Elizabeth Flindell (1762 – 1788)

Elizabeth, the third child of Thomas and Alice Flindell, was baptised at Manaccan, Cornwall on March 23rd, 1762.  Little is known about her except that she married Henry Carter at Manaccan on April 3rd, 1786.  Who Henry Carter was, what he did, when he was born and died, are not known at this stage. The only other reference to Elizabeth was that she, along with her brothers Thomas and Philip were joint Executors of their father’s Last Will and Testament.  That was until I found the Memoires of Captain Harry Carter[1] in which he says:

In the year of 10th April, 1786, I was married to Elizabeth Flindel, of Helford, in the parish of Manaccan, and in April 19, 1787, she bore me a daughter, who was called after her mother’s name

Their only child, Elizabeth was known as Bettsy.

On January 30th 1788 Henry and his lugger laden with contraband were attacked at Cawsand, Plymouth.  Henry was seriously wounded and later pronounced “dead” by the naval officer commanding.  However the pronouncement of death was premature and slipped over the side and swam ashore where he was found and assisted by friends.  He was taken to Acton Castle near Prussia Cover where he remained hidden until October.  The reward of £300 on him was not enough for his countrymen to turn him in.  He is known to have visited his wife Elizabeth in October 1788.  She was suffering consumption and had been taken from their house in Helston to be cared for by her mother at Manaccan.  Henry went to her and spent two or hours by her side before taking his final farewell.

Elizabeth Carter died aged 27 and was buried at Manaccan Church on March 7th, 1879.[2]

Henry Carter (1749 – 1829)


Henry Carter preferred to be known as Harry.  He was one of ten children, 8 boys and 2 girls.  His father was a miner who also rented a small farm for about 12 shillings per year.  Harry’s father was a hard labouring man and brought up his family in what they called “decent poverty”.  The eldest and youngest boys were brought up to a “good country scholars’ level”, but the other boys left school as soon as they were able to contribute to help to support a large family.  Their parents encouraged the children to read what they called The Great Book, which indicated the family was not altogether illiterate.

Thankfully the colourful life of Henry Carter was not consigned to the grave with him.  On December 20th 1809, in response to the persuasions of friends, but especially Mr. Wormsley and George Carter[3], he started his autobiography.   In his own words:

I have thought in general it would be so weak that no person of sense would ever publish it to the world, notwithstanding, this morning being 20 of Dec r> 1809, I have taken up my pen, and may the Lord bring past things to my remembrance just as they are, and if published to the world, may the Lord make it a blessing to every soul that read and hear it for Christ’s sake, amen, amen.

The memoirs of Captain Harry Carter were published in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for October 1831.  In his prime smuggling days Harry was known as the King of Prussia, after Prussia Cove near where he grew up, but other sources point out it was his brother John who was known by this name..  It is perhaps not surprising that the house he built was known as “The King of Prussia’s House”.   As boys when their life was relatively carefree, Harry and his brother John played soldiers, but it was John who chose to be the King of Prussia.  This was the period when Frederick the Great was fighting the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) with Great Britain as one of his few allies.   When Harry was about eight or nine, Francis his older brother by four years, joined the Methodist society in Rudgeon[4] and soon “found peace with God”.   This had a profound impact on Harry and from that time firmly believed that:

“except I was born again I should in no case see the kingdom of God.”

Though he became a smuggler, this did not change his religious focus and as will be seen, his faith supported him in his trials and led him to a deeper commitment later in life.

The West Country Young Harry Knew

In these early days West Cornwall was serviced by a series of tracks and bridle paths suitable on for horseback, packhorses or walking.  This was an area of isolated hamlets and with Helston no more than a market town.   The nature of the coast with its small inlets, rugged coastline, secret caves and isolation provided a natural base for smugglers.  It was a region in which ship navigation was dangerous and vessels laden with all types of valuable cargo foundered on its shores only to be picked over by the poor of the region before the Customs men arrived to claim it for the Crown.  (See The Flindell Name and Mr. H.L. Darch comment that Thomas, a sojourner, was likely to have been involved in the trade of beating the Revenuers, i.e. smuggling.)

Harry stated work by his tenth birthday in one the tin and copper mines for which Cornwall was famous.  By seventeen he went with his two older brothers to Kings Cove in the fishing industry.  Times were hard and smuggling opportunities were lucrative so it is not surprising that they were also involved with smuggling.   By the time Harry was twenty five he had learnt to write and keep his own accounts and he ventured out in a small sloop of 10 tons with two other men, as he puts it, “asmuggling”.  He started small and out of this emerged Captain Harry, smuggler.

