What is a Road Agent?

Jacob Queen

Road agent is another term used to describe outlaws who are more commonly referred to as highwaymen. The term road agent was used more often in America, while highwayman was more common in English speaking parts of Europe. Similar outlaws have existed in many parts of the world, and their main tactics were to rob people while they were traveling. Usually these robberies were targeted at groups of people traveling by stagecoach. Sometimes they were carried out by gangs, and at other times, they were be carried out by a single robber.

Modern variants of road agents include robbers who force people off the road to steal their belongings.
Modern variants of road agents include robbers who force people off the road to steal their belongings.

A road agent would usually wait in an area that was well secluded and generally far away from any law enforcement. They would normally carry firearms and often attacked on horseback. Passengers were expected to empty their bags for the robber, who would also steal any money being transported by the stagecoach. These bandits usually didn’t harm the passengers, though there were plenty of exceptions to that rule. Sometimes they covered their faces in various ways to hide their identities.

The road agent was often considered a heroic figure by the common people of the time. Many bandits over the years developed reputations for being charitable. For example, in some cases they might rob a stagecoach, and only take money from passengers who were financially well off. These sorts of tactics paid off by making the poor people favor the outlaws, which led to less cooperation with authorities.

There are also plenty of cases of violent behavior by road agents. Some of them engaged in random acts of violence without any concern for others, including random murders and rapes. In some cases, even the most violent agents were able to gain heroic reputations because people weren’t aware of their behavior or confused them with other agents who had less callous ethics.

Eventually, countries were able to establish law enforcement practices that made the job of being a road agent much more difficult. For example, stagecoaches might be accompanied by armed guards and scouts. There was also an establishment of roaming patrols who looked for road agents and wandered in areas where robberies were common. Eventually the practice of being a road agent was generally wiped out.

Other forms of robbery exist today that are somewhat similar to the road agent of the past. For example, a carjacking is comparable in some ways, and there are also road robberies in which gangs force people’s cars off the roads and steal their belongings. These practices happen all over the world, but they are much more common in high-crime areas and countries that don't have as much law enforcement.

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