Many times I have been asked over the years “what’s the big deal with this hat thief fellow”? And many times I have wondered the same. Friends would often tell me I need to start writing – anything, an article, a book, a monograph. And I would often reply to the effect that more research was needed. And it was. So much so that I literally tripped over my research. But as it turned out I tripped over some good stuff. For example, I had been studying William Longmire’s handwriting for a number of years. I was convinced that the store ledger accounts I had been poring over at the Library of Congress matched the handwriting of some court entries and various other related documents that a court clerk or court scribe would normally write. It was during this research of original 1740’s court order books and various deeds at King George County Court House I began to realize that I was literally holding in my hands evidence of the existence of my direct ancestor from London. The pages I had been scouring for clues to William possibly buying some land or attending court, maybe witnessing a deed or two were actually written by him! The hat thief. But how could this be? Felons convicted of highway robbery in 1725 just don’t traipse over from London after coming within days of being hanged for their crime and casually begin work for the court. Well, casual may be overstating it but it is interesting that by issuance of the November 1730 King George County tithable list one William Longmire was ordered to be paid, along with Henry Taylor, 200 lbs tobacco. For watching the prison! I mean, who better to watch a prison than a convicted felon?
I could have written this years ago. Before I found the 1734 probate entry for Capt Nicholas Smith 2-3 years ago while speed reading entries in the Orphans Account Book. There I was once again, looking for William’s children being listed as orphans as the court would normally do when a father dies and leaves underage children. And as I scanned page after page some familiar handwriting appeared. On one side of Capt Smith’s probate page was some barely decipherable scribbling which was written by Thomas Turner, then clerk of the court, and on the other was that same, beautiful, almost secretarial script which I had begun to recognize almost immediately. In that instant I had found the earliest recorded instance of William Longmire writing in the new world. But for some inexplicable reason William’s three sons were not listed in the Orphan’s Account Book – for more see “Court Life”.
Yep, if I had written years ago I would have been mired (he he) in editing and re-editing whole pages of William’s life – chapters even. For one of the most important clues – the Newgate Letter – in the story of William and his most unusual foray into the legal and accounting world, would have been initially missed. As it was the existence of this letter was unknown to me 4-5 short years ago. Fortunately a dear fellow by name of Kingsley Ireland decided to acquaint himself with me in a grand, and noble way: by alerting me to the existence of a letter written by William Longmire from the Condemn’d Hold Newgate Prison. Hot damn! Holy Moly! What? A deathbed letter written just days before his scheduled execution? All this supposition and gossip over the years that William was possibly educated and knew how to write before arriving in the colonies was true? Evidently so – as I will prove in a very roundabout way. For an account of William’s life in London and his trial see “Early Life”.
Don’t worry folks, we’ll get to that Newgate letter in due time … much to dissect, discern, and disseminate. So, it gets it’s very own chapter – as it should. For more see “Newgate Letter”.
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