I’ve previously published one version of the story of Charles Towers; here is a contemporary telling from the Ordinary of Newgate’s Account. It’s not the complete document; I’ve removed the parts not relating to Towers, meaning those to the William Anderson and the Ordinary’s scriptual quotes. The full text can be found on Old Bailey Proceedings Online.
From this document, we learn more of who Towers was. A butcher, with a wife, two children and a third on the way, gambling is cited as the cause of his fall, although it is said that his circumstances were so poor that he resorted to gaming to rescue himself and his family. He had ‘form’, previously being sentenced to – and reprieved from – transportation for stealing a spoon, a crime he denied. He spent 4 years in the sanctuary of Southwark Mint, and with its end, applied for amnesty under the terms of the 1722 Act against Southwark Mint, his name being listed amongst the petitioners in the London Gazette, no. 6171, 8th June 1723:
So with the end of the Southwark Mint, he “was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.”
This account also points at the statute he was executed by:
against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign.
This is clearly a reference to the notorious ‘Black Act’, 9 Geo 1 c22, “An act for the more effectual punishing wicked and evil-disposed persons going armed in disguise, and doing injuries and violences to the persons and properties of his Majesty’s subjects, and for the more speedy bringing the offenders to justice.” This statute will be the subject of my next post.
THE ORDINARY of NEWGATE his ACCOUNT, Of the Behaviour, Confession, and last Words of Charles Towers, who was Executed at Wapping in the Parish of St. Paul Shadwell, on Monday the 4th of this Instant January: And also of William Anderson, who was Executed at Tyburn on Tuesday the 5th of the aforesaid Month.
AT the KING’S Commission of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer and Goal-Delivery, &c. Held (before the Right Honourable Sir George Merttins Knt. Lord Mayor , the Right Honourable the Lord Chief Justice King, Mr. Justice Dormer, Mr. Baron Page, Mr. Serjeant Raby, and several of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, for the City of London and County of Middlesex) at Justice-Hall in the Old Baily, on Friday, Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, being the 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th Days of December last, four Men were by the Jury found guilty of Capital Offences, and received Sentence accordingly.
Two of the Persons, so sentenced, having obtained His Majesty’s Reprieve, viz. Rowland Swanson and Thomas Herbert; the remaining two, viz. Charles Towers and William Anderson were appointed for Execution.
Though they at first (especially Charles Towers) were incapacitated as to the performance of their Duty, by the Anger and Resentment their Condition had fill’d them with, ( Charles Towers in particular, at the same time that he acknowledged the rescuing the Prisoner West from the Hands of John Errington, affirming he was no way designedly disguised and that he no way apprehended he had any occasion to disguise himself, any more than had Tims, Bowler, Tibbs, Fencote, or any other upon the same Enterprize)
Yet they afterwards became sensible of the Folly of their Resentment; and as the Friends and Relations of Towers refused to give him any Hopes of a Reprieve, or Expectations of Life, he changed his Passion into Grief and Sorrow, that he had lost, by his neglect, the Use of Letters and Reading. As Rowland Swanson of the Four was alone able to Read, he very industriously assisted his Fellow Prisoners, and call’d upon them to listen to the Scriptures early each Morning, and before they went to Rest at Night. They were all very frequent and regular in their Devotions, when alone by themselves, as well as constant attendants at the Chapel; and ’twas thought apparent they never had any Designs of making an escape from Justice, and the execution of the Sentence that was pass’d upon ’em.
[ …. ]
The Account of these Persons under Sentence of Death.
