Mike Martin’s Treasure (#3) and Cave (#2)

In addition to the reports that Mike Martin’s treasure had been found in Cambridge, Mass. in 1842; and in Arlington, Mass. in 1884, in 1893 it was reported that a stash was found at Winter Hill in Somerville, Mass.

From the Boston Globe of August 23, 1893:

Sadly, the telling clue in this case is that there were coins dated 1822–the year AFTER Martin was executed.

This was also the second little-known cave rediscovered in urbanized Middlesex County, the first one being the one announced in 1885 near Menotomy Rocks in Arlington in 1885.

Given that tranches of loot were found with the initials “M.M.” nearby in two separate cases, amateur sleuths might try searching for a different criminal with those letters.

Mike Martin’s Treasure (#2)

Most of the legends surrounding Michael Martin arose from the communities of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. As mentioned elsewhere, Martin likely spent less than 48 hours in the area, but because this is where he committed the highway robbery that resulted in his execution, rumors about him swirled for decades. Case in point: another treasure trove report from the Boston Globe of August 29, 1884:

The Dickson farm was located off of Overlook Road and Pheasant Avenue in Arlington, Massachusetts.

Note that over the years it was accepted as fact that Dr. John Wilson was Thunderbolt, and that he had been active in New England with Martin.

John Morrison’s Defense of Dr. Wilson

Shortly after J. B. Miner’s pamphlet was published that presented arguments for believing that Dr. John Wilson was the infamous former highwayman, Captain Thunderbolt, one of Wilson’s friends rallied to the defense of the late doctor’s memory. His name was John Morrison, and like Wilson he was from Scotland, and came to American about the same time. In response to the accusations against Wilson, Morrison wrote a letter to the Boston Post countering the main suspicions against Wilson. This letter was later reprinted by J. B. Miner in a broadsheet titled Thunderbolt Examiner in which Miner continued to present pro and con reasons for believing that Wilson was Thunderbolt.

This letter can be found on the website of Brattleboro, Vermont local historian Thomas St. John. St. John has an astounding wealth of material and original research on Dr. John Wilson:

Brattleboro History: Dr. John Wilson, Captain Thunderbolt

Morrison brings up several major points, which will be explored in more detail in further posts.

“Captain Thunderbolt.”

To the Editor of the Boston Post

Dear Sir:—

As you have been instrumental, unintentionally I presume, in giving publicity to what I am convinced are some very erroneous charges in relation to my late friend Dr. John Wilson, of Brattleboro, Vermont, will you therefore do me the favor, as well as an act of justice to the memory of Dr. W. and his relatives and friends who survive him, to publish the following statement; for I think you will be satisfied that Mr. W.’s conduct has been grossly misrepresented, and his character aspersed.

I became acquainted with him in 1818, after his arrival at Boston. His brother Robert was then in Boston, a respectable man and a slater. Dr. W. was in the habit of visiting at my house and store up to December, 1819, when I removed to N. York. After he removed to Newfane, Vermont, we corresponded to within a few years of his death, and never heard any thing to his discredit until a paper was sent me which contained the vile charges that have been heaped on his character since his decease.

The following extracts are from a letter from his son-in-law, Hugh Begg, dated at East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland, July 29, 1847:

“The very day that I received your letter, I saw the same story (meaning the story about Captain Thunderbolt, &c.,) in the Glasgow Herald. When I read your letter to my wife she was like to go distracted. I think this a notorious lie.—When he left Muirkirk, (his native place) to go to his brother at Boston, he was loved by every person that knew him, he was so clever. The lame leg he had was burned in the Muirkirk Iron Works, when he was a boy, and he had to go on crutches for many months. If ever he has behaved badly it must have been after he went to America, for he was well brought up. His father was a respectable, religious man. My wife is much respected, when she goes to Muirkirk, for her father’s sake.”

This much from Dr. W.’s son-in-law, as to what he has heard said about him, for he did not know him personally. Mr. Begg refers me to Mr Adam McCall, Post Master at Muirkirk, as he knew Dr. W. all his life time up to the time that he left for Boston, if I desire further information.

I am authorized by John Boyd, who is well known as the keeper of an Oyster Saloon, &c., in South street, Baltimore, to say, that he was at school with John Wilson, in Muirkirk, when they were about 8 or 9 years old, and that Wilson was then lame, and that he never, till now, heard any thing to his discredit.

I am likewise authorized, by Dr. D. G. Watson, No. 26 South 13th street, Philadelphia, to say, that they were at the College in Glasgow, from 1812 to 1815, and that Wilson was then lame and walked on the point of his toes with one of his feet, and that he has never heard any thing to his disparagement till now.

In 1820 Dr. W. came to New York, took passage for Liverpool, purchased a cargo of slates for his brother, and took them to Boston. I might enumerate more cases as regards my knowledge of Dr. W., but do not wish to be tedious, or take up more than enough of your paper to vindicate the character and rebut the slanders that have been so widely circulated, to the injury of his memory and the great grief of his relatives and friends.

I now ask, is his lameness when a child not triumphantly accounted for. Is not his whereabouts fully accounted for up to 1815? And notwithstanding, I have no minute account of where he was from 1815 to ’18, excepting that he was attending the Medical School, Lectures, &c., in Edinburg, is it fair to presume, or reasonable to suppose, that in that time he committed the crimes that are laid to his charge under the cognomen of Captain Thunderbolt? The idea is absurd and preposterous. At the time the crimes were committed, Wilson could only have been about 23 years old.

The stories that have been circulated about his desiring to be buried in his clothes, jewelry, dirks, pistols, &c., has been disproved by Mr. L. G. Mead, who took possession of Mr. Wilson’s papers, &c., after his death. If Dr. Wilson was the notorious outlaw, highwayman, &c., which he has been said to be, is it at all presumable that he would have gone to England deliberately, as he did in 1820, thereby subjecting himself to exposure and capture for his crimes, knowing that an enormous price had been set on his head by the Government of Britain?

I who knew him, and was with him when he sailed for Liverpool, do not believe he was such a fool. Neither do I believe he was a rogue, or guilty of the crimes laid to his charge, but believe that he was more honest than his calumniators. For this reason I stand forth to redeem his memory from unmerited censure and condemnation. ‘As ye would that others should do unto you,’ &c.

