Jonathan Wild Exposes Charles Hitchin



Charles Hitchin was the Under City Marshal and a famous "thief-taker", who was responsible for the capture and subsequent hanging of the famous Jonathan Wild. As a result of Wild's exposure of Hitchin as a sodomite, Hitchen himself was eventually convicted. Hitchin was a member of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, which campaigned against immorality; he used his position to extort money from both bawdy houses and molly houses. Hitchin (who was married) used his wife's inheritance to buy the office of Under City-Marshall in January 1712 for £700. This valuable post enabled him to regulate some 2,000 thieves, to blackmail them and others, to receive stolen goods and extract enormous sums of money from their owners for returning them. In 1713 Hitchin was temporarily suspended because of complaints that he was abusing his office; however, he was reinstated on promise of good behaviour. He first made contact with Wild in that year, probably through two of his boys, Christopher Plummer and William Field, who were both in the Compter at the same time as Wild; they began a partnership that was to last for only a year. They seem to have become jealous of one another, and soon were again pursuing their separate careers. In 1718 Hitchin attacked Wild in A True Discovery of the Conduct of Receivers and Thief-Takers, libelling Wild as "the king of the gipsies, . . . King among the thieves, and lying-master-general of England, Captain-general of the Army of plunderers". Wild immediately published a counter-attack, An Answer To A Late Insolent Libel . . . With a Diverting Scene of a Sodomitish Academy (1718). Wild was hanged on 24 May 1725. Evidence was given against Wild by William Field, who once was one of Hitchin's men; Field himself was eventually hanged, and he is the person upon whom "Fitch" in John Gay's The Beggar's Opera (1728) was modelled (Wild of course is "Peachum"). Field's own sub-gang included James Dalton, whose Genuine Narrative (1728) is also published on this website. Hitchen was convicted of attempted sodomy in 1727. The following begins with an excerpt from a contemporary discussion of Wild's trial in 1725, and then follows with the text of Wild's attack on Hitchin published in 1718.

Rictor Norton

But, to look a little back, we must here observe, that, before Jonathan made any great Figure, he was for some Time an Assistant to Charles Hitchin, the City-Marshall, in searching infamous Houses, and apprehending disorderly Persons.

After several Rambles together for promoting so blessed a Work, these hopeful Reformers fell to Loggerheads about one another's Honesty, and so they parted; and each of them separately pursued the Business of Thief-taking.

In the same Year, 1715, Jonathan left his House in Cock-Alley, and took Lodgings at Mrs. Seagoe's in the Old-Bailey, where he went on in his own Calling successfully, notwithstanding the Marshall's Opposition. The Marshall was greatly enrag'd, and rashly vow'd that he would expose Jonathan's Rogueries, and make him asham'd to shew his Face. Jonathan desired him to do his worst. The Marshall went to work, and, in the Year 1718, published a most stupid Pamphlet, under the Title of, The Regulator: Or, a Discovery of the Thieves, Thief-taker, and Locks, — in and about the City of London, with the Thief-taker's Proclamation: Also an Account of all the Flash Words now in Vogue among the Thieves, &c.

. . . [This attack provoked the counter-attack from Wild, which follows.]

Jonathan Wild's Account of himself, and the City Marshall.

— When two of a Profession are at Variance, the World is let into many important Discoveeries; and, whether it be among Thief-takers, Lawyers, or Clergymen, an Expectation naturally arises of some Billingsgate Treatment. — For the Satisfaction of the World in this particular, I shall, like a true Cock of the Game, answer Mr. Hitchen at his own Weapons. —

. . . And it is a notable Piece of Inconsistency [for Hitchen] to say, that taking Whores out of Bawdy-Houses, and sending them to Work-houses, makes them Thieves. By this Way of arguing, the Houses of Correction, instead of deterring Inquity, encrease Thefts, and Robberies, and the Reformers of Manners are the Promoters of Wickedness. — But it's no wonder that the Marshal, throughout his Treatise, expresses a great deal of Uneasiness at the Informers, for those Persons very much lessen his Interest in suppressing Houses of Leudness, the Keepers whereof have been generally Pensioners to him. — I can produce Persons who will make it appear, that several Houses of ill Fame are supported by quarterly Payments to him. Besides, there being frequently Sums of Money extorted from Libertines for Connivance at their Leudness, and sometimes from Persons entirely innocent, unacquainted with the Character of those Houses. And he has of late been so audacious, as to examine Taverns of the best Reputation, and insist upon yearly Compositions from them, tho' the only Payment, he has met with, has been a Salute with a Crab-tree Cudgel, and a decent Toss in a Blanket.

