Welcome to another Wooden Boat Wednesday!
This week we present a second account of land-based "pirates" along our shores, as recounted in a January 1835 edition of the New York Courier & Enquirer (and reprinted in many others, including the Pittsburgh Gazette).
A BANDITTI DISCOVERED.
Through the agency of Huntington, one of the most vigilant of our police officers, the most extensive band of robbers ever known, in the United States, has been discovered, and some of the prominent members of the gang arrested, and in a fair way to receive the punishment of their crimes. For the circumstances which led to this extraordinary development, we are indebted to Mr. Huntington, and they are as follows:
About two months since, the schooner James Fisher, bound hence for Philadelphia, and laden with a cargo valued at eight thousand dollars [$252,680 in 2021 dollars], was in a gale of wind cast away on the beach at Barnegat Inlet, Monmouth county [Ocean County not being established until 1850], New Jersey. The night after she went to shore she was boarded by a gang of about one hundred land pirates, who carried off the whole of her cargo in small boats, and, as it now appears, secreted the goods in their respective dwellings near the beach and in the interior of the county. The vessel was not insured! And notwithstanding the utmost exertions of her commander, he was unable to discover a vestige of the plundered property.
Three weeks after the wreck of the James Fisher, the schooner Henry Franklin, with a full cargo, bound from Boston to Philadelphia, was, under similar adverse circumstances, stranded in the same place. This vessel was insured at the United States and Commonwealth Insurance Offices at Boston. The morning after the disaster the captain went before Wm. Platt, Esq., a justice of the peace residing near the spot where she was stranded, and made the statement and protest usual on such occasions. In the night following, during the absence of the captain, a band of pirates, numbering more than one hundred, with faces blacked and otherwise disguised, made a descent on the stranded vessel, ordered the mate and seamen to leave her, and threatened them with instant death in case they made any resistance. They then forced the hatches and carried off 71 bags of coffee and 35 barrels of mackerel.
The mate hastened to find the captain and communicated the circumstances of the robbery. They instantly armed themselves and furnished the crew with weapons, and returned to the wreck, but in the interim the plunderers had fled, and the vessel remained unmolested. As soon as the insurance companies at Boston received account of the accident, and subsequent robbery of the vessel, they despatched an agent in the New York police office. He made application to Huntington for advice on the subject, and furnished him with full power to proceed in the affair, and authorized him to disburse any reasonable amount of money in order to recover the property and bring the robbers to justice. Huntington being thus fully empowered, at once commenced operations, and by the exercise of that extraordinary tact with which he is gifted, succeeded before night in discovering and arresting one of the most prominent leaders of the gang, a Captain Hulsehart; who was then on board his sloop, the New Jersey, of Barnegat, lying in the North River. After putting this fellow in Bridewell, he sought out and secured two sailors also concerned in plundering the Henry Franklin. One of them called himself Holcomb Everingham, but the other refused to give his name. Huntington then applied to Judge Betts for authority to remove the prisoners to N. Jersey, which being granetd, they were safely lodged in Newark jail. Immediately after the arrest of Hulsehart became known, it was observed that most of the Barnegat vessels, which were lying in the North River, hoisted sail and went to sea, and what is most singular, not one of them has been heard of since.
Huntington next applied to Garriet D. Wall, Esq. U.S. District Attorney for New Jersey, in order to obtain process for the arrest of several other robberies.—Having procured the necessary authority, he, in company with Gen. Davey, Marshal of New Jersey, set sail in the revenue cutter Alert, Capt. Gold, which was placed under his direction by Mr. Swartwout, Collector of our port. On their way to Barnegat they fell in with another leader of the pirates, Capt. Edward Wainwright, who was coming to New York in his schooner loaded with wood. They arrested him, and proceeded on their voyage.
Having arrived at the Inlet, Huntington, with a sufficient force, proceeded to a tavern kept by one John Allen, Sir. The old culprit had made his escape, but they succeeded in arresting his three sons, Isaac, Abraham, and John, all members of the gang. They next commenced searching the house, and found a part of the cargo of the James Fisher, which was known by the private marks furnished by the merchant in Philadelphia to Huntington.
He next arrested Reuben Grant, another tavern keeper, in whose house he also found goods that were stolen from the James Fisher.—The officer and his associates then proceeded across the bay to the main shore and arrested Joseph and Thomas Bunnell storekeeper and farmer.
After this, their visit was to no less a person than William Platt, Esquire, (the identical magistrate before whom the Captain of the H. Franklin had entered his protest,) in order to arrest him and his son as participes criminis, but the birds had flown.
In this house of this conservator of the peace, Huntington found a quantity of the property which had been plundered from a vessel called the General Putnam, wrecked on Barnegat Shoal in the year 1833, at which time goods to the value of $30,000 [$992,671 in 2021 dollars] were stolen by the wreckers. Although the great devil of the band, and his son had escaped, they contrived to apprehend another pirate named Zephania Johnson, a resident in Platt's house. Mr. Huntington states that nearly two thirds of the inhabitants of that district to the extent of four or five miles are implicated in these villainous transactions, to which they were instigated by the magistrate. The work of piracy has been going on for years past, and many of those concerned have grown rich by their iniquity.
Farmers, store keepers, sailors, and heads of families have absconded and left their property from the dread of the retribution which surely awaits them. The names of nearly one hundred are known to the authorities, and no effort will be left untried to bring to punishment one of the most extensive banditti that this or any other country has ever known.
Unwilling to excite public prejudice against those beings, bad as they are, we refrain from detailing the fiend like arts and contrivances which it is said they resorted to, to secure the destruction of vessels and the plunder of property. Many of them are too horrible for detail and perhaps are untrue.
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