Pickpocket and "Esquire," who swindled many Farmers and was executed at Tyburn, 19th of July, 1738, at the Age of Sixty
This hoary-headed sinner, who was both a pick-pocket and a swindler, was permitted to proceed in his career of villainy for a longer time than any who have fallen under notice. There is no species of robbery which he did not commit, or in which habitual practice had not made him a proficient.
His parents lived in the Old Jewry, and, being very poor people, his education was totally neglected. He kept bad company almost from his infancy, and becoming a pickpocket while yet a child, he continued that practice till he was above twenty years of age. He then took to a new mode of fraud. He used to meet porters and errand-boys in the streets and, by a variety of false pretences, get possession of the goods entrusted to their care. For one of these offences he was taken into custody, and tried at the Old Bailey, where he was acquitted in defect of evidence.
Having thus obtained his liberty, he had recourse to his former practices, till, being apprehended for stealing a sword, he was tried and convicted at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to seven years' transportation.
It happened that one of his fellow-convicts was possessed of a stolen bank-note, which was changed, as is presumed, with the captain of the vessel, who had a gratuity for their liberty; for when they arrived in America they were set at large, and took lodgings at New York, where they lived some time in an expensive manner; and the captain, on his return to England, stopped at Rotterdam, where he offered the stolen note to a banker; on which he was lodged in prison, and did not obtain his liberty without considerable difficulty.
Johnson and his associate, having quitted New York, embarked for Holland, whence they came to England, where they assumed the dress and appearance of people of fashion, and frequented all the places of public diversion. Thus disguised, Johnson used to mix with the crowd and steal watches, etc., which his accomplice carried off unsuspected.
In the summer-time, when London was thin of company, Johnson and his companion used to ride through the country, the former appearing as a gentleman of fortune and the latter as his servant. On their arrival at an inn they inquired of the landlord into the circumstances of the farmers in the neighbourhood, and when they had learned the name and residence of one who was rich, with such other particulars as might forward their plan, the "servant" was dispatched to tell the farmer that the "Esquire" would be glad to speak with him at the inn; and he was commissioned to hint that his master's property in the public funds was very considerable.
This bait generally succeeded: the farmer hastened to the inn, where he found the "Esquire" in an elegant undress; who, after the first compliments, informed him that he was come down to purchase a valuable estate in the neighbourhood, which he thought so well worth the buying that he had agreed to pay part of the money that day; but not having sufficient cash in his possession he had sent for the farmer to lend him part of the sum, and assured him that he should be no loser by granting the favour. To make sure of his prey, he had always some counterfeit jewels in his possession, which he used to deposit in the farmer's hands, to be taken up when the money was repaid; and, by artifices of this kind, Johnson and his associate acquired large sums of money; the former not only changing his name, but disguising his person so that detection was almost impossible.
This practice he continued for a succession of years, and in one of his expeditions of this kind got possession of a thousand pounds, with which he escaped unsuspected. In order to avoid detection he took a small house in Southwark, where he used to live in the most obscure manner, not even permitting his servant-maid to open the window lest he should be discovered.
Thus he continued committing these kinds of frauds, and living in retirement on the profits arising from them, till he reached the age of sixty years; when, though he was poor, he was afraid to make fresh excursions to the country, but thought of exercising his talents in London.
Thereupon he picked the pockets of several persons of as many watches as produced money enough to furnish him with an elegant suit of clothes, in which he went to a public ball, where he walked a minuet with the kept mistress of a nobleman, who invited him to drink tea with her on the following day.
He accepted the invitation, when she informed him that she had another engagement to a ball, and should think herself extremely honoured by his company. He readily agreed to the proposal; but, while in company, he picked the pocket of Mr Pye, a merchant's clerk, of a pocket- book, containing bank-notes to the amount of five hundred pounds.
Pye had no idea of his loss till the following day, when he should have accounted with his employer. When the discovery was made, immediate notice was sent to the bank to stop payment of the notes; and Johnson was actually changing one of them, to the amount of fifty pounds, when the messenger came thither. Thereupon he was taken into custody, and being tried at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, for privately stealing, was capitally convicted; and this offence being without the benefit of clergy, he was sentenced to death.
His behaviour after condemnation was consistent with his former character; he expressed neither remorse nor repentance, but seemed perfectly sensible to the awful fate which awaited hem. He was hanged at Tyburn, on the 19th of July, 1738, without making any confession of his crimes, and refusing to join in the customary devotions on such an awful occasion, though a sinner of above sixty years of age