John Morrison.

135 Chatham street, New York; and from 1813 to 1824, of the firm of Leach & Morrison, Court Street, Boston.

Emerson Bennett’s “Two Remarkable Gentlemen” [1863]

The article below represents popular author Emerson Bennett’s first reworking of Michael Martin’s confession, focusing on one episode that Martin related. Bennett stays close to the source material, but pads the length out by a factor of four or five. This article was not reprinted as nearly as widely as Bennett’s later two stories.

by Emerson Bennett

On a clear, bright, balmy day, in the autumn of 1816, two travelers, well-mounted on a couple of fine horses, were quietly pursuing their way along a pleasant road in the western part of Ireland, some fifty miles from the city of Dublin. The elder of the two was a large, finely-proportioned man, some thirty-five years of age, with strongly-marked, intelligent features, dark hair, and very expressive black eyes. He rode with grace and dignity, and his dress and general appearance were those of a priest of the Church of England. The younger horseman was about twenty-one years of age, of lighter build than the elder, with coarser and more common-place features, and was altogether so inferior to his companion, in a certain courtly air and look of intelligence and breeding, that a close observer might have been justified in supposing them to be master and servant. It was a fine country through which they were passing, and both seemed to be in very good spirits.

“Upon my word, Mike,” said the elder, patting the neck of his horse, “this is a very fine animal–worth a hundred guineas, if I am a judge.”

“Five times as much as this is, sure!” growled the other.

“Why, of course you could expect the groom to be as well mounted as the baronet. But never mind! You will have a chance to trade your beast off before long, and get something more to your liking perhaps. It is better than going afoot, you admit?”

“Yes, of course.”

“As for mine,” pursued the elder, “I intend to keep him till I find a better, and I think on a dead race he would do me good service. Heigh-ho! What next? ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’ says the witch in Macbeth. Now just the opposite of that will better express my present ideas of the immediate future. Suppose we let it run
‘By mine eternal ear,
Something pleasant now I hear,
Which betokens merry cheer,
As will presently appear.’
But, pshaw! What do you know about poetry, Mike? I might as well talk decent English to a full-blooded Cockney.”

“It was nature hersilf that made a great man of ye, Captain,” returned the other, with a good-natured laugh, “and it’ll be more the pity if ye spind your last minutes stretching hemp.”

The travelers now ascended a slight rise of ground, and came in sight of a beautiful mansion, half hidden in a grove of trees, the county seat of some gentleman of opulence.

“There,” said the elder, with a smile of satisfaction, “you see my prediction is about to be verified,–yonder is the spot for our ‘merry cheer.'”

“And do ye think of stopping there?” inquired the younger.

“To be sure, man–we must embrace all the chances, if only to keep our hands in.”

“And sure I’m willing enough,” rejoined the one called Mike, “and it’s hoping, I am, we’ll get something better than your poetry to reward us. Ye’ll manage the thing after your own fashion, Captain?”

“Of course–leave it all to me, Mike!” said the other, putting spurs to his horse.

The two now rode on at a brisk pace, and, in less than half an hour, reined up their horses at the very door of the mansion.

“Is this the residence of Sir John Barker?” inquired the one called captain, of the first servant that made his appearance.

“No sir–this is the estate of Mr. Wilbrook,” replied the latter, in a courteous tone.

“Ah, indeed! the very gentleman I wish to see!” rejoined the captain. “Is your master at home?”

“No, sir–he is away at a hunt.”

“That is unfortunate for me, as I have some very important business with him,” said the captain, with a musing air. “Perhaps some of the family are within?” he suggested.

“Oh, yes, sir–Mr. Wilbrook’s sisters are at home.”

“Ah, very well–I will, with their kind permission, have a word with them.” He quietly dismounted as he spoke, and his companion did the same. “Send some one to take charge of our horses,” he added, in the tone of one accustomed to give orders to his inferiors, “and then present the compliments of the Rev. Mr. Nugent and his friend to the ladies, and say it would afford us great pleasure to have a few minutes’ conversation with them.”

The servant bowed, with an air of profound respect, and called the groom, to whom he gave directions to have the gentlemen’s horses well attended to. Then, with another low bow, he said: “This way, gentlemen, if you please!” and conducted our travelers into an elegant apartment, used principally for the reception of visitors of quality. He then bowed himself out, and hastened to deliver his message to the ladies.

In a few minutes the latter made their appearance in the saloon, not a little curious to know what particular business two strange gentlemen could have with them. The Rev. Mr. Nugent rose as they entered, and, with an air of one accustomed to polite society, made a low bow, advanced a step, and said, with an appearance of some slight embarrassment:

“Ladies, I must really crave your pardon for troubling you; but the fact is, while riding across the country last night, a few miles distant from here, I was stopped by a man, having a mask on his face, who presented a pistol to my breast and demanded my money. To save my life, I was compelled to give him my purse, containing some twenty pounds, and a fine gold watch, which I prized far beyond its intrinsic value, because of its originally being a present to my lamented father from His Grace the Duke of Northumberland. After robbing me, the man fled in this direction, and I managed to trace him to within half a mile of your mansion. This and a few other circumstances, needless to mention, have led me to suspect the robber is one of your servants; and I have come hither with an officer, who is duly empowered to institute a search, and, if necessary, make an arrest.”

“Gracious Heaven! Can it be possible! exclaimed the eldest of the three ladies, throwing up her hands, while the others seemed petrified with astonishment. “I think there must be some mistake, sir!” she continued; “I cannot believe we have such a villain in our household!”

“For your sakes, ladies, I hope not,” said the revered gentleman; “but if there is, it will be all the better for you to have him discovered at once, and so I trust you will permit the officer and myself to make a proper examination!”

“Certainly, by all means–we have no desire to screen a highway robber–and if you succeed in discovering the villain, all we ask is that he may receive his just deserts. How will you proceed, gentlemen? What can we do to aid you?”

