Thomas Moxom: The Case of the Cutlass & the Customs Officer

By Gwyneth Endersby, Record Assistant

Well known for its smuggling connections, Robin Hood’s Bay was the scene of a dramatic encounter between a number of residents and a Customs’ Officer in the Spring of 1775.

An indictment for Thomas Moxom, in the Quarter Session’ bundle for 1775, relates in detail Thomas’s attack on Richard Bottrell, a Customs’ Officer on duty in Robin Hood’s Bay on 8th April 1775. It states that Thomas, with “force of arms” did “unlawfully and violently beat wound and treat so ill that his (Richard’s) life was greatly despaired of” – Thomas landing “several grievous and dangerous strokes and blows with a cutlass”.

QSB 1775 6/20 Bill of indictment for Thomas Moxom of Robin Hood’s Bay, for assaulting a customs’ officer with a cutlass, April 1775

Thomas is described as breaching the King’s Peace and of being a “pernicious” example to others. Indeed, there occurred afterwards on that same day another encounter with the Customs’ Officer, whereupon Thomas, with “divers other persons to the number of three and upwards (whose names to the Jurors are as yet unknown)…did unlawfully violently forcibly hinder obstruct resist oppose molest and abuse…Richard Bottrell”.

The details regarding the exact nature of Customs’ Officer’s work that day, and what Thomas and his associates were trying to achieve by forcibly resisting his efforts, are not specified in the paperwork. The events, however, were almost certainly related to contraband.

Thomas Moxom is described in the indictment as a yeoman – a landowning farmer – which demonstrates the far reaching extent of smuggling and the strong connections between the different types of people involved. The parish registers for Fylingdales show that Thomas had just recently married Jane Bedlington, in May of the previous year, and their daughter Elizabeth was born in December 1775.

QSM 2/26 Expenses incurred by constable John Clark, whilst escorting prisoner Thomas Moxom from Robin Hood’s Bay to The Castle, York

Thomas, because of the brutal cutlass attack – and perhaps also in his perceived role as ringleader – is the only one of the Bay Town men arrested. Unfortunately, other papers relating to the case do not survive – except for an entry in the Minute and Order Book, 1776, relating to expenses of £4.00 incurred by constable John Clark, whilst escorting prisoner Thomas Moxom from Robin Hood’s Bay to The Castle, York – the destination gaol for those having committed serious crimes.

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