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29 July 2014
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Legacies - Cornwall

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Myths and Legends
The smuggling Carters of Cornwall

Perfect haven

In such a lawless atmosphere owners of small, swift boats wishing to evade exorbitant tariffs on imported goods stood a good chance of evading customs officials. With punitive duties imposed on luxury items such as wine, spirits and tobacco, and with such goods available a few hours sailing away in France and Holland, there is little wonder that smuggling became a major industry along much of Britain's more remote coastline.

While the Cornish were by no means alone in pursuing this trade, it was Cornwall`s close geographical and cultural ties with Breton ports that gave Cornish smugglers their unique advantage – even the Cornish and Breton languages are similar.

The Carter family had all the necessary credentials for exploiting this dangerous but lucrative activity.
Smugglers Cove
© Courtesy of Halsgrove Publishing
Their home, Prussia Cove (originally Portleah), is tucked neatly behind a sheltered headland at the centre of the wide sweep of Mount's Bay, even today a welcome haven for shipping driven up-channel by Atlantic storms.

The little cove was difficult to reach from the landward side, at least without being seen, but it offered convenient slipways for landing cargoes, and here alongside a "good dwelling house" their property included "commodious cellars, lofts, and salt houses", ideal for storing contraband goods.

The Carter boys were fine seamen, owners of two large vessels, and possessing an intimate knowledge of both the Cornish and the French coasts. Fearless, and convinced of the immoral nature of taxation on trade, the brothers were held in high regard by their fellow Cornishmen.

This latter trait was essential in protecting them from the authorities. Smuggling relied upon a close network of individuals ranging from the smugglers themselves to those who stored, transported, and resold the goods into the local and national markets.

Words: Sadie Butler

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