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Early American Criminals: Thomas Mount’s Flash Songs

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Note: This post continues “Thomas Mount’s Crime Tips.”

Long before Nicholas Pileggi wrote Wiseguy and revealed the inner-workings of present-day organized crime, Thomas Mount in 1791 disclosed the secrets of the Flash Company, a gang of burglars, thieves, and highwaymen. As a part of his revelations, Mount asked that the language and songs of the American Flash Company be published to “inform the world at large how wicked that company is.”

Below are the Flash Songs, along with Mount’s own poetic “Lamentation,” that appeared at the end of The Confession, &c. of Thomas Mount and were supposedly sung during the gatherings of Mount’s underground criminal society. I have used Mount’s short dictionary of “Flash Language” to annotate the cant terms that appear in the songs. The rest of the words from his dictionary will be incorporated over time into Early American Crime’s American Malefactor’s Dictionary.

Reading note: to get the full effect of how criminals use cant language to obscure meaning, first read the songs without the use of the annotations and then re-read them with their aid.

Boston Gazette, August 1, 1791 - From Early American Newspapers, an Archive of Americana Collection, published by Readex (Readex.com), a division of NewsBank, inc.

A Highwayman’s Flash Song

COME all ye roving scamping blades,
That scamping take delight,
That go out on the bonny throw
Upon a darky night;
With pops into your pocket,
And lashes in your hand,
We’ll ride up to the Dilligence,
And boldly bid her stand.
By stopping of the Diligence,
Put Jervis in a fright,
Who said I’ll have your body hung
Before to-morrow night.
I said ye gallows rogue
Haul in your bridle reins,
Or else a leaden bullet
Shall pierce your bloody brains.
Then to the inside passengers
Straightway we did repair,
To do them of their lowr,
It was our only care.
We dunn’d them of their lowr,
And thought it all our own,
We bid them a good darky,
They roll’d the road to town.

  • bonny-throw – the highway
  • darky – night
  • lash – a sword
  • lowr – cash
  • pops – pistols
  • scamp – robbing a gentleman on the highway

Another Highwayman’s Song

I’ll sport as good a pred away
As any boy in town,
I’ll trot her fourteen miles an hour,
I’ll back her ten to one.
She’s up to all the cross roads,
And never makes a stand,
Here and there and every where,
We ride with pop in hand.
Next to my blowen spenie
I’ll go without a doubt,
And if I meet a swell-cove,
I’ll do him out and out.

  • cove – a man
  • pred – a horse
  • pops – pistols
  • blowen spenie – a thief’s girls

A Pickpocket’s Song

I AND my blowen to the garf
Straightway did repair,
We tripp’d the green flyers,
One two three pair of stairs.
She’s flashing to the miz,
Then I do her lose,
She does them of their tricks,
And then we go to shows.
Day-light being over,
And darky coming on,
We’ll all go to the Flash-ken,
And have a roaring song.

  • blowen – a woman
  • garf – a playhouse or fair
  • ken – a house
  • trick, doing the cove of a – taking a gentleman’s watch

A London Ken-Cracking Song

COME all ye scamps both far and near,
Listen a while and ye shall hear,
How five young lads, who in their prime,
Were all cut off before their time.
Up Ludgate hill we did set out,
Upon the crack ye need not doubt,
Scarce in bit, and low in sack
Sir Robert’s ken we meant to crack.
When to Sir Robert’s ken we came,
Says Harry Jones, “as true’s my name,
With iron chisels and crow-bars too,
To’s iron Peter we’ll soon break through.”
And when his Peter we did burst,
His golden chain I hobbled first;
The next it was a diamond ring,
This was doing quite the thing.
With active hands and tongues full still
With wedge and bit our sacks did fill,
But when call’d for to be try’d,
The fact we all bore, I deny’d.
Frank being cast, to’s mush did say,
With other prigs ne’er live I pray;
Jack Brim was there, Lyons the Jew,
Who turned snitch on lads so true.
There was Franc Finis, a hearty blade,
Isaac Barton besides my dad.
Charley Jones, Bill Thomson too,
Five cleverer lads ye never knew.
Your honest trades pray don’t forsake,
For if ye do, ye’ll rue the day
That e’er you scampt upon the lay.
Wouldn’t it grieve your hearts to see
Five clever lads hung on a tree,
Taking their leave and last farewell?
I hope in heaven their souls may dwell.

