James Goodman, horse-thief

Here is a case of a thief who seems to have honestly repented for his crimes, though he resisted the law for a long while. Mr. Goodman, please tell our audience about your crime of horse stealing, among others.

"'Tis true, I am here in this prison for stealing a horse. With a band of highwaymen, in 1715, on October the 9th, I stole the horse, spurs, and a bit of money from Mr. White. We were running 'tween Stratford and Ilford. We weren't discovered 'til Mr. White came across us in Middlesex and recognized his bay gelding, which I rode. John Stephens was with me then. White sent his servant to us to claim his horse, but there wasn't a chance in Hell I was givin' him up without a fight. So we rode off quick, and I threatened 'em with my pistol when they followed us, having to shoot twice. I missed, but White's servant hit me with the pebble stones he had loaded in his gun. I was hit behind the head and dropped off the horse; I could not avoid being taken in my injured state.

"At my trial, I did claim that the horse was lent to me, and even had some friends as a witness to this. 'Twas a lie, though, and the court did convict me of the theft. I was put in the Bail-dock, but was not ready for prison, and escaped over the spiked fence. After a month's time, someone recognized me at an alehouse, and turned me in to the keepers at Newgate. They did come for me, and I put up another good fight, but here I am stuck for certain to wait for my hanging at Tyburn.

"For some time in my life I engaged in the criminal life, and brought my wife and children to ruin. I am truly sorry for it now, and I beg for the pardons of God and those I have wronged. I know I shan't get one from the king or courts [1].

Under the Bloody Code, the theft of various animals (sheep, cattle, horses) is a capital offense, but, as the table shows, is more likely to bring a reprieve from execution [2]. Since Elizabethan times, horse stealing has been a capital offence. In fact, this was one of the first offences to be removed from the benefit of clergy. Even those who campaign now in the eighteenth century for reduction in the crimes considered capital typically do not desire a change in the policy towards horse stealing; this offence is a very serious one, as a horse is the primary means for travel [3]. In the nineteenth centuries and beyond, a suitable comparison to horse theft would be car theft.

Sheep stealing is a different matter. The primary motive for stealing sheep is the desperation of a poor individual for food and wool. This fact was, at first, a reason for the crime to remain off the list of capital offences in the Bloody Code, but a period of economic depression created a larger number of poor individuals and, consequently, a great increase in the number of sheep thefts. Because of this change, sheep stealing became a capital offence after 1741 [4].

Livestock is property, so punishment for the theft of livestock would logically compare to the punishment for other types of property thefts. That there are so many reprieves granted for animal theft suggests that animal theft may be considered less serious than other property crimes, but this consideration most likely varies based on a person's class status and, therefore, his dependence upon his livestock for a livelihood.