Stand and deliver!

Stories that Take You for the Ride of Your Life

June, 2015

Stand and deliver!

Epitomizing the devilish character straight from fiction, William Plunkett’s life and deeds incite curiosity across the North America even today. With a love for adventure and dream to make money, the chemist turned into a rogue highwayman dreaded for his raids on people on the move. However, the self-discipline of Plunkett in shunning outrageous actions and subsequent life in America led many historians to call him the gentleman highwayman.

London Exploits of William Plunkett and James Maclaine

Plunkett along with his accomplice James Maclaine formed one of the feared pairs of highwaymen in London. Plunkett, a bankrupt chemist, was also attracted by money and extravagant living turned to be a highwayman. Maclaine, son of a Presbyterian minister, took up the crime as he lost his family property in gambling and was without any financial resources.

The partners in crime came to London in search for wealthy women to marry. However, they took to highway robbery with stolen pistols and horses, as they found it more rewarding to commit criminal activities. With faces covered by trademark Venetian masks, Plunkett and Maclaine carried over 20 robberies within six months around the present-day Hyde Park area. Horace Walpole, historian, politician, and son of first English Prime Minister Robert Walpole, was among their notable victims. Sir Thomas Robinson, a politician, and architect, noted for his extravagance, was another high-profile victim of William Plunkett.

Modus Operandi of William Plunkett

Plunkett and Maclaine were able to veil their career as outlawed highwaymen by adopting smart and well-off living styles synonymous with London’s rich and aristocrats. Plunkett lived in Jermyn Street as a respected gentleman. The pair was courteous and restrained during their robberies and even apologized to their victims for any physical harm. That’s why pair was called the gentlemen highwaymen who once offered Walpole to buy back his robbed items. However, Maclaine did not behave so well during his trial. He claimed that Plunkett handled all the outrageous activities while he was a mute spectator.

Arrest of Maclaine and End of London Sojourn

Maclaine was arrested while trying to pawn a coat he had acquired during a highway robbery. He was put on trial after police discovered stolen items from his home. His trial fascinated many and was well-known far and wide. Finally, he was convicted and hanged in 1750.

The trial and subsequent death sentence of his accomplice alerted Plunkett, and he disappeared all of a sudden though he was never publicly identified or tried.

William Plunkett in North America

Contrary to Maclaine’s love for life in England, Plunkett always harbored a dream of living a free life in America. In Eclipse of the Midnight Sun, Finn and his friends get involved with Plunkett and his cohorts in a drunken highway robbery gone sour. The score is finally settled in Cloud Rising in the West.

According to historians, Plunkett had accumulated money enough to migrate to America and began a new life there after Maclaine’s execution. However, his life and activities in the new world remained elusive until 1845 when Pennsylvania politician Charles Miner identified Colonel William Plunkett as the infamous British highwayman.

In 1775, Colonel Plunkett was appointed as the battalion head of the Northumberland Militia. Miner discovered a manuscript of Gentleman’s Magazine dating back to 1750, which mentioned the appointment of Plunkett as a magistrate in Pennsylvania. According to the magazine, many in America knew the past of Plunkett, who had also admitted his association with highwayman Maclaine.

(Image credits: Ryan O’Neil in Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick)

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