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Confessions of a Rum Smuggler
By Ed Wedig with editorial assistance from Brian Carnes
A letter to the ships financiers, excerpted from the Ship’s log of the Schooner Intrepid at sea, a venture merchant of Baltimore
July 17: Our hold is filled full of barrels of a particularly valuable vintage of fine Barbados rum, rumored to have been purloined from the pirate King of Madagascar himself. Although we are at peace with our neighbors, a prohibition on the sale or transport as well as an open bounty for recovery of this rum has been issued by all major governments and the pirates. Although the danger is great, I have decided that transporting our cargo to another port will be a profitable endeavor.
The wind is not with us, however speed is of the essence, thus I had the men break out the sweeps to get us positioned for our voyage. We plan to sail from Portside Quay to the Spanish Fort and try to sell our cargo there. If the Spaniards do not want it, we will carry on to another port, although I, and the men, would prefer to be rid of this cargo as quickly as possible.
Our ship, the topsail schooner Intrepid, has been dubbed by the men as “the Ed-er-prise,” although I am loath in using the nickname, in honor of myself, Captain Edward. She is a fast and maneuverable ship of 150 tons burthen, with a voluminous cargo hold. She has served me well in past endeavors, although a bigger ship would be better, if our current voyage proves profitable.
As we left the port, we spotted a small, flush-decked sloop also leaving beating uopwing and the port tack. She flies what appears to be a pirate flag, and the men are uneasy. It would be best to avoid her.
July 18: The pirate sloop, which has revealed herself to be the Angry Wasp, of New Providence, nearly took our bowsprit off when she cut across our bow unexpectedly and sailed in front of us. I do not think that her captain has much experience, especially since our ship is nearly twice her size. On inspection, we outgun her considerably, with us at twelve long 4’s plus 14 swivel mounted ½ pounders, versus her eight short pattern 2 pounders which has eased the men’s idle chatter. We did not raise a fuss, as we did not want to raise suspicions.
July 25: We approached the Spanish fort, but they denied us entry. They did not believe me when I stated that we were looking to take on livestock. Forget them! They can stay sober!
July 28: While attempting to dock off Fort Block-O, we were hailed by the sloop Angry Wasp. She is asking to inspect our hold for rum smuggling. I spun her captain an excuse about navigating a tricky passage between the Spanish fort and Fort BlockO, and requested that she meet me on the other side. She agreed. I do not believe I will be attending that meeting.
We also spotted a British brig, larger than us on the horizon. Reckoning by her run-out guns and the trim of her topsails, it is probably an interdiction ship, so we will need to plot our course carefully.
August 1: A fortuitous occurrence! After navigating the narrow passage, we made a break for Cornertown, hoping to sell our cargo quickly. The Angry Wasp attempted to follow, but was incidentally blocked by the arrival of the cutter HMS Alert of the Royal Navy’s customs squadron. While the two of them hove to and conferred then attempted to coordinate movement (so that the much larger Alert did not accidentally run over the Wasp), we slipped quietly away, still heading for Cornertown.
August 6: An abrupt change of plans. The HMS Alert and Angry wasp have joined forces and taken up pursuit, or are at least heading towards Cornertown. The Wasp is nearly as fast as we are, and more maneuverable, so I do not believe that I will have time to get to town, contact my man and sell our cargo. The Wasp would be on us before long. And, with the presence of the Alert and the British brig, which we believe to be the Athena, of Liverpool, in the nearby waters, the atmosphere is too hot for us. So, I have ordered a course away from Cornertown, to the dismay of our men.
August 10: We have spotted a well armed Dutch merchantman, and hailed them. In conference with her captain, it became apparent that we both had similar cargos, so we came to an accord to continue on our respective plans without interference.
August 13: We finally reached a friendly port! Fort Corner accepted my story about needing water and shore leave, and I was able to contact my man there and transfer the cargo. This was a well paying endeavor!
While we were in port, one of the men visited the port post. He ran back to the ship to report that a wanted poster for myself, along with a detailed description of our schooner had been put up. As typical, they failed to capture my regal nose in the woodcut. It seems that one of the governments wanted to question me about some “illegal” activities. I ordered the men to quickly repaint the ship, and I stayed below decks and out of sight as much as possible.
August 16: Just a day out of port, we have stopped at what we thought was an uninhabited island. Our cargo hold is empty, and so we searched for anything that we could transport for a profit. Some of the men found a small chest of silver coins, which they brought back to the ship. The men also discovered an altar with some jade relics on it, but the altar was swarming with the dreaded Men of the Red Chest. I ordered the men to leave the relics alone. If I can assemble a larger group of men at a future date, we will come back and take the relics.
Before leaving the island, some of the men discovered a stash of barrels of Barbados rum. Dash it! The Angry Wasp is still heading in our direction, and I would prefer to have a legal (or empty) hold to show her. We could leave the rum and come back later, but our circumstances have changed.
A passing fisherman informed us that a large bounty (£5,000) has been placed on my head, dead or alive. I can only conclude that my man at Fort Corner was arrested, and now the interdiction ships are going to chase us down. We still have the new paint on the ship, but I doubt that it will fool anyone for long.
As we preparing to leave the island, the Wasp hailed us, and when we ignored it, she fired a warning shot that nearly took my head from my body. She then ordered us not to move, so that she could board and inspect our ship, but I am not going to give her that opportunity. We have decided to take the rum with us. If we can avoid the Wasp for a while longer, we may still be able to sell it for a profit.
August 20: We have left the island and made way for Portside Quay. There is a chance that my contacts there could hide me until the current unpleasantness blows over. For now, I have moved the ship behind the island so as not to provide an easy shot for the Wasp. The wind is starting to turn against us, so careful plotting is required.
