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Early American Criminals: Thomas Mount’s Crime Tips

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Note: This post continues “Thomas Mount and the Flash Company.”

In his “Last Speech and Dying Words”–a subsection of The Confession, &c. of Thomas Mount–Thomas Mount offers an odd mix of contrition, advice, and rant. Along with the usual declarations of penitence and warnings to young men not to follow his idle ways, Mount provides his interviewer with “the various ways of discovering thieves and house-breakers, so that in future it will be next to impossible to practice the thieving business without detection.”

A Proposal to Fine the Victims

Mount begins his guidelines for detecting a thief by asserting that “all thieves are great cowards (for the bark of a dog will make them run).” He then submits a proposal to fine the victims of highway robbers if they are attacked by no more than two such thieves. “[T]he heroism of one honest man is, or ought to be, sufficient to make two thieves run,” he reasons, so victims who succumbed to only one or two robbers clearly did not make an effort to defend themselves. In Mount’s eyes, the loss of money and property to the robbers apparently is not enough punishment for these cowardly victims.

Mount goes on to disclose “how any man of the least common sense may discover a thief”:

by his often looking back—turning quick up lanes—standing to gaze at signs—and stopping to enquire for the houses of persons who do not live in the place—going into shops and giving the merchant a deal of unnecessary trouble in calling for a sight of one thing and another, and of twenty more, without buying one article. If a thief appears in the day time, you never see him without his rogue’s face on; look at him pretty sharply, and you will see how suspicious and timorous he looks; take him by the hand, it feels soft, and your touch makes him shrink, you may perceive his hand nervous; but in nothing is this nervousness more perceptible than, if he takes a pen at your desire, up to write with—it will therefore be to ask all suspected persons to write, and their hand will instantly tell upon their heart.

Mount’s Rant

After doling out his advice for detecting thieves, Mount goes on a long rant about the receivers of stolen goods. He complains that the thief or highwayman, who “risks his life every adventure he engages in,” only receives from them a tenth of the value of what he steals. He goes on to say, “These receivers being in league with our whores, make them very extravagant in their demands upon us, who, after treating them with the best of our spoils, if we do not promise quickly to get them more, threaten to inform against them.” After the receivers take their share of the booty, he continues, “we have seldom or never enough to buy decent cloaths, wherein to assume the character and appearance of honest men and quit bad company, had we ever so much mind for it.”

Mount concludes his rant by handing out advice that applies both to “good people and bad people, thieves and honest men” and in the process provides a picture of life among the Flash Company:

When I look back upon a company of thieves, with their whores, met after some house or shop breaking match, full of plunder, and recollect the scenes of cursing, singing, dancing, swearing, roaring, lewdness, drunkenness, and every possible sort of brutish behaviour, I detest myself for having so often been one in such companies.—Under these circumstances we are very liable to be apprehended: and therefore, . . . if ye get into the way of thieving, nothing can cure you but the gallows.

The Oath

To give further insight into the inner-workings of his criminal gang, Mount asks that “the language and songs of the American flash company” be published “to inform the world at large how wicked that company is, and how necessary it is to root them up like so many thorns and briers which if suffered to remain would destroy the rising crop of young fellows throughout the Continent.” As partial fulfillment of his promise, Mount appends “The OATH at the Admission of a Flat into the Flash Society” near the end of his Confession:

THE oldest Flash cove takes the Flat by the hand, asks him if he desires to join the Flash Company. The Flat answers, yes. The Flash cove (head man) bids him say thus:—I swear by ___ that to the Flash Company I will be true—never divulge their secrets nor turn evidence against any of them—and if a brother is in distress, that I will hasten to relieve him at the risk of my life and liberty—and if he suffers, endeavor to be revenged on the person or persons who were the means of bringing him to punishment.—After taking the above, or a similar oath, the Flat receives a pall, i.e., a companion, and they two are sent out upon some expedition.

Clearly, William Stanton, who provided the evidence that led to Mount’s execution, either was not a formal member of Mount’s Flash Company, or, as the old saying goes, “there is no honor among thieves”–even if they do take an oath.

Note: The story of Thomas Mount continues with “Thomas Mount’s Flash Songs.”

Sources

  • Mount, Thomas. The Confession, &c. of Thomas Mount. Portsmouth, [NH]: J. Melcher, [1791]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.

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