Sandy Flash (died 1778) was the name by which James Fitzpatrick, a late 18th-century highwayman, was better known. Sandy Flash operated in the areas west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (now parts of Chester and Delaware counties) in the late 18th century.
James Fitzpatrick was born in Chester County, the son of an Irish emigrant. As a young man, he was apprenticed to a nearby blacksmith, and upon the completion of his apprenticeship, he worked as a journeyman blacksmith in various locations in Pennsylvania.
Upon the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War Fitzpatrick enlisted in the Continental army. During that service, he was flogged as a punishment for some infraction, and he subsequently deserted. He was arrested and imprisoned in Philadelphia, then released upon condition to re-enter the army, whereupon he deserted a second time. After General Howe captured Philadelphia in 1777, Fitzpatrick joined the British army and, on a number of occasions, engaged in raids into the area now known as Chester County and Delaware County. After the British army evacuated Philadelphia in 1778, Fitzpatrick remained in the area and continued to engage in raids against the Continental Army and its supporters in the area. Fitzpatrick particularly preyed on tax collectors—after robbing them, he would frequently strip them, tie them to trees and flog them. On another occasion, he captured a Continental officer who prided himself on wearing his hair in a neat queue—after robbing him and beating him, Fitzpatrick cut the officer's hair as an additional indignity.
Fitzpatrick became well known for acts of reckless bravado. He frequently taunted local officials and law officers who attempted to arrest them, often by ambushing and robbing them. On one occasion, he reportedly attended, in disguise, a meeting called by a local assembly to devise plans for his own capture. After one militia captain present at the meeting repeatedly announced that he intended to see Fitzpatrick and then bring him to justice, Fitzpatrick asked the captain to meet with him alone in another room, whereupon Fitzpatrick revealed his true identity, robbed him, tied his victim's hands behind him with his own handkercheif, and told him "Now sir, you may go back to your friends and tell them that you wanted to see Captain Fritz and you have seen him."
Despite his crimes, Fitzpatrick was reputed to have a gallant side—like Robin Hood, he is reputed to have given gifts to the poor—particularly poor women on a few occasions, and he was never known to steal from the poor or to mistreat a woman.
In 1778, Fitzpatrick was finally captured and, after a number of escape attempts from prison, he was hanged on September 26 of that year. Reportedly, the rope used to hang him was too long, such that when he fell from the gallows, his feet touched the ground. The hangman then climbed onto Fitzpatrick's shoulders to force him down, so he was actually strangled.
According to local legend, Fitzpatrick buried a substantial treasure in the Castle Rock area (a rocky hill in the eastern part of Edgmont Township, Pennsylvania, near Crum Creek. No such treasure has ever been found.
Despite his violent crimes and the relatively short span of his criminal career, Sandy Flash has become a figure of folklore in the areas of Chester County and Delaware County. Several streets in the area are named for him, including a road within Ridley Creek State Park and a street in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
- Delaware County was part of Chester County until 1789.
- Warden, Rosemary S.. ""The Infamous Fitch": The Tory Bandit, James Fitzpatrick of Chester County". http://ojs.libraries.psu.edu/index.php/phj/article/download/25246/25015. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
- Who was Sandy Flash? - Chester County Genealogy
- FRONTLINE: Retrospect - Standing on Sandy’s Shoulders by Mark E. Dixon
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