  • bit – money of any kind
  • cracking a ken – breaking into a house
  • hobble – to take
  • ken – a house
  • mush – a girl
  • prig – a thief
  • scamp – robbing a gentleman on the highway
  • snitch – one that turns evidence
  • wedge – silver plate of any sort

Mount’s Flash Song Upon Himself

COME ye prigs, and scamps full bold,
I’ll sing you of a lad of fame,
Who in New-York town once did dwell,
And Thomas Mount it is my name.
As I was going out on the scamp,
Void of any dread or fear,
I was surrounded by the traps,
And to the quod they did me steer.
And when I come into the quod,
Captain R—ds did me know,
Tommy come tip me the bit, he said,
And I’m the cove, that’ll bring you through.
Indeed kind Sir I’ve got no bit,
And this all your traps do know,
I had not been two hours in town,
Before they prov’d my overthrow.
Ram’d into his closest gaol,
I had some bits, his traps well know,
I lent some bits to fetch me suck,
And then to cracking we did go.
And now I crack’d the quod again,
Away to thieving I will go,
Gardiner went to fetch me tools,
Away to —– we did flow.
We dunn’d him out of all he had,
And then to Lovelies we did steer,
For to whet the bit ye know,
And in the ken we hobbled were.
Again they brought me to the quod,
The quaecall said, you ne’er shall go,
Hand me down large heavy irons,
On Thomas Mount a pair must go.”
When the quaecall shut me up
I did not break my heart with woe,
I broke my slangs, then crack’d the quod.
Again to thieving I did go.
Chorus,
To thieving and cracking,
To scamping and napping,
Of coves with praddles,
Of kens with daddles
And away to thieving I will go.

  • bit – money of any kind
  • cove – a man
  • cracking a ken – breaking into a house
  • hobble – to take
  • ken – a house
  • prig – a thief
  • quod or quae – a gaol
  • quodcall or quaecall – a gaol-keeper
  • scamp – robbing a gentleman on the highway
  • slangs – irons
  • suck – rum
  • trap – a sheriff

LAMENTATION

ALL ye good people who are assembled here this day,
Let my shameful end a warning be to you I pray,
Behold a dying victim who for his sins doth pardon crave,
Who once liv’d in good credit among his friends both fine & brave.
THOMAS MOUNT is my name,
And to my shame cannot deny
In New-Jersey I was born,
And on Little-Rest now must die.
Of robbing I own that I guilty be,
O may my dear redeemer from further torments set me free,
Through all this country ‘tis well they know my name;
From Boston to New-York ‘tis well they know my fame;
From New-York to Philadelphia, from thence unto Charlestown,
So basely I’ve behaved in roving up and down;
From Charlestown to Baltimore, I quickly have set out,
For robbing a merchant I was oblig’d to scout;
For robbing of another man I closely was pursu’d,
And my faithful comrade Lipton was taken on the road;
From thence to Newport gaol, which is the truth of my song,
So here I lie dismal bound down in irons strong.
Come all ye young men a warning take by me,
Love your wives, and mind your work, and shun bad company;
Quit gaming, and fine whores,
Pay off your tavern scores,
For they’ll be staring at your daring,
When you can spend no more.
My wife pities my misfortune, alas! both night and day;
My comrades take good council and go no more astray:
I tried hard myself for to clear,
My relations will shed many a tear,
My wife she cries and tears her hair,
Oh! go I must, and the Lord knows where.
I hope my soul to heaven may flee,
And there remain to eternity:
Hoping that Christ will receive my soul,
And pardon my sins which are many fold.
Now on my dying day,
Pray for me all ye standers by,
(My friends do not parade
With sad and mournful tragedy.)
My the GOD of mercy grant me full pardon for my sin,
Open the gate, good Lord, and let a penitent sinner in.
(Signed) T. M.

Sources

  • Boston Gazette. August 1, 1791, issue 1922, p. 4. Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, Readex/Newsbank.
  • Mount, Thomas. The Confession, &c. of Thomas Mount. Portsmouth, [NH]: J. Melcher, [1791]. Database: America’s Historical Imprints, Readex/Newsbank.
  • Williams, Daniel. Pillars of Salt: An Anthology of Early American Criminal Narratives. Madison, WI: Madison House, 1993.

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