“I think it will be best to call all your servants into one apartment–females as well as males,” replied the Rev. Mr. Nugent; “and as fast as we examine them, let them pass into some small room–an adjoining one, if convenient–from which there is no exit save through the door of entrance. This will facilitate matters, in case we should wish to re-examine. In calling them together, however, permit me to caution you against giving any hint of the purpose for which they are required, as the robber, if among them, might in that case make his escape.”

“Your directions shall be followed to the letter,” said the eldest of the sisters, at once quitting the saloon.

During her absence, the Rev. Mr. Nugent entered into conversation with the two remaining ladies, assured them they had nothing to fear, and then quietly introduced a foreign topic, and made himself so delightfully entertaining, that they almost forgot the painful business which had brought him into their presence.

Miss Wilbrook was absent some quarter of an hour, and then returned to say that everything was in readiness for the proposed examination. She then conducted her visitors into a plainly furnished apartment, where all the servants were in waiting, and requested Mr. Nugent to make known his business to them, which he did in a few words. All seemed greatly astonished that a crime of such magnitude should be fixed, even by suspicion, upon any of their number, and each expressed his or her willingness to be questioned and searched.

“You may all be innocent,” said the priest, “and I hope, for the sake of these estimable ladies, you are–and if you are, of course you have nothing to fear. By-the-by,” he said, addressing Miss Wilbrook, “I think, with your permission, I will change my plan a little, and let them all enter the small room first, and so examine each separately as I call them out.”

“As you please, sir,” said the lady, opening a door into an adjoining apartment, and bidding her servants enter it. “It has another door on the opposite side,” she said, “but I have locked that, and here is the key.”

“Very good,” returned the priest, glancing into the other room; “that will answer our purpose perfectly. Let me see! You have a key to this door also? Ah, yes–here it is in the lock. I will just turn it for a few moments,” he added, as the last servant entered, “as I have something further to say privately to you, ladies.”

He nodded to his companion, who quietly drew a pistol, and stepped to the door leading out of the apartment they were in.

“Now, ladies,” pursued the reverend gentleman, in the same polite and courteous tone, “I am almost sorry to be obliged to undeceive you in respect to our real business here; but the fact is, you see, I am not exactly a clergyman, and instead of being robbed myself, it is my profession to rob others, and–There! There! Now do not be alarmed! We are not going to hurt you. I assure you, we are the most harmless creatures in the world, when well treated–though the devil does sometimes get into us when our wishes are crossed and our plans thwarted. Now we know there is a good deal of treasure in this elegant mansion–money, plate and so forth–and if one of you will have the kindness to accompany me and point it out, I will take it in charge, and the two others can remain here and entertain my friend during my absence. Come, Miss Wilbrook, may I not hope you will condescend to be my fair guide? ‘For this occasion only,’ as they say on the playbills.”

On discovering the real character of their visitors, the ladies had become very much alarmed, and had sunk down on the nearest seats, where they now sat, pale and trembling, knowing themselves completely in the power of the villains, but not knowing what they had to fear from them. On being addressed by name, Miss Wilbrook replied:

“If it is treasure only you seek I can soon show you all there is in the house; and will do so at once, if you will promise to depart quietly without doing any violence to persons or property.”

“Assuredly, madam, we promise all that, on our sacred honors! And as we are quite as anxious to hasten our leave as you are to have us, I trust you will oblige us by executing your part of the agreement with dispatch.”

Miss Wilbrook lost no time in placing before the robbers all the money and plate in the house; and then drawing a diamond ring from her finger, and producing a beautiful gold watch, she extended them to the principal highwayman, with the remark:

“I suppose you wish to deprive us of all our personal jewelry, also?”

It would have been a study for an artist to have seen the serio-comic look of surprise and offended dignity of the gallant captain as he heard these cruel words. Stepping back a pace and lifting his right hand deprecatingly, he exclaimed:

“Good gracious, madam, what do you take us for? We are not common thieves and pick-pockets–we never robbed a lady in our lives! No, no, no, ladies–be sure your personal property is perfectly safe. We shall only rob you of one thing more–a kiss all round–which, being a great gain to us and no actual loss to you, should not particularly disturb your equanimity.”

This the captain and his companion now proceeded to take, the ladies remaining rather passive under the operation, probably because they knew resistance would be worse than useless. The robbers then hurriedly divided the spoils between them, and prepared to leave.

“You will excuse our turning the lock on you!” said the captain, as he stood at the door, ready to depart. “You will easily get your freedom after we have gone. And now, kind ladies, farewell! To your children, if you should ever have any, this little episode in your peaceful, happy lives, will be a tale of novelty and interest. Our compliments to them, and to your worthy brother when he returns; and pray tell all your friends how astonished and frightened you were, when, after being robbed in the most polite and gentlemanly manner, the spokesman announced himself and companion as being none other than the terrible highwaymen, CAPTAINS THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT.

On hearing these fearful names the ladies did indeed utter involuntary cries of astonishment and alarm. Captain Thunderbolt, the speaker, instantly closed the door and locked it; and in less than two minutes the imprisoned ladies heard the clattering of horse’s hoofs, as the robbers dashed away down the road.

This is no fancy sketch–but, in good, sober truth, one of the almost daily romantic exploits of those two notorious highwaymen, who for years kept half of Great Britain in an uproar, and astonished the world with their successful daring. The horses they rode had recently been taken on the road from a baronet and his servant. A few miles further on, they exchanged them with two gentlemen whom they met; and that very night, at an inn where they stopped, the landlord, on suspicion, sent for some soldiers, who succeeded in arresting Thunderbolt, and taking him before a magistrate, who locked him up in his own dwelling, intending to send him to prison the next day. Lightfoot, who had effected his escape, disguised himself, mingled with the crowd, and was actually present at the examination. During the night he managed to set fire to the building, and, in the confusion and alarm which ensued, both the robbers effected their escape, and went boldly forward to new deeds of daring rascality.

Mike Martin’s Treasure (#1)

In his confession, Michael Martin laid out in minute detail his movements prior to and following his highway robbery of Major Bray on the Medford Turnpike (today’s Mystic Ave.) on August 13, 1821. On that day, he crossed over the Craigie Bridge from Boston, stopped at a tavern and got his bearings, then headed for Governor John Brooks’s house in Medford, where a party was being held that night. Martin robbed Major Bray, one of the guests, on the road. Martin returned to Medford later that evening, but heard that the alarm for him was out, so he headed directly south towards Cambridge.

