Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First it was pirates, then the smugglers and river pilots.

Lewes, Del., Jan., 22, 1883;

This quaint little town is fast regaining the unenviable notoriety is once possessed as a haunt for smugglers. for some time after the exposure of 1878, when several of the most daring evaders of the revenue laws were captured with contraband goods in their possession, the risky traffic was totally abandoned, owing to the pressure of a number of secret service detectives. The withdrawal of these officers, however, was signalized by an immediate revival of the nefarious business, which has continued without interruption up to the present day.
The existence in Lewes of an organized band of smugglers is an open secret throughout that portion of the Peninsula, yet for fully four years not the slightest effort has been made by the government official to break it up. While the illicit trade is nor conducted on a scale so extensive as that practiced in the palmier days of smuggling, nevertheless fully thirty thousand dollars worth of cigars and rum are annually loaded at the Breakwater without the knowledge of the resident Deputy Collector of Customs, Dr. Burton.
There is probably no town on the coast that possesses such favorable facilities for successful smuggling as does Lewes. Situated within a short distance of Cape Henlopen, and directly in the beaten track of navigation and possessing a harbor of unequaled safety, it has become the favorite stopping place for sailing vessels, especially for those returning from southern ports. It is a conspicuous fact that traders of this character rarely, if ever, pass Lewes on their inward passage without putting in. However flimsy the excuse for stopping may sometimes appear, the stop is made, and invariably extended until after dark. If the vessel has smuggled goods on board this fact is conveyed to the band at Lewes by means of a signal and at night they are quietly landed and stowed away while the unconscious Revenue collector is enjoying his slumbers. Such is the common talk of the town folks.
It has not been many days since a leading spirit in the snuggling gang, named Wiltbank, became dissatisfied at the division of a boat load of rum and cigars and threatened to "preach" if his allotment was not increased. The others laughed at his threat and refused to comply with his request. True to his word, however, the discontented adventurer swore out a warrant before a neighboring Justice of the Pace against his comrades, and it was only by the payment of a large sum of amount of money that the case was composed in time to prevent it being heard in a court room.
The smuggling band at Lewes numbers probably one dozen men. Its operations are mainly directed by pilots who while bringing vessel up, negotiate with the captains for the landing of smuggled goods. The spoils are equally divided among the gang and those who prefer cash to goods are always accommodated by one of their number, the moneyed man of the clique.
There is no possibility of effectually preventing smuggling here unless a revenue office is established on the beach overlooking the Breakwater and adjoining the wreckers huts and unwavering vigilance exercised day and night. s matters now are, the freebooters have fully sway. The town is full of smuggled liquor and cigars and it is not infrequent for a person to receive an invitation to have some smuggled brandy or to smoke a smuggled cigar.

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