1729: Jephthah Big, ineffective extortionist

On this date in 1729, Jephthah Big was hanged at Tyburn — “so ill at the place of execution, that he could not attend the devotions proper for men in his calamitous situation,” according to the Newgate calendar.

This member of the all-name team got his from an Israelite warrior-judge noted for the human sacrifice of his daughter. The sin of Jephthah Big was much the smaller.

When Big’s brother got hired as a London gentleman’s coachman, Jephthah decided to make a quick hundred guineas of his own off the guy by sending him “such a letter as would make the gentleman tremble.”

The difficulty in this scenario is always in actually taking possession of the boodle without exposing oneself to capture.

Jephthah’s big plan was to ask for the money to be delivered to the Black Boy ale-house in Goodman’s Fields, but while his confederate Peter Salter was holding down a bench there day after day waiting for the windfall, Salter chanced to read a newspaper advert taken out by the target himself offering a reward for busting the shakedown. When a porter turned up asking for their extortionist alias, Salter sagely opted not to answer to it and instead left the tavern … but the porter had his own suspicions, and when he saw Salter by chance again a few days later, he had him arrested.

Salter got out of the scrape by turning crown’s evidence against Jephthah Big, who was hanged as the instigator of the whole mess.