He traveled through the night, going about 45 miles on horseback, until he was six miles from Holliston, Massachusetts. During this whole sequence of events, Martin spent less than twenty-fours hours in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Yet because the robbery took place in that county, and it was where Martin was tried and executed, it is in Middlesex County that legends surfaced about Martin’s supposed treasure troves and hideout caves.

The first appeared twenty-one years later, in 1842:

The idea that Martin might have buried some of his loot is not totally without merit. In two different places in his confession, Martin describes burying money in Ireland–and never mentions going to retrieve those stashes.

Emerson Bennett’s “A Narrow Escape” [1910]

This feature article was reprinted in several American newspapers in 1910. This was third story published under Bennett’s name involving Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The subject of the highwaymen must have intrigued Bennett, since he returned to it three times. Bennett died in his eighties in 1905, and had given up writing years before, so the late publication date is a minor mystery. He was one of the most popular American writers of the 1850s and 1860s, and produced dozens of adventure novels, most set on the frontier of the United States.


by Emerson Bennett

In the dusk of evening, two dusty, weary-looking foot travelers entered the little town of Doneraile, in Ireland.

One was quite a young man, of medium size, with a fresh complexion, a quick, sharp eye, which seemed ever on the alert for danger.

The other was tall, had a commanding figure, and had he been dressed like a gentleman, might easily have passed for one.

His clothes, however, as well as those of his companion, were patched, and soiled, and such as were worn by mendicants, or laborers of the poorer class.

Beside this, the younger man had his face tied up, as if suffering from a toothache, and the elder wore a green patch over one eye.

Both kept a sharp lookout all around them, though they moved with firm steps and a careless swagger, as if they had nothing to fear.

“Satan take me if I like traveling on foot!” said the elder, in a complaining way.

“And Satan will take you, whichever way you travel,” laughed the younger.

“And if he do, the consolation will be mine of having you for a companion,” was the retort.

“Yes,” returned the younger, with an affected sigh, “no doubt the devil will get us both in the end; but so the hangman doesn’t get us first, is the most I care for now. It’s a pity we had to leave Cork on foot, but there was no help for it. My horse had been ridden to death and when you sent for yours the stable-keeper wanted to see the owner. Which owner? Ha! ha! ha! You were too modest to even assume to be that wealthy individual, you know; and so here we are, not in the garb of lords, nor even high commissioners, but rather as mendicants.”

“And lucky we were to procure these clothes, and bury our others!” said the elder.

“Well, where are we going to stop?”

“At the nearest inn we can find, I suppose.”

“I’ll lay you a bottle of wine, then, that mine host will not accept us for lodgers till we show him the color of our money.”

“Done! And I hope you’ll win.”


“Because then we may not be taken for those two scapegoats who keep all the sheriffs and constables so busy looking out for them.”

“I suppose our fame has preceded us even here?”


“Such are the troubles of distinction. Though I have longed for it in my time, I see now that it has its disagreeable side, especially when one wishes to pass unnoticed.”

They made their way to a small, miserable inn; and, on asking if they could get something to eat and lodging there for the night, the innkeeper eyed them suspiciously, and in turn inquired if they had money enough to pay for what they wanted.

The younger glanced at the elder; and the elder with just a slight twinkle in his eye, grimly answered:

“We’re not over burdened with money, ’cause we’s two laboring chaps what’s looking for work; but I guess as how we can scrape enough to pay you, if you don’t charge too much.”

“Well, I’d like to see the value of half a crown to begin with,” said the cautious innkeeper.

“I told ye so,” said the younger of the travelers, in a lugubrious tone, as he turned to the elder, with a long, solemn face. “I told ye he’d want to see the color of our money. Some people think innkeepers are fools,” he continued, with a sly grin, which the landlord did not perceive; “but I don’t. They all know something. I’ve never knowed one yit what was a out-and-out idiot.”

“If I tell ye I’ve got money to pay for all we order, that’ll do, won’t it?” inquired the elder, addressing the landlord direct.

“Divi1 a bit will it do with Mike Callahan now!” answered the host.

“Well, then, hold your gab while I make a rummage!” returned the senior traveler, as he began feeling in his different pockets.

At last he fished up three shillings, which caused the landlord’s eyes to brighten and his manner to become more agreeable.

As the two wayfarers glanced around the taproom their eyes fell upon a printed poster, offering a large reward for the capture, dead or alive, of the two noted highwaymen, of John Doherty, alias Captain Thunderbolt, and John Martin, alias Captain Lightfoot, and describing the personal appearance of each very accurately.

“My eyes!” exclaimed the eider.

“Make it eye,” interposed the younger, “since you’ve only got one.”

“My eye, then!” coincided the other. “How I’d like to be the fellow to catch them two scoundrels and git all the money.”

“Sure, an’ there’s more like ye,” chimed in the landlord. “If I could catch them rascals, it’s mesilf would become a rich man, so it is.”

“I’m afraid there’s no sich good luck for poor bodies,” sighed the elder traveler. ·

He then asked to be shown to his lodging room, and ordered some bread and cheese and brandy, remarking that he and his friend must keep within their means.

When the two were alone together in their room they decided to remain there and rest themselves through the night and the following day, and leave Doneraile on the following night.

Nothing of importance occurred till the following day, when, the elder man being asleep on the bed and the younger one looking out of a window, a crowd of persons, among whom were several soldiers, was seen approaching the house.

The inn was on the outskirts of the village, and there was a large field back of it which extended to a heavy wood.

Hastening to his companion the younger man seized him by his whiskers, and, as he started up, ready for something desperate, the latter said:

“Quick, captain! There is no time to lose! Suspicious soldiers are heading this way, accompanied by a crowd of citizens.”

With one bound the newly awakened sleeper reached the door and went crashing down some narrow, creaking stairs, closely followed by his companion.

