock, and crammed as much of the treasure as he could into his pockets. But doing it over-hastily, and dropping some of the pieces, they made such a jingling on the marble pavement that, as ill luck would have it, he was discovered, seized, and dragged before a great cardinal then in that town.
This arch-priest, examining the witnesses as to the fact, and finding it plain, exclaimed prodigiously against Withers, by the titles of rogue, rascal and sacrilegious villain; and was just going to condemn him to a severe punishment when Jack, falling on his knees, with uplifted hands and tears in his eyes, begged his Eminence to hear him. This, after much storming, was granted, and silence being made, Jack, in a piteous tone, told him that he was a vile, wicked wretch, bred up a Protestant and a heretic, and being in great distress he had made his prayers before the image of the Blessed Virgin to relieve him in his hard necessity, promising, in consideration thereof, to turn Roman Catholic, and ever be her votary; when all of a sudden the box under her image flew open, and she pointed with her finger to the money, making also a dumb show, with nodding her head, for him to supply his necessities out of it, which he had thank- fully done, with a resolution of keeping his vow for ever. This relation being heard with much patience and attention, the Cardinal cried out, "A miracle! A miracle!" —- which all the rest rehearsed out aloud, concluding that none had more right to dispose of that money than the Virgin, to whom it was offered. Instead of being punished, Jack Withers was now carried back to the church in solemn procession on men's shoulders, and borne round it in triumph, whilst Ave Maria was sung by the priests, and he placed before the High Altar; after which he was dismissed with great applause.
Proving so fortunate in this cheat, he was thereby emboldened to commit another like it; for one day, going into a church in Antwerp, he perceived the priest put a silver crucifix of great value into a sepulchre, as their ceremony is in representing the Resurrection upon Easter Day; and whilst the spiritual juggled and the people were going round the church, Jack Withers was so dexterous as to convey the crucifix into his breeches and shuffle among the crowd; so that when the priest came back to it, saying these words in the Gospel, "Non est hic, surrexit enim" —- that is, "He is not here, for He is risen" —- he found it so indeed. For, after much fumbling, he perceived his graven god was gone —- and Withers then made what haste he could away, for fear of a search.
But a little after the playing of this prank, Jack, running away from his colours, came into England again, where, preferring an idle course of life before any lawful employment, he took to the highway. One day meeting with an old miser upon the road, who was his father's neighbour, he commanded him to stand and deliver what he had, or otherwise he was a dead man. The old man, being surprised, pleaded great poverty, in hopes of saving about a hundred guineas and broad-pieces of gold, which he had in the pockets of his wide knee-breeches, containing cloth enough to make a gentlewoman a hooped petticoat; but all his whining prevailed nothing with Jack. He was then for coming to composition with him, by giving him one half of his money to save the other, but Withers swore a great oath of the first rate that he would not abate him a farthing of cent. per cent. The old man, fumbling a good while in his pocket, at length lugged out his purse and pair of spectacles, putting which on his nose, he gave his money to Jack Withers.
After this, Jack Withers, and one William Edwards, setting on a person of quality within a mile or two of Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, the lord that was assaulted, who had only one footman with him, had the courage to oppose them, and held so hot a dispute to save what he had that Withers's horse was shot, and Edwards was obliged to carry him off behind him; and, a close pursuit being made after them, they were forced to quit that horse and make their escape on foot through by-lanes and over fields, where none on horseback could ride after them. Hiding themselves in a wood all night, the next morning they made the best of their way to London; but about a mile out of Uxbridge, meeting with a penny-post man, they assaulted him on the queen's highway, and having taken from him about eight shillings, Withers, to prevent his discovery of them (though much against the will of his comrade Edwards), took a butcher's knife out of his pocket, and with it not only cut the throat of the unhappy man, but ripped out his bowels, and filling the body full of stones threw it into a pond, where it was found the next day. None could tell the author of this in- human murder till Withers and his companion were apprehended, about two months after, for a country robbery, when, being condemned at the Lent Assizes at Norfolk, on the 16th of April, 1703, the day of their execution, at Thetford, Withers confessed the fact.