Bampfylde Moore Carew, one-time King of the Gypsies, was born into relative affluence, the son of the Rector of Bickley, near Tiverton, Devon, in 1693. His biographer (it is not quite certain who this is, but Liam Quin, of fromoldbooks.org says authorship of The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, [a full, scanned version is available on Google Books] probably belongs to the wife of printer and compiler Robert Goadby, to whom Carew dictated his memoirs) describes him as "tall and majestic; his limbs strong and well-proportioned, his features regular, his countenance open and ingenious, bearing all those characteristical marks to which physiognomists denote an honest and good-natured mind".

As an adolescent who had developed a taste for the hunt, Carew and his friends chased down and killed a deer belonging to Colonel Nutcombe of the Claybanger parish and in so doing caused "havock" in their neighbour's corn fields. To avoid punishment for the misdemeanour, Carew ran away and joined the gypsies and so began a career of swindling and imposture. He travelled to Newfoundland and on his return, posing as the mate of a vessel, he eloped with the daughter of an apothecary whom he later married.

When Clause Patch, (the King of the Beggars in John Fletcher's play Beggar's Bush) died, Carew was elected his successor. A conviction of vagrancy earned him transportation to Maryland, where he escaped and befriended native Americans who relieved him of the heavy collar he had been made to wear. Carew made his way to New London and embarked for England. He avoided impressment on board a man-of-war by pricking his hands and face and rubbing in bay salt and gunpowder to simulate smallpox. Although he Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew is a series of frauds and deceptions, it was a popular read. The colourful, well-educated Carew was appealing – he was seen as someone who could outwit the establishment while never doing anything really bad. The first edition of Carew's biography, published in 1745, describes him as “the Noted Devonshire Stroller and Dogstealer”. "The Oath Of The Canting Crew", which spells out the requirements of belonging to the gypsies, as well as other canting songs and a canting dictionary, is included in most editions. The notes to the Oath are available on fromoldbooks.org, where author Liam Quin has transcribed a collections of canting songs.

 

 

The Oath Of The Canting Crew

I, Crank Cuffin, swear to be
True to this fraternity;
That I will in all obey
Rule and order of the lay.
Never blow the gab or squeak;
Never snitch to bum or beak;
But religiously maintain
Authority of those who reign
Over Stop Hole Abbey green,
Be their tawny king, or queen.
In their cause alone will fight;
Think what they think, wrong or right;
Serve them truly, and no other,
And be faithful to my brother;
Suffer none, from far or near,
With their rights to interfere;
No strange Abram, ruffler crack, Hooker of another pack,
Rogue or rascal, frater, maunderer, Irish toyle, or other wanderer;
No dimber, dambler, angler, dancer,
Prig of cackler, prig of prancer;
No swigman, swaddler, clapperdudgeon;
Cadge-gloak, curtal, or curmudgeon;
No whip-jack, palliard, patrico;
No jarkman, be he high or low;
No dummerar, or romany;
No member of the family;
No ballad-basket, bouncing buffer,
Nor any other, will I suffer;
But stall-off now and for ever
All outtiers whatsoever;
And as I keep to the foregone,
So may help me Salamon! [By the mass!]

 

 

Illustration: Portrait of Bampfylde Moore Carew, frontispiece of The Life and Adventures of Bampfylde Moore Carew, 1745