The landlord, hearing the noise, and perhaps suspecting something of the truth, ran to the foot of the stairs and attempted to head off his escaping lodgers.

Catching hold of the big man as he was in the act of bounding past him to the rear door he cried out: “Here, now, stop, ye thafe! Ye’ll not lave here till ye pays me my scot!”

The fellow jerked himself loose in an instant, and with a sort ot grim humor, as he raised his fist and knocked the innkeeper down, he said,

“All right, my friend I’ll settle the scot by giving you my note for it.”

The next moment be shot through the open door, with his companion close at his heels, and the two bounded away together across the open fields toward a distant wood.

Instantly loud cries and shouts were heard:

“There they go! There they go!”

“Stop thief! Stop thief!”

“Shoot them! Shoot them!”

“They are the great highwaymen, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot!”

“Shoot them! Shoot them!”

The soldiers at once drew up and fired at the fugitives; and then, finding the latter did not stop running, they set off in pursuit of them, being joined by a number of civilians, some of whom were eager because of the great reward.

The fugitives were several rods in advance of their nearest pursuers, and this distance the elder maintained for some time, without increasing it, as his fleeter companion expected him to do.

“Why, captain, what’s the matter with you,” he exclaimed, as he suddenly forged ahead a few paces and looked back. “Are you going to let those cursed drones overhaul you?”

“I’m doing my best, brother,” answered Thunderbolt. “I’m hit.”

“Good lord! Where?”

“In the calf of my leg.”

“Ha, yes! I see the blood running; and you limp; is it painful?”

“Very!” panted the wounded man.

Lightfoot glanced at his companion’s face and saw that it was deathly pale, covered with great drops of sweat, and corrugated with lines of suffering.

“Do you feel faint?” he anxiously questioned.


“For Heaven’s sake, don’t give way to it, or you are lost!”

“I know it.”

“It is death to be taken.”

“I know it.”

“Can you hold out?”

“The Lord only knows. I will do my best.”

“Here, lean somewhat on me–that may help you a little.”

As Thunderbolt rested one arm on the shoulder of Lightfoot, the crowd behind, seeing the action and divining the cause, at once set up a wild shout of anticipated triumph.

“He’s been hit, and we’ll soon have him,” cried one.

“He can’t hold out much longer!” exclaimed another.

“Load and fire again, soldiers, and make sure work ot both!” chimed in a third.

While one yelled one thing and another another, the officer in command of the soldiers, finding that, encumbered with their muskets and knapsacks, they were not gaining on the fugitives at all, even though one of them was wounded and limping, ordered them to halt, load and fire at the escaping men, with the best aim they could, hoping thus to arrest their flight with some well-sped bullet.

By the time the order was executed, the freebooters were so far in advance of their military foes that either the distance, bad aim or inaccuracy of their weapons, the fear of hitting some of the citizens who were still vigorously keeping up the pursuit, or all these circumstances combined, rendered their several shots ineffectual; and the robbers still held on their course, the wounded man straining every nerve and his companion still urging and helping him forward.

In this manner the two outlaws reached the wood a fair distance in advance of the nearest pursuers, when Lightfoot turned with a shout of defiance and flourishing his pistol, sent a bullet so near to the head of the foremost citizen that he actually jumped to one side as the ball whistled past him, and then came to an abrupt halt.

From the time of entering the wood the two daring highwaymen saw nothing of their pursuers; but, comprehending the danger of remaining in a locality where their presence was known, they still held on, over hill and valley, across streams and fields, and through belts timber and brush wood for a distance of ten long, fatiguing miles; when at last as they plunged into a thick covert of bushes the strength of Thunderbolt gave out, and he suddenly fell down in a death-like swoon.

“Oh, Lord of mercy! He is either dying or dead! ” cried his frightened companion, as he dropped down by his side and felt for his pulse and the beat of his heart. “Oh, captain, for the love of Heaven don’t die now, just as we have reached a place of safety!” he wailed.

Thunderbolt was not dead, though his face had a ghastly look and his breath was suspended.

Lightfoot vigorously chafed his face and hands, all the time calling upon him in endearing terms to come back to life.

As if in answer to this prayer, the prostrate man presently revived a little, and said in a faint, catching voice:


Lightfoot rapidly passed his hands over his companion’s ragged dress till he felt a hard substance that proved to be a small bottle, which he drew out and uncorked.

With an effort Thunderbolt took this in his hand, smelt of the liquid it contained, put a few drops on his tongue, and then, pouring some into his hand, rubbed it over his head.

“It is the elixir of life,” he said with a reviving smile, “and I feel better and stronger already. Didn’t we have a run tor it, my boy? But that cursed bullet is in my calf yet, and it must be cut out. Come, my lad, let us see what kind of surgeon you will make. Out with your knife and set to work.”

“But I am no surgeon,” returned Lightfoot, deprecatingly.

“I’ll make you one then. Don’t be afraid, my boy! You’re not going to carve a puling infant. You’ll find me a doctor who understands my own case, and also a quiet patient to work on. Down with you–find the lead, cut as near to it as possible, and don’t mind a little blood. I can afford to lose a good deal more than you’ll draw.”

Thus urged by his brave comrade, Lightfoot set to work, and, finding his friend did not flinch, be proceeded to cut away the flesh from around the bullet, till at last he extracted it.

“Bravo!” said Thunderbolt. “I knew you could do it. Now I will dress the wound myself.”

This he did; but he was not able to walk another step that day.

“I must have rest,” he said, “and do without food till the inflammatory stage is over.”

Lightfoot cut down some bushed, made his friend a bed in the thicket, and remained by his side, without anything to eat or drink, for more than twenty-four hours.

The second night Lightfoot went in search of food and returned with a couple of turkeys which he had stolen from a fowl-house.

With his pistol he started a fire, roasted one of the fowls, and ate ravenously himself; but he could not prevail upon Thunderbolt to touch a morsel.

“I’m nearly starved,” said the self-denying highwayman, “but if the richest banquet in the world spread before me I would not indulge in even a taste, knowing as I do that total abstinence is the shortest road to convalescence.”

They remained at this place for two days more, and then Thunderbolt found himself able to walk a little, with Lightfoot’s assistance.

