John the Painter
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
Crime - Terrorism
John the Painter is not someone you would have liked to have met in a dark alleyway or even in the light of day if the truth be told. John the Painter was a career criminal, a criminal that caused the British many problems in the final years of his life, problems that were eventually to cost him his life on this earth.
John the Painter is not a well known person in the knowledge of society today, but during his life he caused terror in the United Kingdom. In light of this eventful life it is important that more know about John the Painter and the criminal life he led.
The youth of John the Painter
John the Painter was actually born as either James Aitken or John Aitkin in the year 1752. Aitken was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Aitken was not born into an affluent family; in fact he was the son of a Whitesmith and had eleven brothers and sisters.
While still a young boy Aitkens father died, this meant that his family was reliant on charity for support. This support meant he attended the charitable school of George Heriot’s Hospital and attained a good level of education.
It was after leaving education that things changed for the young Aitken as he turned his hands to many trades but found no reward in the low income they generated. Aitken soon found that he could make more money from crime than from the jobs he was working.
Aitken in his young years was everything that a criminal of the time attained to be, he carried out all manner of robberies from shoplifting to being a highwayman. In the words of Aitken, now John the Painter by name, was also a rapist by his own testimony:
“I made the best of my way through Winchester to Basingstoke, intending to return to London. Going over a down near Basingstoke, I saw a girl watching some sheep, upon whom, with some threats and imprecations, I committed a rape, to my shame it be said.”
John the Painter Career Criminal
At just over twenty years of age John the Painter realised he may be found out because of the crimes he had committed so entered into a legal contract. This contract would take him to America and see him have to pay back his debt to the person with whom he entered this legal contract.
Once in America John the Painter decided he did not wish to pay back the debt and absconded, travelling through the different British colonies of America through the two years in the country. During his time in America John started to understand the American Revolution politics and decided to wage his own war of terrorism on England.
In 1775 John returned to the UK and started his own war on the establishment. This war came in the form of attacking ships and dockyard facilities, the idea being to make it look like a band of people were causing the problems.
John the Painter tried to say he had the backing of an American diplomat based in Paris but no confirmation of this was ever found.
In two years in England John the Painter had caused havoc for the British maritime authorities, this was until March 1777 when John was caught and summarily executed by hanging from the mizzenmast of a ship anchored in Portsmouth. There is written material to say there were around 20,000 spectators to the hanging.