Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Stolen Gay Love-Letters


From An Account of the Life and Actions of Joseph Powis, which he wrote in the Cells during his Confinement, and was given to the Printer.

[Note: Joseph Powis was found guilty of stealing and sentenced to death. He was scheduled to be hanged at Tyburn on Monday 9 October 1732, and the following "Last Words" were published accordingly, but in fact his sentenced was reprieved for one week. Despite the case and sentence being reconsidered, he was finally executed on 16 October.]

I went to the Master, Chancery-Office, in Chancery-Lane, where I had been before, and finding the Hole not stopt up, I got in, and finding the Drawer of the Great Table lock'd, I with some Difficulty got it open, and found therein upwards of four Pounds in Silver, and half a Guinea in Gold, and several Trifles, as a Pocket-Book garnish'd with Silver, a Silver Seal, and amongst some Papers I found three Letters of so extraordinary a Nature, that I know the Hand in which two of them was written, put them in my Pocket, they belong'd to —— ——, Clerk to the Masters, and were in his Drawer; as soon as I got to a Place where I had an Opportunity I began to read them, but they were so very shocking that I could not go thro' them, one was Anonymous, the other two were sign'd, Molly Soft-buttocks.

I unwarily shew'd them as something very uncommon to several People, some of whom owing me no Good-will, industriously spread a Report that I was a Sodomite, and that I thereby got my Living, using as a Proof thereof, what a great deal of Money I spent, which they said, I could not get honestly, (there they were right) and what contributed to this Report, was my going one Evening to pay a Visit to some young Women in the City, where I had been introduced some time before by an Acquaintance; I had Occasion to take out a Letter-Case, in which they were amongst my other Papers, and instead of putting it into my Pocket again, I put it beside, and it fell to the Ground. As I went in Quality of a Suitor to one of them, the Priviledge which it is natural for a young woman to take over those, who profess themselves Slaves to her Beauty, and a Female Curiosity concurring, caus'd them to examine it; in order thereto my Mistress and her Companion, who first saw it, being unwilling to be disturbed by any Person in the perusal thereof, and lock'd themselves into a Closet, and there amongst the rest they found the aforesaid Letters, which they needed not to read thro' for the Subject was plainly to be discerned at first Sight, or even by the Name at the Bottom. By this Time I miss'd my Letter-Case, and running back, I ask'd if any Body had seen it? my Mistress who came to the Door, replied very smartly, Yes, Miss Tooke, there it is. I was not able to speak for a Minute or two, I was so confounded; for as I came along I fancy'd that if they read it they wou'd then certainly believe that Report which before they had oppos'd; at last I took Courage to ask her, what she meant by calling me so? she replied, the Gentleman who was waiting for me under the Piazza would inform me; I knew by this that they had read them, for one of them began thus (Dear Miss Sukey Tooke) and appointed an Assignation under the Piazza in Covent-Garden; protested that I was no way concerned in them, and told them who they belong'd to; in short, shewed his Pocket-Book, which was garnish'd with Silver, and had his Name on it, of the same Hand with the two Letters; and the Knowledge of my Innocence added such force and energy to my Asseverations, that they believed me innocent; but finding the ill Consequence of carrying them about me, I by the Advice of a Friend burnt them, and in a little Time after, the World finding my Behaviour to contradict those Reports, as it had always done, began to forget them, and to esteem me again as a Man who had always too great an Inclination for the Fair Sex, ever to be concern'd with such Monsters, who if I could have my Desire, should not live to enjoy the common Advantage of Nature, but be cut off as they do mad Dogs to prevent Mischief.

SOURCE: The Orindary of Newgate, His Account of the Behaviour, Confession, and Dying Words, of the Malefactors, Who were Executed at Tyburn, On Monday the 9th of this Instant October, 1732, London: Printed and Sold by John Applebee, in Bolt-Court, near the Leg-Tavern, Fleet-street, 1732, pp. 27-9.

Newspaper Reports

Thursday, 12 October 1732

Monday, Octob. 9.   Yesterday a reprieve went to Newgate for Joseph Powis, who was ordered for execution this day. DP. (Grub-street Journal)

19 October 1732

Tuesday, Octob. 17.   Yesterday Joseph Powis was executed at Tyburn for burglary. C. — Contrary to his expectation; having declared in the Press-yard, that he doubted not of a reprieve before he reached the place of execution. DJ. (Grub-street Journal)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Stolen Gay Love-Letters," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 10 April 2000, updated 27 January 2006 <>.

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