August 27: We have made good time towards Portside Quay, but I have decided to make a stop at Hut Island. I believe that we will have enough time to offload our cargo before the Angry Wasp arrives, assuming that the inhabitants of the island do not try to get the bounty themselves. We will have to fight in that occurrence.
A gun battery on a nearby island shot at us and managed to do some minimal damage to our hull. They were firing hot shot, but we were able to contain the fire in short order.
September 1: Upon docking at Hut Island, we found the people there surprisingly friendly, even though my wanted poster was posted they were very eager to purchase our cargo of rum thus turned a blind eye to the posters.
As we prepared to depart, the Wasp sailed up and ran hard up on reef on the other side of the island. I am now convinced that the captain is a novice. Since we were able to bear a few guns at range onto her deck (while we unloaded the cargo!) and she had no guns in place to fire back we took a few random shots at her! From the list of her hull and how low she was riding, I believe that her hull was holed, and had taken on some great amount of water. I think that her pursuit days are at an end, at least for now.
September 4: We sailed around the end of Hut Island and began our journey to the hopeful safety of Portside Quay, but the wind has completely turned against us. While beating upwind on the starboard tack I have endeavored to keep the island between us and our pursuers, but also to present an effective broadside, should it come down to cannons. The Alert was able to hit us once with her 6 pound chase gun, and destroyed the carriage of one of our deck guns.
September 7: 2 bells on the Dog Watch: We have spotted the Dutch merchant ship ahead of us, and beyond that, the Athena docked at Portside Quay. There will be no safety in that port. In that regard, we have decided to turn and fight against the Wasp. I hope to sink her, or at least disable her, and then attempt to slip past the Alert to more open waters. The wind is making this difficult.
September 7: Dog Watch, 6 bells: That blasted woman! Surprising my crew and myself, the captain of the Wasp has managed to ungrounded the sloop and continue pursuit. We had not made much headway for the lack of wind. The pesky Wasp rammed herself into our port side, near the stern. She destroyed her (apparently recently repaired) bowsprit, and did some damage to both of our hulls. We opened fire with the cannons that we could bear, and all of our available swivel rail pieces. It was difficult to see the result, because at that moment, the HMS Alert fired again on our port-side bow, and killed a few of my men. We fired back with the cannons that we did not fire against the Wasp, but I believe we only did minimal damage.
September 7: Dog Watch 8 Bells: I ordered my men to board the Wasp, who was still crushed against our hull, but as the smoke cleared, we discovered only 6 unarmed sailors and her captain left aboard. They raised a white flag, so we took them into custody. The American government has a standing bounty for the capture of known pirates. We searched her hold, but did not find anything of worth.
We had some luck in that the sun was going down. The Alert did not continue to fire at us, and we were able to slip away in the darkness. we will make Shark Isle in a day’s sail where I hope to rid us of the last traces of our foray into the rum trade, careen the bottom, and take on trade goods for the orient.
I remain, respectfully,
Captain EDWARD of the INTREPID
Signed at sea on this, the Seventh of September in the year of our Lord, Seventeen Hundred and Ninety Nine
Thunder of Valor!
by Chris Bowen in 2008
Captains Log – Commodore Bowen of the Royal Navy In Command of the HMS Swift (Clipper), HMS Bee (Schooner), HMS Rowboat (Long 8 Sloop), HMS Fire (Bomb Ketch)
Assignment: Fort Bombardment
Conditions: Thunderstorms, High winds to the South
Upon arrival at our target, we identified a small fleet defending the fort consisting of a Baltimore Clipper, a Brig, and two long 8 sloops.
Deciding against the bombardment until the opposing fleet had been dealt with, I ordered the fleet to close in on the defenders. Mortar Fire from the fort struck the HMS Fire as we began our advance, devastating the small deck crew of her, but we pressed on.
The flagship of the enemy fleet broke off, in an attempt to box us in. I then ordered my fleet to a line ahead formation, and brought it up alongside the remaining three ships in the enemies line.
Having ordered the larboard broadsides to load double-shot with chain prior to the engagement, we opened up with a devastating hail of fire cutting down one of the masts of the enemy brig. The enemy fleet countered and destroyed the single mast of the newly dubbed HMS rowboat. The smoke was too thick to fire small arms at this time.
I then ordered the fleet to turn hard to larboard, directly towards the damaged fleet in a line abreast formation, hoping to finish off the smaller ships before the enemy flagship could assist. As the fleet turned, I noticed the enemy fleet had employed the same tactic, and both fleets were on collision course with each other and closing fast.
We managed to avoid any direct head-on collisions, but the ships were packed in so tightly the ships rubbed sides causing them to jam into one long line of ships, side by side.
From the deck of my flagship, which positioned itself just outside what was soon to be coined the “flotilla of death”, I witnessed destruction the likes that I have never seen before.
Broadsides at point blank ranges rang out with grape and bar shot cutting through spars, masts and men. as the masts began to fall, they would crash onto the ships that surrounded them, until every single mast in the floatilla had fallen entangling every ship in a web of rope and wood.
Then the small arms fire erupted, and a boarding party from the enemy brig took the decks of the HMS Fire but not before the deck crew made a valiant last stand, showing their expertise with the ships rail guns and unleashing an amazingly accurate attack on the boarding party, the mortar crew then battened themselves below deck for protection. The crew of the HMS Rowboat also took severe casualties, but the HMS Bee faired much better clearing the deck of the enemy sloop beside it.
When all was said and done we came out on the better side as far as crew survival, but both fleets were badly wrecked, and only the flagships remained mobile.
– More soon!