SHEPPARD, JOHN [JACK] (1702-1724), English criminal, was born at Stepney, near London, in December 1702. His father, who, like his grandfather and great-grandfather, was a carpenter, died the following year, and Jack SHeppard was brought up in the Bishopsgate workhouse. One of his father's old employers apprenticed him to the family trade, but young Sheppard fell into bad company at a neighbouring Drury Lane tavern. Here he met Elizabeth Lyon, known as " Edgeworth Bess," a woman of loose character with whom he lived, and to gratify whose tastes he committed many of his crimes. At the end of 1723 he was arrested as a runaway apprentice, and thenceforward, he says, " I fell to robbing almost every one that stood in my way," Joseph Blake, known as " Blueskin," being a frequent confederate. In the first six months of 1724 he twice escaped from gaol, and towards the end of that period he was responsible for an almost daily robbery in or near London. Eventually, however, his independent attitude provoked the bitter enmity of Jonathan Wild, who procured his capture at the end of July. Sheppard was tried at the Old Bailey and condemned to death, but, largely thanks to " Edgeworth Bess," he managed to escape from the condemned cell, and was soon back in his old haunts. In September he was rearrested and imprisoned in the strongest part of Newgate, being actually chained to the floor of his cell, but by a combination of strength and skill he escaped through the chimney to the roof of the prison, whence he lowered himself into the adjoining house. After a few days' concealment he was rash enough to reappear in the Drury Lane quarter. He was captured, hopelessly drunk, in a Clare Market tavern and reimprisoned, his cell being now watched night and day. On the 16th of November 1724 he was hanged at Tyburn. He was then not quite twenty-two.
Sheppard has been made the unworthy hero of much romance, of which Harrison Ainsworth's novel, Jack Sheppard (1839), is the most notable instance. In truth he was merely a vulgar scoundrel, who did not hesitate to rob his only real friend.
See A Narrative of all the Robberies, Escapes, etc., of John Sheppard, attributed to Daniel Defoe (London, 1724); Newgate Calendar, ed. Knapp and Baldwin; Griffiths, Chronicles of Newgate; British Journal (August, October 1724) ; Weekly Journal (August, September, November 1 724) ; Celebrated Trials.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)