Subsequently, Lightfoot left his companion concealed in a wood, while he alone proceeded to a small village where from an apothecary he procured such medicines as Thunderbolt directed him to get.

After this the two highwaymen kept themselves concealed and almost starving for two or three weeks, by which time Thunderbolt had so far recovered that he could walk briskly with a slight limp.

The two rascals now considered themselves in good condition for new adventures, and went plunging forward into new exploits and crimes, as if they knew themselves possessed of charmed lives.

Emerson Bennett’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” [1866]

This feature article was reprinted in several American newspapers in 1866. This was Bennett’s second story involving Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The subject of the highwaymen must have intrigued Bennett, since he returned to it three times. Bennett was one of the most popular American writers of the 1850s and 1860s, and produced dozens of adventure novels, most set on the frontier of the United States.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.


John Doherty, alias Captain Thunderbolt, was born in Scotland, somewhere about the year 1780. In his youth he was sent to school, and received a very good education. He had a clear, active intellect, was quick to perceive and learn, and, with a proper moral balance and fair opportuni1y, would undoubtedly have made a man of respectable distinction. But he was by nature a rogue–a rascal at heart, if not a villain. He had some redeeming qualities, but not enough to keep him in the path of rectitude. He was worldly, passionate and licentious, and could not see the advantage of being honest for honesty’s sake, if dishonesty would better serve his immediate purpose. He was selfish in his own pleasures, and would stop at nothing to gain his ends and gratify his dominant whim. He was naturally a great leveler, and looked upon the stringent laws of society as made for the benefit of the rich rather than the poor, and thought it the proper course of every man of spirit to set them at defiance. He had his own ideas of honor, was averse to cruelty and bloodshed, and possessed certain chivalric notions of propriety. Through his long career of vice and crime, it was his boast that he had never intentionally robbed a poor man or a female. He was bold and fearless, and would risk every1hing to carry out some romantic idea, or obtain what he was wont to term poetical justice.

A case in point. A certain judge once boasted that he would yet have the pleasure of giving Captain Thunderbolt the death-sentence. A few nights after, a very staid old Quaker called on him, at his private residence, and requested to see him alone a few minutes on some important business. On being ushered into the presence of the judge, in his library, the stranger very coolly repeated the words his lordship had used; and then, drawing a pistol, declared that he himself was the veritable Thunderbolt, and that he had come to lay bis lordship under contribution for making so foolish a boast. In short, he demanded his lordship’s watch, purse and jewelry; and having obtained treasure to the value of nearly a thousand pounds, he quietly departed, with the threat that, if followed, he would blow his lordship’s brains out the next time they should meet. He was not followed, for the chagrined judge, not caring to be laughed at by his friends, kept the matter a secret for years, and then only revealed it to a confidential few.

Thunderbolt was benevolent in his way–that is he would give a poor man a portion of what he had taken from his rich neighbor; and whenever he chanced, in any of his wild pranks or exploits, to injure one of the inferior class, he would never rest easy till he had made what he considered a suitable recompense to him or his family.

At what precise age John Doherty took to the road as a profession, and assumed the name of Thunderbolt, which subsequently became such a word of terror throughout the United Kingdoms of England, Scotland aod Ireland, does not appear-though it is certain he commenced his wild career quite young, and was soon discarded by his family and young friends. His wonderful exploits, his almost incredible boldness and daring, and his thousand hair-breadth escapes, favored more of the romance of past ages than of the realities of the present century; and no modern writer of fiction would venture to place an imaginary hero in so many situations of peril, and expect to extricate him by what would seem so many invented, unnatural chances. He had a wonderful faculty for disguising himself, and could so change his appearance in a few minutes, that his most intimate acquaintance might pass him without recognition. Now as a priest, zealously expounding the doctrines of the church–anon as a beggar, beseeching charity; now as a Quaker, proclaiming his non-resistant notions of peace–anon as a soldier, fighting over the battles of his country; now as a peddler, trying to dispose of his petty wares–anon as a huntsman, deeply interested in the subjects of game and poachers; now as a gentleman, traveling to kill ennui–anon as a doctor, prepared to effect wonderful cures; he was continually roving over the United Kingdoms, robbing men on the highway, stealing horses, and changing localities with a rapidity that defied all attempts at detection and arrest. He made his assumed name of Thunderbolt a word of terror throughout Great Britain, and though small bills and posters were out in every quarter, describing his person and offering large rewards for his apprehension, yet, by reason of his rapid change of places and complete disguises, he was often enabled to lodge safely at an inn where the principal topic of public discussion was his own wonderful exploits and hair-breadth escapes. in which deeply interesting conversation to him, he sometimes joined, in a very learned and edifying manner. He had a fearful reputation for years before he became connected with his subsequent partner in crime, Captain Lightfoot–so much so, even, that when he confidentially announced his name to the latter, who had himself been a thieving villain all his life, the fellow actually turned pale and trembled, and would have fled had he not been completely in the power of his strange companion.

John Martin, alias Michael Martin, alias John Hendley, alias Captain Lightfoot, was born near the city of Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1795. Of his early life it is only necessary to say he was a good-for-nothing, thieving rascal, and finally had to leave home on account of his vicious habits and propensities–his own family and all his relations, who seem to have been quite respectable people, being glad to get rid of so worthless a fellow. When about twenty years of age, and while roaming about the country a regular vagabond, he stopped at an inn, where he first fell in with John Doherty, alias Captain Thunderbolt, who, it appears, not only knew him by sight, but all about his character. The wily highwayman, who wanted a companion in crime, at once settled in his own mind that the strong, robust, unprincipled Martin was the man for his purpose. The redoubtable robber was at this time passing himself off as a Protestant clergyman; and his elegant attire, his tall, commanding person, his strongly-marked, expressive features, and his peculiar style of conversation, were sufficient to impose this deception upon all the inmates of the inn, including Martin himself. To the latter Thunderbolt did not reveal himself at once, but gradually wormed himself into his confidence; plied him with liquor, and then mystified him by talking religion and robberies alternately. At last, when he had thus insidiously drawn all of Martin’s secrets from him, and felt that he had him completely in his power, he made himself known, to the utter astonishment and alarm of the man of lesser crimes. But Martin, in such congenial company, soon recovered himself; and, lending a willing ear, it did not take long for the highwayman to persuade him to join his future with his. As soon as he had gained his consent to the compact, he dashed a glass of brandy in his face and named him Captain Lightfoot.