Captain Harry Carter, Smuggler

Harry and his equally infamous brother John were comparatively young, but they were held in some esteem and were known as men superior to the ruffians that made up smuggling crews.   He enjoyed great success; and after a while he had an 18 ton sloop built for him.  In his own words, his success was rather beyond common and they bought a small cutter[5] of about 18 tons with a crew of ten men.  He sailed this for about a year and by his admission made more safe voyages than have been ever made since or before.  In the circumstances it is surprising his religious convictions remained strong.  On his boats there was to be no swearing and he would punish those who did.  However he recognised his intentions were not entirely pure and at the bottom of it was pride.  Harry was pragmatic.  The following reflection of himself perhaps sums him up:

I felt I was counted what the world calls a good sort of man, good humoured, not proud, etc. But man is short sighted, who can disarm spirits when the heart is deceitful above all thing and desperately wicked, oftentimes burning and boiling within in a blaze of passion, though not to be seen without.  Nevertheless in the meantime I was capable to be guilty of outward sins the same as others of my companions, and often times, when went out on a party, crying and praying to keep me from a particular sin, was often the first that was guilty of committing it. Then conscience after staring me in the face, oh what a torment within I felt. So I went on for many years sinning and repenting.

Buoyed by financial success, he built a new cutter of about 60 tons, expecting to make all their fortunes in a hurry. They made one voyage about Christmas 1777 during which Harry put into the Channel Islands to repair the bowsprit.  Lacking Customs papers and proper dispatches he, his crew and boat were seized by the Admiralty.  Their sails were removed to prevent escape and they were confined to their ship under strict armed military guard. But Harry soon had the military commanding officer in his favour, and he conveyed letters onshore, and sent an express to Guernsey and Roscoff[6].  Appropriate certificates were soon sent to certify what he was, as the Navy had stopped him under the pretence of being a pirate.  Even Harry recognised this pretence was not altogether unreasonable, his ship having sixteen carriage guns and thirty six men without any maritime pass, or anything to show for them. Harry and his crew were then moved under strong guard to the Castle. This was his first prison experience. He had not only lost his liberty but also his precious cutter and property, in all around £10,000.  They were in prison for about five or six weeks when his oldest brother John arrived with certificates from the Governor[7], and others to try to liberate the cutter and Harry.  By this time their father must have been dead because Harry states “he (John) being the head of the family, thought the business must come to an end at home”.  Their release did not come until late November 1779 when they were exchanged by the order of the Lords of the Admiralty with “two French gentle men”.  They arrived at home on Christmas Eve 1779.

No doubt Christmas was a joyous time, but Harry found the family alive and well, but in a “low state”.  The business had not been managed well at home, as his brother was in prison.  He accepted some blame because he had not been home about two years.  Because of the respect in which he was held by the residence of Guernsey, many offered him credit. He returned to sea and acquired a small cutter.  He carried cargo to King’s Cove and to Wales.  Privateers[8] were operating in the Channel with some success.  Many were manned by Irishmen and one in particular the “Black Prince” a cutter mounting sixteen guns and a crew of sixty wanted Harry.   Harry had anchored and was ashore with three of his men when he saw an armed ship approaching.  He watched as the six remaining crew cut their anchor cable and headed out to sea.  The “Black Prince” gave up the chase and sent boats onshore to recover the cutter’s cable and anchor.  Sadly for Harry they found him. This time he had a commission, but he had left it board, and had nothing to show who or what I was. He was detained for twelve weeks until I was cleared by my friends at home through the Lords of the Admiralty.

