Highwayman was a term used particularly in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries to describe criminals who robbed people travelling by stagecoach and other modes of transport along public highways. Such outlaws would use or threaten violence in order to seize money and other valuables from their victims.
Although not all highwaymen commanded their victims to "stand and deliver", or said "Your money or your life", they are often popularly associated with these famous phrases. This is notable in "Stand and Deliver", a hit by 1980s British pop group Adam and the Ants.
Famous highwaymen include:
- Dick Turpin
- Tom King
- Jerry Abershawe
- James MacLeane
- William Plunkett
- John Nevison (aka William Nevison, aka 'Swift Nick' or Swiftnicks)
- Claude Duval
- Captain Gallagher
- the fictitious MacHeath (aka 'Mack the Knife') originally in The Beggar's Opera by John Gay, but now more famous through the The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill
- Neesy O'Haughan
The early years of the 19th century saw the gradual disappearance of the traditional highwayman. The introduction of organised city and county police forces (eg: Londonís Bow Street Runners), and the resulting better law enforcement, was one factor. The enclosure of common land was another; combined with improvements to the roads themselves, this reduced the areas in which highwaymen could operate undetected. And banking reforms also cut the amounts of cash carried by road.
Poet Alfred Noyes made a highwayman the subject of one of his most well-known poems, aptly named "The Highwayman". Famous traditional songs about highwaymen include the 1840s broadsheet ballad "Whiskey in the Jar", and other lesser known titles such as "Bold Nevison", "Gilderoy", "MacPherson's Lament", "Newlyn Town" and "Brennan on the Moor".
The Highwaymen was also the name of at least two musical groups:
- A circa 1960 "collegiate folk" group, which originated at Wesleyan University and had a hit in 1961 with "Michael Row the Boat Ashore". They have played reunion gigs as recently as 2002.
- A country supergroup of outlaw country musicians Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, whose signature song was "The Highwayman", written by Jimmy Webb.