On the second night of their companionship a tumult was heard in the yard of the inn, and Thunderbolt, ever on the alert for danger, said it was probably soldiers in pursuit of himself. Then telling Lightfoot where to meet him, he opened the window, leaped out, and made his escape.

The first road exploit of Lightfoot was to rob, in broad daylight, a party of gentlemen on their way to join a hunt. This he did under the direction of his superior, who remained in the background–ready, however, to come to his assistance, if needed. He commanded the four men to dismount and submit to a search, which they did. He took what money and articles of value he found on their persons, compelled one of them to change his coat and hat with him, and then, selecting the best horse for his own use, rode quietly away–a piece of impudent daring that scarcely has a parallel.

This was the beginning of a series of exploits together, in which they seemed to strive to make each succeeding one more audacious than the rest. They dashed about the country in every direction, boldly entered different cities, and carried everything with a high hand. A high price was set upon their heads, and they were constantly followed by the emissaries of justice. On several occasions they were pursued by squads of cavalry and shot at, but they seemed possessed of charmed lives. They boldly entered the city of Cork, put up at an inn, and actually spent three days there in drinking and carousing on the money they had stolen on their way thither. Discovering at last that they were suspected, they left suddenly and on foot. At Doneraile they found an advertisement in the house where they took their lodgings, giving an exact description of their appearance. The next morning, Lightfoot saw several persons, among them soldiers, approaching the inn; and waking Thunderbolt, who was sleeping with his clothes on, they rushed down stairs, the latter knocking down the landlord who attempted to stop them. They started across the fields, and the soldiers pursued and fired at them. One ball struck Thunderbolt in the calf of the leg, and so impeded his running, that it was only with the greatest difficulty he succeeded in making his escape. They finally concealed themselves in a wood, and Lightfoot cut the ball out of Thunderbolt’s leg, and both remained here several days, till the latter was able to travel again.

After this they had the audacity to enter Clonmel and attend the Criminal Court, where some United Irishmen were being tried, whom they even talked of liberating. They next push on to Dublin, stealing horses and robbing travelers every few miles of their journey. At Dublin they robbed four priests, and were pursued by a party of soldiers. Lightfoot outran them, and Thunderbolt plunged into the river and escaped by swimming.

After numerous adventures of a like nature, both in Ireland and Scotland, Lightfoot, against the advice of his partner, set off alone to rob a stage-coach full of passengers, in broad daylight. He succeeded in cutting off several trunks, but got nothing of value. On returning to Dublin, in search of his companion, he heard he had sailed for the West Indies; and finding the country getting rather too warm for himself, he embarked for America, and landed at Salem, Massachusetts.

He now made an effort to reform his vicious habits, hired himself out as a laborer, and worked steadily for more than a year; but at length fell to drinking and quarreling, and got his discharge. About this time he heard of the death of his father, and received from his brother a few hundred dollars as his share of his father’s estate. With this money he went to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and purchased a small brewery. He here failed in business, and was sold out by the sheriff. Becoming disgusted, discouraged and reckless, he returned to the road, and perpetrated a series of robberies in this country, which, for romantic daring, rivaled those in his native land.

Being at length in Boston, on the day of a military parade, and hearing that the Governor of Massachusetts was to give a dinner party at Medford, he had the audacity to go thither, watch the house for the leaving of the guests, and actually succeeded in robbing a Major Bray on his way home from the festival. He followed up this robbery with one or two others, and was at last apprehended in Springfield. He was subsequently taken to Cambridge, tried, convicted, and condemned to be hung.

After his sentence, he was put in irons and confined in a dungeon. He managed to cut his irons, knock down the turnkey and get out of prison–but was again arrested before he could make his escape. The extreme penalty of the law was finally carried into effect, on the twenty-second of December, 1822. Thus ignominiously perished this bold, bad man, in the very prime of early manhood, being only six-and-twenty years of age.

Of the fate of Thunderbolt nothing is positively known; but about the period he was supposed to leave Ireland, a Scotchman, answering his description, arrived at a small town in Vermont, by the Boston stage. This man, who gave his name as John Wilson, remained in the place for three or four years, teaching school in the winter season and gradually getting into the practice of medicine. He was always a mysterious kind of a man, would never give any account of his early life, and invariably left the room whenever a stranger was about to be ushered in. He next settled in the town of Newfane, Windham county, and set up as a physician and surgeon; but finally removed to Brattleboro, where he subsequently married, separated from his wife, and at last died, leaving one child, a son.

During his last illness he would not suffer his clothes to be removed–not even his neckerchief. After his death, it was discovered that the calf of his leg was withered by reason of an old wound, that his neck was much scarified, and that he had a cork heel.

Among his effects were two double-barreled guns, four horse-pistols, six dueling pistols, a number of swords, a dozen walking canes, and a great variety of powder-horns, shot-bags, bullet-pouches, and so forth.

Doctor John Wilson may have been devoid of any crime, but busy suspicion pointed to his dead body as the mortal remains of the lost John Doherty, the terrible Captain Thunderbolt of other days!

What a moral may be drawn from the end of such a man! who, in the path of rectitude, might have been a brilliant ornament to society, and gone down to an honored grave!

Francis A. Durivage’s Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality

Francis A. Durivage (1814-1881) was an American author and editor, best known for his light stories and feature articles for magazines, though he did produce several novels. Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality was published in 1845, twenty-four years after Martin;s death. In his preface, Durivage comments on reading Martin’s confession when he was young:

“My first definite notions of the knight errantry of the road, were formed from hearing and reading of the exploits of Michael Martin, the highwayman. His career was brought to an ignominious close, just as I had reached an age to take an interest in robber stories,real and fictitious. Martin’s ghost haunted me for a long time afterwards, and I could not help fancying that Rob Roy, Gil Blas, Abellino, and other characters of that stamp,had many traits in common with my early hero. Lately, when looking about for a subject, a souvenir of Michael flashed upon my mind, and I forth with determined to make him the hero of a little romance, based upon the slight biographical sketch of him, written in 1821, by Mr. Waldo, from details furnished by the subject, and believed to be in the main correct.”

