Harry Carter – the highlights

Harry (Henry) was the fourth of the seven of the Carter brothers of Prussia’s Cove. Born in Pengersick (Praa Sands) in 1749, we know much about him because his manuscript autobiography has survived. First published in the Methodist Journal and later reproduced for a wider audience in 1894, it has been reprinted several times, usually with cuts where Harry expresses describes the detail of his religious fervour and activities. The following is a summary of some of the key events.

1749: born in Pengersick. Having started his career working in mining, in 1766 at the age of about 17, he joined the family business of trading and smuggling.

By 1777 (aged 28), after the grant of privateering commissions, he was cruising as Master aboard the family-owned 200 ton cutter Swallow. In December he received letters of marque for the Swallow naming him as Master, but in January 1778 she was arrested in St Malo and Harry started the first of his three spells in prison.

Despite the intervention of his elder brother, John who was also taken prisoner, he then spent two years in French prisons, only being released in December 1779 (aged 30).

He wasted no time in returning to his familiar trade. Obtaining letters of marque for the 50 ton cutter Phoenix in May 1780, he went ‘trading and freighting’ before being taken by the Three Brothers, armed ship, while smuggling off the Gower peninsula in Wales. Twelve weeks imprisonment followed before he was curiously released thanks to the intervention of ‘friends at home through the Lords of the Admiralty’.

In 1781 he bought or commissioned a new 160 ton cutter with 19 guns (or perhaps a 200 ton lugger with 20 guns), the Shaftesbury. With more letters of marque he went cruising in company with the Phoenix, commanded by Davy (Davey?), to Guernsey and then ‘smuggling along the coast’ and taking prizes.

In December 1781 the Collector of St Ives asked for their help in dealing with the Black Prince of Dunkirk. On Christmas morning the three ships commenced a ‘running fight of three or four hours’ which ended with the Phoenix being sunk. Harry and the Shaftesbury rescued 17 men while 14 drowned. (His account of this engagement is a stirring account of a running fight).

Harry married Elizabeth Flindel of Helford in April 1786 (aged about 37) and they had a daughter, also called Elizabeth, in April 1787.

The next phase of his life started in January 1788 when he was caught out landing a cargo from the Revenge (140 tons mounting 16 guns) at Cawsand, just opposite Plymouth. The Customs Officers were waiting and Harry was injured in the ensuing fight. Left for dead, he managed to recover (his account of this reads like an account from a Boy’s Own adventure novel), and went into hiding, initially in the Prussia’s Cove area. In October, he sailed for Leghorn (Livorno) on the George, with the help of the Dunkins and his old friend Ralph Dewen. So began seven and half hours on the run.

From Leghorn, he sailed for the USA in January 1789. After fifteen months there and having become an active Methodist preacher, he returned briefly to Cornwall in October 1790 before leaving once again, in April 1791, heading for Roscoff where he set himself up in a shop. A year later, in November 1792 he made a one month visit home, returning to Roscoff where, in March 1793 (aged 44), he was again arrested as a prisoner of war.

Finally, in August 1795, after two years and four months in captivity, he returned home to Breage and appears to have been able to settle down and live out the rest of his life in Cornwall.

In 1809, he picked up his pen and gave us an account of his life. He had been arrested at least three times, spent nearly four and half years in French prisons, and been on the run for seven and half years.

He died on 19 April 1829 aged 80 and was buried in Breage.