Harry continued freighting and saved enough money to buy a cutter of about 50 tons and nineteen guns. I this he returned to smuggling and had great success which enable him to build a new lugger[9] built, which mounted twenty guns, and which he sailed in company from Guernsey, smuggling along the coast.  Harry was in Newlyn[10]Road[11] when we was told the “Black Prince”, had been on that coast and had taken many prizes and to go out in pursuit of her. He explains this episode:

It was not a very agreeable business, notwithstanding for fear to offend the collector[12], we put round the both vessels to St. Ives Road, and after staying there two or three days, the same cutter hove in sight Christmas Day in the morning. We not having our proper crews on board, collected a few men together, and went to sea in pursuit of him. Soon come up with him, so that after a running fight for three or four hours, as we, not being half manned, and the sea very big, the shots so uncertain, the lugger received a shot that was obliged to bear up, and in the course of less than an hour after I received a shot in my jib, and another in the hull, that we could hardly keep her free. So that we bore up after the lugger, not knowing what was the matter of her running away. We came up with her about five in the evening. Desired the Captain to quit her, but he, in hope to put her into Padstow, continued pumping and bailing until about six, when he hailed me, saying, stand by him, he was going to quit her. So they hoisted out their boat, but the sea being so big and the men being confused, filled her with water, so that they could not free her no more. I got my boat out in the meantime, sent her alongside the lugger, so that some of the men jumped over board, and my boat picked them up, and immediately the lugger went down. I hove to the cutter and laid her to, that she drifted right over the place that the lugger went down, so that some of the men got on board by virtue of ropes hove from the cutter, some got hold of the jib tack, and some picked up by the cutter’s boat, so that we saved alive seventeen men and fourteen drowned. As Providence would have it was about the full of the moon, or certainly all must be lost. This was scene indeed. What cries! What screeches! What confusion was there! We stayed some little time there cruising about the place, but soon obliged to get the cutter under a double reefed trysail, a heavy gale of wind ensuing, and bore up for the Mumbles.

Harry could have taken a very different view where the “Black Prince” was concerned, but his faith and the law of the sea required him to save life.  This, however, did not stop his chastising himself of his pride and vanity in this incident.  He was fortunate.  Standing as he did in a fusillade of shot he did not get hit.

In November, 1787 Henry sailed his 45 ton Lugger to smuggle.  On January 30th 1788 he went into King’s Cove to take on freight and depended on the people to look out for danger. He was told the coast was clear so he brought the vessel to anchor, leaving the jib with the trysail and mizzen set, and begun to make ready, opening the hatches, when I saw two boats rowing up from the shore. The pilot told him they were coming to take the goods.  It soon became clear they were ships boats from a man-of-war.  He immediately cut the cable but before he could gather headway they were under the stern. The navy took them by surprise and in the ensuing melee Henry was beaten with their broad swords and knocked to the deck. The navy secured Henry’s crew below, and later found him on the deck. One of them said, “Here is one of the poor fellows dead.” About this time the vessel ran aground on the shore. It was a very dark night and Henry lay almost unobserved for almost two hours. When he was discovered the commanding officer gave orders for a lantern and candle and examined him and so concluded that he was warm, “but his head is all to atoms.” He was considered it a miracle that he neither sneezed, coughed, nor perceived to draw breath all this time.  One of the boats broke adrift and Henry took the chance during the confusion to make my escape, so he crept on his belly across and slipped over the lee-side and started to swim.  He soon found himself sinking, but hope sprung up when he found another rope leading forward to shallow water. When he reached shore he saw three men from the man-of-war standing close by.  He covered the distance of fifty yards to cover on his belly.  He was found by his brother Charles who was a lookout and with the help of a local dragged Henry up to the town where they cared for him.  There was by now a price on his head and punishment for harbouring him, but the locals were not put off.  It took three months for him to heal, time for him to reflect.  His wife would come to see me, and sometimes bring Bettsy with her, and spend a day or two, so that I passed my time pleasantly whilst she was with me. Elizabeth had a delicate constitution and by the end of August she was taken with consumption.  In early October, 1788 Henry went to Helford to see her.  Later Elizabeth was taken to be with her mother. He found her in a very weak state, but he knew he had to quit the country, so he stayed with her about two or three hours, then they took their final farewell of each other.  It was a trying scene to leave her in flood of tears. He returned to his dreary solitude greatly distressed for her soul. He reflected “I have lost my liberty, my property; I have lost my wife also”.

