In July 1785 the Newcastle authorities placed an advertisement in the Newcastle Courant announcing that there were:
Three Boys, Natives of Scotland, in Custody at Newcastle suspected to belong to a Gang of Thieves and Pick-Pockets … They lately came from Edinburgh, have all the Scots accent, and were last at Stagshaw Bank Fair, where they appeared to be connected with a gang of several other suspected persons.
They were not very formidable: the eldest, Thomas Boag, was 25 years of age and only about 5 feet in height, while his companions Daniel McKie and Steel McColloch, or McCalow, were about 15 and 14, and under 4 feet 10 inches. 1 Nothing came of this alarm, though individual Scottish boy-pickpockets were prosecuted in subsequent years. This account is typical of the language used in eighteenth-century crime reporting, reflecting a very distinctive notion of criminal danger. Criminal activity was often described as involving gangs of mobile outsiders.
Exaggerated anxiety about organized crime was not unique to this region, for images of early modern crime were shaped by the myth of the gang and its dominance of a criminal underworld of organized professionals, a picture that had been common since at least the sixteenth century. According to this portrait, the underworld possessed its own language (“cant”), forms of leadership, and economic resources. It seemed an alternative to the respectable community and beyond any control by