Durivage’s short novel stays fairly close to the source material, but adds the figure of a one-time suitor of Martin’s mother, whose disappointment in not winning her hand in marriage turned him toward priesthood. As an older man, he watches over Michael Martin and attempts to steer him away from crime. Martin’s father is portrayed as cruel and uncaring.

For those interested, the full text is online at Hathi Trust, Google Books, and perhaps elsewhere.

Mike Martin: Or, The Last of the Highwaymen. A Romance of Reality

Durivage’s heavy-handed moralizing makes for a plodding read, but the text is relieved by several original poems, some of which are charming. An example:

The cloud’s on the moon, and the mist on the river;
So hushed is the night, that the leaves hardly quiver;
‘Tis the hour for us, and we must not be idle ; —
Come, rouse up the horses, and saddle and bridle.

Come, smooth down the fetlock, and comb out the mane;
To curb and to snaffle, quick, fasten the rein!
One pull at the girth, and no longer delay;
Once more in the saddle! hurrah! hark away!

Hark away! hark away! over hill, over plain,
We sweep like the wind o’er the desolate main!
Contempi for pursuit the bold highwayman feels –
Good horseflesh beneath him, and spurs on his heels.

But hush! here’s a prize! in the shade of a tree
We’ll wait for the convoy, whatever it be.
Four horses ! postilions! a lumbering coach!
Some lord and his lady – we ‘ll let them approach.

Hark! forward! Like wolves on our booty we dash.
Aside from the pathway their horses we lash-
The reins and the traces are cut with a knife –
‘Good evening, my lord. Quick, your money or life.’

His lordship turns red and his lordship turns blue,
For he likes not the looks of a pistol or two.
‘Your watch! now your money and wallet! – all right!
We’ve the pleasure, your lordship, to wish you good night.’

His lady, half fainting with fright, and in tears,
Strips the rings from her fingers, the drops from her ears;
‘Nay, lady, retain them–though robbing our trade is,
We haven’t the heart to be rude to the ladies.’

Our lives are made up of stern hardships and revels,
The women adore us — the men think us devils:
And the loveliest eyes that ‘ere languished shall weep
Where the vanquished highwayman shall take his last leap.

Mike Martin Haunts the Cambridge Police

In March, 1920, the Cambridge (MA) Police Headquarters renovated their facility at Central Square. The department had been formed in 1859; and the facility at Central Square had been in use for almost as long. Painters arrived and moved a cabinet containing a “rogue’s gallery” (mug shots of notable criminals) from its place leaning against a wall. To the horror of the building’s occupants, the unveiled wall behind the cabinet revealed a terrible, leering face. It isn’t known who it was that first theorized that the image was that of Mike Martin (whose only previously published portraits were roughly-drawn engravings), but consensus affirmed that the visage belonged to no one else.

Clearly, the situation called for expert advice. The Boston Globe of March 17, 1920 reported:

“…apostles of the occult, Ouija board experts, mediums, and others who delight in delving among the mysteries of the spirit world have been making daily pilgrimages to Police Headquarters. They have either made strenuous efforts to solve the mystery of the picture on the wall or to establish some sort of spiritualistic communication with the famous Mike himself.

“…Prof. John Percy Clapp, an expert on occultism, who was formerly associated with Appleton University, visited the headquarters and tried to arrive at a scientific explanation of the appearance of Mike Martin’s face upon the wall.

“According to the police, the best the professor could do was to establish communication with Mike via the Ouija board. Mike sent the following message to Chief of Police McBride:

“‘Dear Sir — Back again. They can’t keep a bad man down. Down below, I mean. I told then 64 years ago I’d be back and here I am. I’m Mike Martin. Them Cambridge police that caught me then are all dead now–all but two–and most of them I have settled accounts with down here, where I am an over-boss. But they is still two alive, and they noes it, but even after there dead I’ll keep coming back. On my way over to the unveiling of my picture Thursday I stopped at the Manhattan Market. But they no all about that.

“At this point the message broke off abruptly and despite the frantic efforts of Prof. Clapp communication could not be reestablished.

“Despite Mike’s warning to return again and haunt the police, the officers are not worrying very much. They figure that as it took 64 years for Mike to make his first appearance as a ghost, if he takes as long to make his second appearance, he will have to haunt a coming generation.

“According to Lieut. McMenimen, one of the oldest members of the force, who remembers Mike Martin, Mike’s oath was to the effect that he would haunt the Cambridge police to the end of eternity. So you never can tell.”

One might wonder if the Cambridge police were spooked by a different “Mike Martin,” but the Boston Globe removed that doubt a few days later with a column explaining Michael Martin’s crimes and offering a lengthy summary of his confession. Still, it is hard to understand why they thought that Martin had met his fate 64 years earlier, rather than 99.

The Cambridge Police played no role in Michael Martin’s capture, imprisonment, or execution. He was apprehended in Springfield, Massachusetts, ninety miles from Cambridge. He was taken back to face the highway robbery charge by officers of the Middlesex County sheriff, and lodged in the county jail, where he was hanged. In his confession, Martin thanked the Sheriff, General Austin, for “his great kindness and attention to me during my imprisonment.”

The Cambridge Police Department was not organized until 1859. One suspects the real story here is “Prof. John Percy Clapp,” whose boldness Michael Martin might have applauded.

Martin’s Portsmouth Brewery

Michael Martin’s confession offered a complete timeline of his movements and activities in America since he arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in June 1819. He stated that after working as a laborer in Salem, he moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and opened a brewery.

This clipping from the January 30, 1821 edition of the New Hampshire Gazette confirms that Martin, under the same name, did indeed begin a brewery operation in Portsmouth. It was very short-lived–by April he had fled town, later claiming that suppliers had swindled him.

The illustration below appeared in the Wayside Press edition of Michael Martin’s confession.