Henry went back to sea on October 24th, 1788, in the “George” with Captain Dewen. He boarded by boat from the King’s Cove, accompanied by his brother John.  The Captain took on freight at Leghorn to go to Barcelona where they loaded brandy for New York in America. They arrived at New York on the April 19th, 1789.  He remained in the Baltimore area seeking out “Mr. Wesley’s Methodists”.  During this time he determined he should become a preacher and he sort support and guidance with all who could help.  In August 1789 he sailed for England aboard a small sloop of about 18 tons.  The cargo was coopers’ timber, and the whole crew was the Captain, mate, two boys, Mr. Dawson, and Henry. Henry kept watch with the biggest boy of about 16 or 17 years; and the mate the other watch with the other boy of about 13 or 14 year. Henry tried his best, but nothing he did pleased the Captain.  Not long out of New York the weather worsened. They began to take on water and the Captain wanted to return to port, but Henry opposed this and told the Captain.  “There is no danger, Henry said; I will keep the pump in my watch and Dawson said he would keep the other”. The mate supported Henry and made their point.  Soon the wind abated, but not the Captain’s dislike for Henry.

Nearing land they began taking soundings.  Henry told the Captain the bearing to The Land’s End and advised he alter course to land him.  Later the Captain confided that he was not landing Henry as promised because he needed to save time to load hats and other goods in London. This was a ruse.  The Captain and the mate did not know the English Channel and wanted Henry’s intimate knowledge to get to Dunkirk. With this the Captain’s attitude changed and Henry piloted the ship to Dunkirk.  From here Henry was able to gain passage to Falmouth.  It was late October 1790.  Henry was met by his brother Charles in somewhat style of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Henry then devoted himself to preaching.  Soon after his return, he approached a door where he was expected and a young man came out and said, “Are you Captain Harry Carter?” He answered, “My name is Henry Carter.” He said, “We have been expecting of you, for it is given out for you to preach to-night.” That this was public knowledge concerned Henry.   As he put it:

I was struck with such fear and trembling, I could not tell whether it was best to return home again or stay there. So I went in, and the good man received me very kindly, and when the time came took me to the chapel, where it was so full the people could hardly stand.”

It was while he was preaching that he was warned that he had been recognised and some wanted to claim the price on his head.  It was suggested he should return to America and he was offered a letter of recommendation from a Lord of the realm. He told his brothers, but they were concerned they would never see him again. Instead they asked him to join them in a “little trade in Roscoff in the brandy and gin”. On April 19th, 1791 Henry sailed in an open boat from the King’s Cove, in company with a merchant with business there.  In May 1792 three of his brother’s children, Francis, Henry and Joanna Carter joined him in Roscoff for about four months.  This was not a good time for an Englishman, even a preacher, to be in France.  War was again brewing.  There was an embargo on all English vessels.  War was declared on February 1st 1793.

In late March Henry was sent to Morlaix as a prisoner.  He was not closely confined, but had to appear every morning at the Town Hall to sign his name. After nine or ten days he was ordered back to Roscoff where he stayed for ten days before being ordered back to Morlaix.  In August he was given a passport to go back to England by own means. Mr. MacCulloh, who was in the same position as Henry, bought a small vessel and they embarked ready for sea, when they were ordered back to the pier again. The four females were sent to MacCulloh’s house, while the men were kept onboard guarded by soldiers for three days and three nights.  Their fortunes fluctuated and they moved between prisons and parole.  The threat of the guillotine and separation from each other was ever present.

In early August, 1795 Henry received a letter to meet MacCulloh at St. Paul’s next Monday as he had obtained a passport for himself, family, and Henry to go to England by neutral ship.  One was found that was formerly an English frigate under Danish colours.  No doubt with great relief they arrived at Falmouth August 22nd, 1795 where he was met with by his daughter Bettsy, now 8 or 9 who was staying with her Aunt Mrs. Smythe[13].

In his final twenty years of life Harry farmed at Rinsey, near Breage in Cornwall.  What became of his daughter Bettsy is not known at this stage, but like her father, her life may jump out of the Internet.  Harry died at Rinsey on April 19th 1829.  It may be assumed he is buried in a Methodist Churchyard close by.

[1] The Autobiography of a Cornish Smuggler – written by Harry Carter


[2] Burial transcripts for Manaccan, Cornwall 1597 to 1799

[3]George Carter compiled the 1821 Breage Parish Census, and could be his brother

[4] A small village very near Prussia Cove

[5] A small, fast sailing ship

[6] Roscoff is on the north coast of France, almost due south of Plymouth

[7] Presumably of the Channel Islands

[8] These were privately owned and crewed vessels holding a government commission and authorised for war service.

[9] A small ship carrying two or three masts rigged with a lugsail in the manner of a pearling lugger

[10] Near Penzance

[11] Sheltered water near the shore

[12] Local Collector of Customs

[13] This was Elizabeth’s sister Sarah who married Charles Smyth