He has shewn such an Excellence in the Flash or Cant Dialect, that every Body must allow him a Master, and that Experience only must have compleated him. — His Dialogue demonstrates his great Knowledge in the Intrigues of Pick-pockets, House-breakers,and Highwaymen; and a Man would swear by his apt Description, that he had been an Actor in all. The Boys in the Ken swearing and grinning like so many Hell-Cats, and the Man in the Silver-button'd Coat, and knotted Wig, with a Sword by his Side, is an exact Scene of a City-Officer, and his Company of Pickpockets at an Alehouse between Moorfields and Islington, where they used to Rendezvous daily, the Boys giving an Account of their Day's Work, and the Master dispensing further Instructions.

I need not mention his being nearer the Pillory than ever a certain Person was to the Stocks. — And, however a certain diminutive Person may resemble a Baboon [which is how Hitchin characterized Wild], it is evident to all that knew the gigantic City Marshall [Hitchin was tall and portly; a print of him survives], that he wants nothing but a Cloven Foot to personate, in all Respects, his Father Belzebub.

There are many other Particulars which I shall omit, and proceed to several Matters of Fact, to make appear, that (instead of a Scoundrel Author's being intirely free from all the evil Practices he has treatedof) he is guilty of the same Crimes he pretends to fix upon others.

After the Marshal's Suspension in his Office, and he was forbid Attendance on the Lord-Mayer. He on a Time apply'd himself to the Buckle-maker near Cripple-gate, in the following Manner:

I am very sensible that you are let into the Knowledge of the Intrigues of the Compter, particularly with Relation to the securing of Pocket-Books: But your Experience is inferior tomine; I can put you in a far better Method than you are acquainted with, and which may be done with Safety; for, tho' I am suspended, I still retain the Power of acting as Constable, and, notwithstanding I can't be heard before my Lord-Mayer as formerly, I have Interest among the Aldermen upon any Complaint. But I must first tell you, that you'll spoil the Trade of Thief-taking, in advancing greater Rewrds than are necessary; I give but Half a crown a Book, and, when the Thieves and Pick-pockets see you and I confederate, they'll submit to our Terms, and likewise continue their Thefts for fear of coming to the Gallows by our Means. — You shall take a Turn with me as my Servant, or Assistant, and we'll commence our Rambles this Night.

The Night approaching, the Marshall and the Buckle-maker began their Walk at Temple-bar, call'd in at several Brandy-shops, and Alehouses, between that and Fleet-ditch: Some of the Masters of these Houses complimented the Marshal with Punch, others with Brandy, and some presented him with fine Ale, offering their Service to their worthy Protector. The Marshal made them little Answer; but gave them to understand, all the Service he expected from them was, to give him Information of Pocket-books, or any Goods stolen, as a Pay-back; "for you Women of the Town, (addressing himself to some Females in one of the Shops) make it a common Practice to resign Things of this Nature to the Bullies and Rogues of your Retinue; — but this shall be no longer borne with, I'll give you my Word, both they and you shall be detected, unles syou deliver all the Pocket-books you meet with to me. What do you think I bought my Place for, but to make the most of it?

. . . [Wild gives a long list of misdemeanours.]

As a Proof of his dealing from the beginning with Pick-pocket Boys, I need only mention the Cause of his being suspended; which was for his conniving at the Intrigues of the Pock-pockets; taking the stolen Pocket-Books, and sending threatening Letters to the Persons that lost them, under Pretence that they had been in Company with lewd Women, and for extorting Money from several Persons, and one in particular, who making his Complaint to an eminent Apothecary, in the Poultry, that knew the Villainy of the Marshal, the Affair was brought before the Court of Aldermen, where, upon Examination the Marshal was found guilty of that and many other notorious Crimes, upon which he was suspended.

