New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Smuggling Between Calais and St. Stephen

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There are some things that everyone knows (except for you and me, of course), but no one discusses. Yet here is I.C. Knowlton’s account of smuggling between Calais and St. Stephen in the early days. This is from his book Annals of Calais, Maine and Saint Stephen, New Brunswick, published in 1875.

St Stephen Water Street

Water Street in St. Stephen

 Smuggling Between Calais and St. Stephen

Calais and St. Stephen being border towns with only a narrow river between them, their citizens have often been accused of evading the revenue laws; and certainly there have been some temptations in this direction. Various articles of merchandise in common use,—coffee, tea, sugar, tobacco, beef, butter, friction matches, gloves, silks, jewelry, ardent spirits, etc.—have often been from ten to thirty per cent, higher on one side of the river than on the other. Four bridges span the river, and there are other easy ways of crossing. All the people in the vicinity are neighbors and friends to each other, and not a few are relatives and business partners. The gripe of poverty and the desire for wealth, alike prompt men to buy and sell to the best advantage. The ingenious can readily find some way to escape detection, and some good citizens are unable to perceive any sin in purchasing goods on one side of the river and quietly carrying them to the other side. In view of all these circumstances, it is logical to infer that every week, some of Adam’s fallen posterity will export and import merchandise without consulting the authorities of either the United States or Great Britain. The contraband traffic has generally been carried on in good nature; and when, as has frequently happened, the unwary are detected, they submit to the awards of the law, without a murmur. A thousand stories are told, of detection or escape, some comic and some serious but only a few are worth repeating.

About the year 1832, a large quantity of smuggled goods was seized in Milltown, N.B., and the revenue officers sent several teams to carry them to the Custom house. The goods were quietly loaded; but suddenly, as the teams wore about to start, a large force of white men disguised as Indians and fantastically armed, rushed in, seized the teams and drove them to the American side of the river. This was a grave crime, and for a few hours there was intense excitement and imminent dangler of hard blows. Hut wise counsel prevailed, a compromise was effected, and the affair was settled without any violence, arrests or permanent ill feeling.

A few years later a somewhat similar occurrence took place in Calais. The tributaries of the St. Croix flow from both Maine and New Brunswick; and lumber is cut and logs driven from nearly all of them. The mill men of Milltown had no means of knowing on which side of the State line the trees grew, which they were manufacturing into boards, hence they very naturally fell into the lawless habit of sending the sawed lumber down to that side of the river from which it would be shipped to the best advantage. But every now and then a valuable raft of lumber that happened to reach the wrong bank of the river, would be seized and confiscated by the American officers. At length these annoying events became so alarmingly frequent that it was evident that some unknown and unofficial person was acting as u spy and informer. This angered the lumbermen, and after vainly trying in a peaceable way to ascertain the name of the informer, some forty of them, painted and disguised as Indians, and armed with old muskets, war clubs and tomahawks, seized two U.S. revenue officers, placed them in wagons and drove into St. Stephen. As they went, some of them sharpened their bayonets on the rapidly rolling wheels, and threatened violence; though probably without any murderous intention. Arriving at a secluded spot, a long consultation was held, and the name of the spy, without being told, was indicated with sufficient clearness. The prisoners were then released. But in the meanwhile the Calais militia had been called out, and a great tumult excited. However, no one was arrested or injured; the suspected informer left town that night to be absent many years, and the honest lumbermen were troubled no more.

On one occasion, a pious smuggler on the English side of the river, by a very long, family prayer detained the revenue officer until the contraband merchandise was removed and secreted. A strange use of prayer.

In 1843, and English Custom house spy was clothed with a coat of tar and feathers, generously given to him by a party of Caucasian Indians. The spy abandoned his business and none of the Indians were called to account.

But in general, the officers are faithful and the citizens loyal; and all that John Bull or Brother Jonathan, really requires, is circumspectly done.


Written by johnwood1946

November 6, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Always enjoy reading your blogs. Thank you for sharing.

    Loretta Worden

    November 6, 2013 at 9:44 PM

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