John the Painter

The First Modern Terrorist

By Jessica Warner
Book Review Details
Author: Jessica Warner
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd.
Edition: 2005
Page Details
Section: Book Reviews =>
Subjects: Radical Bristol
Posted: Modified:

During the early days of the American Revolution, James Aitken, alias John the Painter, set fire to the Royal Navy dockyards of Portsmouth and Bristol, briefly striking terror into the hearts of the English. Completely forgotten today, Aitken strove to gain notoriety through various criminal acts, culminating in the arson he committed in support of the American rebels. Warner traces Aitken’s life from his restless childhood in the poverty and grime of Old Town, Edinburgh, to his exploits as an indentured servant in the colonies, from his time as a British soldier-and repeated deserter-to his plots against the Crown. Aitken believed that if he could destroy British ports and thus hobble the great Royal Navy, then America would win the war. Warner points out that Aitken even tried to enlist prominent Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, to support his plots (Publishers Weekly).

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