John the Painter : The First Modern Terrorist
A terrorist for America? With brilliant forensic historical research Jessica Warner unearths the unknown story of the first British terrorist to commit acts of terror for America. James Aitken, alias James Boswell, alias James Hill, alias James Hinde was born in Edinburgh in 1752, one of twelve children. His father died when he was young and he was sent to Heriot's School. He trained as a house painter but couldn't find work and tramped the country looking for jobs, housebreaking and pick-pocketing. Along the way he became an impassioned supporter of the American Revolution. A two-year spell in America - where again he couldn't find work and was refused by the army - didn't dampen his ardour. As terrorists always do, he decided to strike where it would hurt most - in the naval dockyards. They were vital to keep British naval supremacy. No ships = no navy. His first act of terror was to burn down Portsmouth Dockyard in December 1776 but luckily he only managed to destroy the Rope House. Bristol was next, where he set some fires. As always with terrorists, the country was terrified and the newspapers full of scare stories. Was he acting alone? Or part of a gang? And who were his American masters? At the height of the scare, George III was being briefed daily and offered a personal reward. Habeas corpus was suspended. In the end, the huge rewards offered for information led to his capture and inevitable execution.
- Hardback | 320 pages
- 140 x 198 x 34mm | 580.61g
- 10 Feb 2005
- Profile Books Ltd
- London, United Kingdom
Other books in Biography: Historical, Political & Military
About Dr Jessica Warner
Jessica Warner is the author of Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason. Born and raised in Washington DC, she is a graduate of Princeton and Yale. She is an assistant professor at Toronto University.
Jessica Warner's John the Painter shows you just how good history can get: a tour de force of original thinking; deep immersion in a lost world (or in this case, underworld); prodigious empathy with its hapless anti-hero and exhilarating, knife-sharp writing that concedes nothing to fiction writers at the top of their game. Don't be fooled by its modest size and ostensibly eccentric subject; this is rich, ambitious history, executed in literary fireworks: a small glory and a joy to read. * Simon Schama * This is a fascinating tale of a bizarre incident of the American Revolution. George the Third's England, it seems, was as susceptible to terror panic as George Bush's twenty-first-century America. Jessica Warner writes history carefully and well. * Russell Baker * As an historian Jessica Warner has rare gifts - she makes the past come alive without the condescension of hindsight, and she writes beautifully. Her excavation of John the Painter from eighteenth-century documents shows that she also has an eye for a good story. * Brenda Maddox * A fascinating story, and Warner's telling of it is informative and stimulating. -- Noel Malcolm * Sunday Telegraph * An invaluable narrative . . . One of the pleasures of this book lies in the revelation of an almost forgotten world of landladies, spies, dockyard workers, tavern owners and the rest of the then mundane world. It is a panorama of hidden 18th-century life, as fresh and as vivid as if it occurred yesterday. -- Peter Ackroyd * The Times * Admirably researched and written in an engagingly wry style. -- Samuel Blake * Times Literary Supplement * Precise, admirably researched and written in an engagingly wry style. -- Samuel Blake * Times Literary Supplement * Jessica Warner's sharply sketched study of John the Painter, a political arsonist who tried to burn down the royal dockyards during the American revolutionary war, is a wonderful study in haplessness, by turns grim and comical, complete with all the mire and madness of the age as a backdrop to the crime. -- Simon Schama * Guardian *