The Life of JEPTHAH BIGG
an Incendiary, and Writer of Threatening Letters
I have already taken notice in the life of Bryan Smith of the Act of Parliament on which the proceedings against these letter-writers are grounded. One would be surprised that after more examples than one of that kind, people should yet be found so foolish as well as wicked as to carry on so desperate an enterprise, in which there is scarce any probability of meeting with success; yet this unfortunate person of whom we are now to speak, who was descended of mean parents, careful however of giving him a very good education, fell upon this project, put into his head by being a little out of business, and so in one moment cancelled all his former honesty and industry, and hazarded a life which soon after became forfeited.
His friends had put him out apprentice to a gunstock maker, to which he served out his time honestly and with a good character. Afterwards he continued to work at his business with several masters and tolerable reputation, until about a year before the time of his death, when he was out of work, by reason he had disobliged two or three persons for whom he had wrought, and had also been guilty of some extravagancies which had brought him into narrow circumstances. These straits it is to be supposed put him upon the fatal project of writing a letter to Mr. Nathaniel Newman, senior, a man of a very good fortune, threatening him that unless he sent the sum of eighty-five guineas to such a place, he would murder him and his wife, with other bloody and barbarous expressions. This not having its effect, he wrote him a second letter by the penny post, demanding one hundred guineas, with grievous threatenings in case they were not sent. This soon made a very great noise about town, and put Mr. Newman upon all methods possible for detecting the author of these villainous epistles, and as everybody almost looked upon it as a common case, to which any gentleman who is supposed to be rich might be liable, such indefatigable pains were taken that in a short time the whole mystery of iniquity was discovered and Bigg apprehended.
At the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was indicted capitally for this offence, and after the counsel for the prosecutor had fully opened the heinous nature of the crime, Peter Salter was the first witness called to prove it upon the prisoner. He deposed that Jepthah Bigg came to him where he was at work in the Minories, and desired him to go with him, having something to say to him of consequence; whereupon the witness would have gone to the sign of the Ship where he used, but the prisoner would needs go to the Sieve in the Little Minories. There he communicated to him his design, and then prevailed on Salter to go to the Shoulder of Mutton alehouse at Billingsgate, where Bigg directed him to call for drink, and to wait until a porter came to him with a parcel directed to John Harrison, when if he suspected anything, he should come to the prisoner at the King's Head alehouse, on Fish Street Hill. This the evidence performed punctually, whereupon Bigg sent him a second time to the Blackboy, in Goodman's Fields, where a second parcel was left, though of no value. Whereupon Bigg would have had the evidence Salter concerned in a third letter to the same purpose, but Salter declined it and dissuaded him as much as lay in his power, from continuing to venture on such hazardous things. Upon which the prisoner replied, "You need not fear. Nothing can hurt you; my life is in your hands; but if ever you reveal the matter, you shall share the same fate."
John Long, servant to Mr. Newman, deposed that he delivered two penny post letters to his master on the 20th and 27th of March. Other witnesses swore as to the sending of the parcels, and the jury on the whole, seeing the fact to be well proved against the prisoner, found him guilty.
Under sentence of death at first the poor man behaved himself like one stupid. He pretended that he did not know the offence that he had committed was capital, and afterwards exclaimed against the hardness of the Law which made it so; but some little pains being taken with him in those points, he was soon brought over to acknowledge the justice of his sentence, and the reasonableness of that Statute which enacted it into a capital offence.
As the day of his death drew nigh he was still more and more drowned in stupidity and lost to all thought or concern for this world or that to come, at least as to outward appearance. Some said he was a Roman Catholic, but while the poor wretch retained his senses, he said nothing that could give any ground for a suspicion of that sort. He heard the discourses which the Ordinary made to him, with as much patience as the rest did, and when he visited him in the cell, did not express any uneasiness thereat. Indeed, in the passage to execution, there were two fellows in the cart who would fain have had the minister desist from his duty, urging the same reason, that the criminal was in communion with another Church. The man, himself, seemed stupid and speechless all the way, yet when he was turned off, the reverend Ordinary tells us, he went off the stage crying out aloud, "O Lord! etc." This seems to me a very indecent way of concluding a dying speech, but as it is that which is generally used, I shall not stay to bestow any further reflections upon it. He died on the 19th of May, 1729, being about twenty-five years of age.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals