Arson and Extortion, 1730

[A spate of threatening letters followed up by arson attacks began in the last week of September 1730, when the house of a prominent merchant named George Packer was burned down. A gang of 20 Irish fellows were arrested in early October, having about them several threatening letters which they were about to deliver, and there were scores of newspaper reports of incendiary letters throughout November.]

26 November 1730   Early yesterday morning [18 Nov.], Mr. Clements, a baker in Milford-lane in the Strand, had a letter thrown into his shop. The following is a copy of the said letter: ‘Mr. Clements, This is to warn you to put 15 guineas this night, between 9 and 10 o’clock, under the post at your bakehouse door; and if you do not, expect that your wife and you shall not live an hour after, and your house shall be consumed by fire. Likewise inform your brother Smith, that he is warned also to put 7 guineas, his watch, and a ring that he wears, at the same time, under the spout that carries the water from off your house, or between the window and the said spout; and upon his not so doing, he and his wife must likewise expect to suffer immediate death, with you and yours.’

The same afternoon the following letter was delivered to Mr. Hall’s servant, viz.

To Mr. Robert hall an apholstrer at the angell in Honsditch, thees. Sir, I desire as you wou’d send me the sum of five pounds, for to be lade under the Lamp post the corner of algate Church Wall in hondich. This Night with out fale, upon the penalty of Death to you or youre Wife If ever you are sean any more at the oure of seven or Eaght of Clock this present enstant November the 17. 1730. Therefor Dont fale me, for If you do, I will sertanly be the Death of you and youre Wife.’

From the spelling of this letter, I am a little suspicious, that some of our renegado members, not being able to live by Weekly Journal or Register, are turning incendiaries in a literal sense.

The following lines were sent to Mr. Spragging, a rast merchant at Newark, viz.

Spragging remember thou art but dust,
And to thy neighbour very unjust:
Thou neither sticks at great nor small,
’Till vengeance once does on thee fall.
I think how soon thou wilt be undone;
In flames of fire thy rasts shall burn,
And neither escape thy house nor thee.
Mark well these words, for I have said
What I intend, when thou art in bed.

Friday a letter was dropp’d into a cellar-window belonging to the house of Franc. Cocks, Esq; at Appleby in Westmoreland, requiring him and one Mr. James to put 25 guineas in an old hat that should be left at Mr. James’s door: and, in case of refusal, threatning to set fire to their houses, and murder them and their families.

Two men have been apprehended at Croydon, (the one a Mulatto, and the other an Irishman) for sending a threatning letter to Mr. Pet. Champion of that town: we hear that the Mulatto has informed against the Irishman. — Both equally honest, but one a little more cunning than the other.

. . . We hear that P. Walter of Westminster, Esq; had yesterday [20 Nov.] one of the modern villainous threatning letters sent him. — On Wedn. night Mr. Cholmly, the bookbinder, in Bennet’s-court in the Strand, had a 4th letter sent him. — One of the same sort of letters, sign’d Old Nick, was received by Mr. Sparks, a victualler in Stanhope-street, Clare-market, a few days since.

— A few days ago Mr. Tho. Bentley, of Sandwich, received a letter directing him to put 10 guineas into the mouth of a cannon. He, being so advised, put the 10 guineas as directed. On Wedn night 4 men came to the cannon, one of which they seized, with his hand in it, but the other 3 escaped. He proved to be an inhabitant of the town named Burton, and ’tis believed he cannot write.

Yesterday a Proclamation was publish’d against persons feloniously sending letters, demanding money, or other effects, and against other offenders therein mentioned; whereby a reward of 300l. is offered for discovering and apprehending (within the space of one year next ensuing) any person, who within these 4 months past hath sent, or hereafter shall send any threatning letters, demanding money, &c. or hath, or shall hereafter, set fire to any house, &c. provided they be convicted thereof; and likewise a free pardon and the same reward to any one who shall discover his accomplices, except the person who actually set fire to any house, &c. the reward to be paid imediately upon conviction. . . .

Another letter was sent on the 17th to Dr. Allen, of Bridgewater, which seems to be writ in the Hibernian strain, viz. ‘Sir, Sence have sent unto you and you hav not answered, and you will obstinate and will not comply with the Proposals that I made, and I find that you have not done as I command you, theref it is better that you will comply then that your Hous be burnt for if you do not answer it, I will do this by G—d, you have set a watch, but we will do it when we see fit and convenient, and will do it effectually by G—d, you think because we do not do it the time propose that we will do it not at all and that is what you sit your resolution upon. Your mistaken Packer Turn is gone and your will come speedely upon my soul. I conclude. It cost me money in paper you shall pay for it by G—d. We was present with you last night.’ . . .

Last week several threatning letters were sent to several of the inhabitants of Brentford, demanding certain sums of money, &c. — Tues. last a letter was dropped in the Crown-Inn yard in Blandford, direct to Mr. John Pearcy, master of the said inn, threatning to set his hayricks on fire, &c.

From Malborough we have an account, that an anonymous letter was sent to one Mr. Bicknel, a shop-keeper at Wootton-Basset, demanding 5 guineas, &c. that he did not put the money as required, but set a watch the first night, and no body coming to look for the money, they neglected to watch the second night, when his back-house was set on fire, which was intirely consumed, and it was very near catching hold of his dwelling-house. The loss is computed at 50l. . . .

Norwich, Nov. 21.   On Mond. evening last a letter was stuck into the door of one of the Alderman, threatning to burn his house, the houses of 10 others, and the work-houses, if he did not within a week comply with the terms of the said letter. A reward of 100l. is ordered for discovering the person. — Yesterday another horrid letter was sent to John Pell, Esq; Mayor, threatning to burn him, and the whole city. [Grub-street Journal]

7 January 1731   Bristol, Jan. 2. At Barnstable, 3 incendiaries were lately taken up, and conducted to Exeter-Jail, one was handsomely dress'd, and had a considerable sum about him. In those parts they go by the name of the Bristol Firemen. [Grub-street Journal]



(Texts have been modernized with regard to capitalization, italicization, and punctuation, but original spelling has been retained. This edition copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. These extracts may not be archived, republished or redistributed without the permission of the compiler.)

CITATION: Rictor Norton, Early Eighteenth-Century Newspaper Reports: A Sourcebook, "Arson and Extortion, 1730", 18 November 2001, updated 28 November 2001, enlarged 20 April 2002 <>

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