Martin’s 1821 Confession

The core document to the legend of the highwaymen, Captain Thunderbolt and Captain Lightfoot, is the 1821 prison confession of Michael Martin. Martin’s story of his life was conveyed through a series of interviews with Francis W. Waldo, a Boston newspaperman and lawyer, between October and early December of that year.

Waldo published Martin’s confession in a pamphlet that quickly went through three editions in early 1822. With lax copyright laws, Martin’s confession was reprinted many times throughout the 19th century, under slightly varying titles:

Life of Michael Martin, Who Was Executed for Highway Robbery, December 20, 1821

Confession of Michael Martin, or Captain Lightfoot, who was hung at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the year 1821, for the robbery of Maj. Bray.

An authentic account of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot [J.D. and M.M.] two notorious highwaymen, etc.

Starting in 1847, it was sometimes reprinted with an additional section asserting that the late Dr. John Wilson of Brattleboro, Vermont, had been Captain Thunderbolt.

The most accessible and readable edition of Martin’s confession was printed in 1926 by the Wayside Press as Captain Lightfoot, the last of the New England highwaymen; a narrative of his life and adventures, with some account of the notorious Captain Thunderbolt. [The full version is available via the Internet Archive]. This edition included a short preface by antiquarian George Francis Dow that misnamed Martin’s transcriber as Frederick W. Waldo, instead of Francis W. Waldo. This unfortunate error has persisted in library catalogs and was prominently featured on the cover of Dover Publication’s 1970 reprint of the Wayside edition.

The following articles (blog entries) deconstruct and examine the statements made in Martin’s confession:

£500 on Thunderbolt’s Head

Lightfoot and the Lord-Lieutenant

The Exceptional John Doherty

The Brig Maria

Martin’s Portsmouth Brewery

The Execution of Michael Martin

Michael Martin — Genealogy Clues

Martin’s Amazing Escape Attempt

Niall Ó Ciosáin on the Context of Michael Martin’s Confession