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21 August 2014
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Legacies - Cornwall

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Myths and Legends
The smuggling Carters of Cornwall

Strange Customs

Despite these bloody encounters, at other times an uneasy truce appears to have existed between the Carters and the customs authorities. Poorly paid and disliked by many of the people among whom they lived, minor officials were unwilling to put their lives at risk, while others were more than happy to turn a blind eye in return for a bribe. Besides, John Carter’s honest character was held in high regard; even the excise men recognised his fair dealing.

On one occasion, when the authorities had seized contraband from Prussia Cove,
Kynance Cove
The beauty of Cornish coves belie their often bloody past
© Paul Watts/Cornwall Tourist Board
storing it in the Customs House at Penzance, John broke in and took back his "property", while leaving other goods untouched. "John Carter has been here", reported one of the customs officers. "We know it because he has taken nothing away that was not his own".

In 1803, the Carters' property in Prussia Cove was offered for sale by auction, although some say this may have been arranged to convince the authorities that the family were now "going straight". At this time a copper mine was opened on the cliffs overlooking the cove, and on the slipways where brandy barrels had once been hauled ashore, now coal was landed to drive the mine's newly-installed steam engine.

Perhaps the new-found wealth from mining proved more lucrative than smuggling, but we do know that the reign of the King of Prussia came to a close around 1807. Shortly after this John's name disappears from the scene while Harry is known to have retired to a farm nearby, living out his final years preaching in the neighbourhood.

Other members of the Carter family are said to have continued the family "business" into the 1820s, but the success of the improved revenue service in seizing contraband became ever-more effective.

Besides, the public taste for the like of smugglers had also melted away as prosperity from mining ushered in a new era of gentility. As a final irony, in 1825, tenders for the building of a Coastguard Station at Prussia Cove put an end, once and for all, to the King of Prussia's smuggling realm.

Words: Sadie Butler

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