CHARLES TOWERS, sometime Inhabitant near St. James’s Market, Butcher , was Indicted, for feloniously appearing, with several others, arm’d with Guns, Swords, Staves, or other offensive Weapons, and having his Face Black’d, or being otherwise disguised, on the Highway called Wapping Wall; on the 21st of June last; to the Terror of His Majesty’s Subjects, against the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, and against the Form of the Statute made and provided, and which was to take effect, after the first of June, in the tenth Year of His Majesty’s Reign. Upon the Indictment he was Tryed, and it appearing that on Sunday Morning at eleven of the Clock, June the 20th, C. Towers, with seven others, rush’d into the House of John Errington, (with a large Stick, like a Quarter-Staff in his Hand, his Hair clipt off, without Hat, Wig, or Shirt, only with a blue pea-Jacket, which flying open before, show’d his Breast, as well as his Face, Black, and besmear’d as with Soot and Grease;) whence they rescued J. West, affirming that they were sworn thereto, for his Name was set down in their Book kept at the seven Cities of Refuge; and offering (as the Prisoner was with loud Acclamations carrying off) to strike D. Taylor, Waterman, and G. Errington, Brother to the King’s Evidence; And the Prisoner’s allegations, that he never was in any Riot, but only defending himself against the Baylffs, &c. not being thought of any force, he was by the Jury found guilty of Felony without Benefit of Clergy.
As this unfortunate Person, after his Apprenticeship, marry’d young, before he was possest of a Competency, and Children and the Charges of a Family encreas’d upon him, he then judged that Gaming was a proper Method to retrieve himself and support his Family; but by Cards he lost that little he was then possest of. His Circumstances being desperate, he engag’d for a Friend, in a very large Sum of Money; which soon oblig’d him to fly into the Old Mint. When most distrest, he said, he refused all Solicitations to Rob or Thieve: Denying that he ever was guilty of any notorious Offence, except one, which was unfaithfulness to his Wife’s Bed; for which, he added, he must acknowledge he deserved Death, tho’ Adultery is so seldom punish’d in this Kingdom. As for the robbing Mr. Huggins of a silver Spoon, of the taking whereof he was convicted, some time ago, and ordered for Transportation, he denyed his seeing any such Spoon. And as for the picking the Pocket of Mr. Westwood, an Officer, and taking 3 s. with which Fact he was lately charg’d, he said he believed the Money might fall out of the Officer’s Pocket, as they Ditch’d him in a sad and shameful manner, but that he never saw any Silver or Copper. He farther said that their way was, as he must then acknowledge, very cruel and unbecoming Christians, for, during his Time, twelve or more were sentenc’d to be Whip’d, by a Judge, who was chosen from among them, for the Day, and sat in State: He added, that during his Confinement, some Persons had abused and insulted him, who were Friends to Mr. Jones, Bailiff; but he protested he was not Judge when Jones was sentenc’d, but one who was formerly an Officer in the Army: Nor had he ever any Designs against Sir Isaac Tilliard, or his House. He dwelt four Years in the Old Mint; but owing to one Man 70 l. was forc’d to harbour in the New Mint, and took an House in Gravel-Lane ; for Prisons were all so full, that Men, as he said, died like rotten Sheep, and he had rather go to the Place whither he was going, than dwell under that Tyranny.
He acknowledged the Fury and Violence he had used against innocent Men; and observed how contrary it was to Christian Levity and Mildness; we may suppose, that originally he was perswaded to it, as being strong and nimble; and afterwards had all Encouragement and Commendation; which Incitements coincided with the natural Warmth and Vivacity of his Temper. He confest he had been by much too Enterprizing and Rash; but at the same Time added, he thought the Officers were before his Misfortunes fully reveng’d of the Minters; for, among others, a Carpenter’s right Arm was so Hack’d and Chop’d, that the Surgeon was forced to take it off; as for himself, he show’d how dangerously his Head was Cut, even six Weeks ago, the large Scars whereof appear’d.
He denyed that he was ever in Disguise with design to do Mischief; but he said they had Mock-Masquerades, and particularly one in Meeting-House Alley, Wapping, where Men and Women met, under the Number of Twenty, and he in particular was in a Miller’s Habit and his Face cover’d over with White. He directed his Wife to offer this to the Consideration of his Majesty, in a Petition; and also to insert her having two Children, besides one in her Body, which must come to Misery if the Father was taken from ’em; which Petition she delivered at the Council-Chamber Door.