For another Part of the Marshal's Character, I shall insert the following entertaining Adventure.

One Night the Marshal invited his Man, the Buckle-maker, to a House near the End of the Old-Bailey, telling him, that he could introduce him to a Company of He-Whores. The Man, not rightly apprehending his Meaning, asked him if they were Hermaphrodites? — No, ye Fool you, (said the Marshal) they are Sodomites, such as deal with their own Sex instead of Females. This being a Curiosity the Buckle-maker had not hitherto met with, he willingly accompanied his Master to the House, which they had no sooner enter'd, but the Marshal was complimented by the Company with the Titles of Madam and Ladyship. The Man, asking the Occasion of this uncommon Devoirs, the Marshal said it was a familiar Language peculiar to the House. The Man was not long there, before he was more surpriz'd that at first. The men calling one another my Dear, and hugging, kissing, and tickling each other, as if they were a Mixture of wanton Males and Females, and assuming effeminate Voices and Airs. Some telling others that they ought to be whipp'd for not coming to School more frequently. The Marshal was very merry in this Assembly, and dallied with the young Sparks with a great deal of Pleasure, til some Persons came into the House that he little expected to meet with in that Place: And then, finding it out of his Power to secure the Lads to himself, he started upon a sudden in a prodigious Rage, asking the frolicking Youths, if they were become so common as to use these obnoxious Houses, and telling them he would spoil their Diversion; upon this he made his Exit with his Man. As he was going out of the House he said, he supposed they would have the Impudence to make a Ball. The Man desiring him to explain what he meant by that, he answer'd, that there was a noted House in Holborn, to which such sort of Persons used to repair, and dress themselves up in Woman's Apparel; and dance and romp about, and make such a hellish Noise, that a Man would swear they were a Parcel of Cats a Catter-wauling. — But, says he, I'll be reveng'd of these smock-fac'd young Dogs. I'll Watch their Waters, and secure 'em, and send 'em to the Compter.

Accordingly the Marshal knowing their usual Hours, and customary Walks, placed himself with a Constable in Fleet-street, and dispatch'd his Man, with another to assist him, to the Old-Bailey. At the expected Time several of the sporting Youngsters were seized in Women's Apparel, and convey'd to the Compter. Next Morning they were carried before the Lord-Mayor in the same Dress they were taken in. Some were compleatly rigg'd in Gowns, Petticoats, Head-cloths, fine lac'd Shoes, furbelow'd Scarves and Marks; some had Riding-hoods; some were dressed like Milk-Maids, others like Shepheardesses with green Hats, Waistcoats and Petticoats; and others had their Faces patch'd and painted, and wore very extensive Hoop-petticoats, which had been very lately introduced. His Lordship having examin'd them, committed them to the Work-house, there to continue at hard labour during Pleasure. And, as Part of their Punishment, order'd them to be publickly conducted thro' the Streets in their Female Habits. Pursuant to which order the young Tribe was carried in Pomp to the Work-house, and remain'd there a considerable Time, till at last, one of them threaten'd the Marshal with the same Punishment for former Adventures, and he thereupon apply'd to my Lord-Mayor, and procured their Discharge. This Commitment was so mortifying to one of the young Gentlemen, that he died in a few Days after his Release. — Any that want to be acquainted with the Sodomitish Academy, may be inform'd where it is, and be graciously introduced by the accomplish'd Mr. Hitchin.

SOURCE: Select Trials at the Sessions-House in the Old-Bailey, From the Year 1720, to this Time, Dublin, Printed by S. Powell, For W. Smith in Dame-street, G. Faulkner, in Essex-street, and Oli. Nelson, in Skinner-Row, 1742, vol. 2, pp. 223, 231-4, 247-9.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Jonathan Wild Exposes Charles Hitchin, 1718," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 29 April 2000, updated 16 June 2008 <>.

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