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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Cornwall

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Myths and Legends
The smuggling Carters of Cornwall

Friends in high places

It is known that both John and Harry were ardent Methodists (John and Charles Wesley had preached in Cornwall in the mid 1700s), and this too endeared them to their fellow countrymen. It is said that Harry held Sunday services on the quayside for smugglers when he was exiled in Roscoff.

Swearing and unseemly behaviour by the crew was forbidden on the Carters' vessels. We know that Harry owned two large vessels, a 19-gun cutter of 160 tons, and a 20-gun lugger, each with a crew of around 30 men. Each vessel was equipped with at least one smaller boat for close inshore work.

Encounters with revenue cutters (boats) and naval vessels were avoided if possible,
Lizard Point
The entire Cornish coast is dotted with coves
© Mark Norton/Cornwall Tourist Board
but running battles did ensue amid smoke-billowing cannons and the splintering of masts Harry describes injuries received in one such battle in 1788: "the bone of my nose was cut right in two and two very large cuts in my head that two or three pieces of my skull worked out afterwards". Though grievously hurt, Harry fled from the scene and remained in hiding for three months while his wounds healed.

While Harry ran the transport side of the business, John concerned himself with sales and distribution, an occupation also not entirely free from violence. On one occasion, from a gun battery high on top of the cliffs, John and his followers poured cannon fire into a revenue cutter that was attempting to follow one of the Carters' vessels into Prussia Cove. Later the cutter returned fire and, when customs officers joined in the attack from the landward side, John and his men had to seek refuge in a friendly house nearby.

Words: Sadie Butler

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