He was happy in having his Health continued entire, from the first Beginning of his Misfortunes; and in having R. Swanson, with him, who was able and ready to Read the Scriptures. When R. Swanson, had been Sick, in the Night, and could not Read and Pray at One of the Clock in the Morning, as was their constant Practice; Towers, the next Day, much condoled the Misfortune, saying he wished he was wealthy enough to employ and reward some Person who should sit up each Night and awaken them to Prayers as soon as Midnight was pass’d. The Day before his Death, he seem’d more chearful than before, saying, This was decreed for me, and I am easy and contented under it; and how should I be otherwise, for I am going from a Life of Trouble and Noise and Confusion, to a World of Quiet.
[ …. ]
The Behaviour, &c. of C. Towers at the Place of Execution.
THIS Prisoner, (who was carryed in a Cart, to the Gallows erected by Wapping, through a very great Concourse of People, many of whom with Tears lamented his Condition) appear’d with uncommon Intrepidity; and tho’ the Evening before, he wept very much when he took leave of his Wife and one of his Children, the immediate prospect of his own Suffering no way shock’d him; but in a very loud and exclaiming Voice he asserted his Innocence to the Spectators, after the Conclusion of the Prayers, &c. and to make all who were there believe, that he was not disguised when he rescued Mr. West, unless the dirty Condition he was commonly in, could be so term’d. That Capt. Buckland, sentenc’d Mr. Jones, the Bailiff, when he was used in so cruel and unchristian a manner that he Swooned, &c. That the others who were apprehended in the new Mint, and confin’d on the same Account, were not Guilty of going Arm’d in Disguise, or of any thing else that could nearly affect them; and named Mr. Saintloe, in particular. That he did not rob Mr. Henry Brooksbank, of any Brandy, Tobacco, or Pipes, as he had been charg’d, though the House was threatn’d and design’d against. To this he added, that lest his Words should be mistaken, he had most of the substance of ’em down in Writing; and pull’d out a Paper, written by an Acquaintance, for he could not write himself. He afterwards said, If the Sheriff or the High Constable must of necessity have the Paper, pray at least grant that it may be now read before all these People, for ’tis not against any Court: The Paper was according to his Desire read before the People; but it did not contain any Discovery, or any Confession of the Disguise, or the like, but was to the following Purport or Effect: That as he was in other matters a great Sinner (and had for other things deserved Death, he underwent the Punishment with Patience; and humbly hoped that Almighty God would be merciful to him for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom he trusted; that he did not know of any Disguise he was in; that he did never commit Theft or Robbery; did not steal a Silver Spoon, or any Money; did not rob any Bailiff, &c. that he was forced and obliged to take Sanctuary in the Place call’d the Mint, in order to avoid his Creditors, because his Debts were so large that it was not possible for him ever to pay them. This was the Substance, but ’twas branch’d into many Words and Sentences. He also inveigh’d against the Bailiffs; but declared that he died in Charity with all Mankind. After the Paper was read, he return’d to his usual Composure and again grew calm. As the Cart began to move forward, he with the loudest Cries and Exclamations cry’d out to God to receive his Soul, till his Breath was stopt, wringing his Hands in a passionate manner; after which, the strength of his Constitution appear’d in the extream and surprizing Difficulty with which he died.
[ …. ]
This is the Account that is given by me, T. PURNEY Ordinary and Chaplain.
N. B. A Paper was given by Towers at the Place of Execution to one Hinton, but was commanded out of his Hands by the High-Constable, and deliver’d accordingly; it was yesterday offered to Mr. Applebee; but as it was read to the Spectators, and the Contents already mentioned in the above Account of the Behaviour, &c. the Paper sign’d by Towers we shall not publish; People may therefore judge whether the Paper printed by Hinton, and published by Warner, is not an Imposition on the Town, altho’ witness’d by the two condemn’d Men: As to what Hinton publish’d, as follows, Towers publickly declar’d he would not deliver any Paper to the Ordinary or Mr. Applebee, &c. ’tis a direct Falsity, for Towers never mention’d either of them to the Publick.
LONDON: Printed by JOHN APPLEBEE, below Bridewell-Bridge, in Black-Fryers.
Old Bailey Proceedings (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 6.0, 17 April 2011), Ordinary of Newgate’s Account, 4 January 1725 (OA17250104).