Sea History 178 - Spring 2022

Page 47

photo by edward hart, detroit publishing company collection, library of congress

The revenue cutter Oliver J. Wolcott was armed fore and aft with two rapid fire, 6-pounder Hotchkiss guns of the type shown here on the deck of USS Oregon. The uniforms of the US Revenue Marine at this time were also nearly identical to those of the US Navy. By anchoring, Glover would avoid the signature sound of the propeller cavitations his vessel so often experienced. The position he had selected at the bay’s entrance outweighed the uncertainty of not knowing where exactly the smuggler was headed. Finally, while the reduced visibility from the rain and the overcast sky would normally favor the smuggler, today it might obscure any warning light from someone seeking to alert the smuggler of the cutter’s presence. All in all, it was as near to perfect an ambush as could be set. Only minutes after the Wolcott was in position, a sailboat was sighted entering the bay. Because the cutter could not weigh anchor to intercept in a timely fashion, Glover had one of his small boats standing by, ready and manned. The cutter’s readyboat shot out and quickly intercepted the sloop. A brief boarding revealed her to be the sloop August out of Port Townsend. Nothing of note was found onboard, and she was allowed to continue on down the bay to the settlement of Port Discovery. Finally, just before 9 pm, another boat entered the bay. When the two men on deck noticed the Wolcott’s boat approaching, they began frantically throwing packSEA HISTORY 178, SPRING 2022

ages over the side. The cutter’s boat got alongside post-haste and put a boarding party over the gunwale. Bags of opium tins sat in plain sight on the deck. Led by one of the Wolcott’s lieutenants—most likely First Lieutenant Owen S. Willey, who had just come off watch at 8 pm—the cuttermen promptly arrested the two suspected smugglers and seized the sloop. Special Agent McHale was then ferried over to assist with a search of the sloop. The search revealed twelve undocumented Chinese aliens down below, who were probably very fortunate that the interdiction happened so quickly. Although alien smuggling was only a misdemeanor, the fine of $50 per smuggled person and potential forfeiture of the offending vessel sometimes led smugglers to toss human cargo overboard while being chased. With their British entry papers, these twelve would merely be repatriated to Victoria, likely to try again later. The vessel, of course, was the sloop Emerald under the command of Benjamin Lundy—a well-known smuggler. Lundy, his crewman Frank Hall, the Chinese passengers, and opium were transferred to the Wolcott. Within half an hour the cutter was underway with the sloop in tow, steaming

back to Port Townsend. Upon arrival the prisoners and aliens were put ashore in the custody of Special Agent McHale. Early the next morning, after a thorough search of the Emerald, Glover and the Wolcott returned to Port Discovery Bay to look for the packages jettisoned the previous evening. By noon, the search was completed, having recovered eleven tins of opium weighing 5½ pounds each. The cutter returned to Port Townsend that afternoon and transferred all of the seized opium—now totaling 400 pounds—to the Custom House in the port. At his arraignment, Lundy tried to take sole responsibility for the venture. He refused to “name names” of the smuggling ring that had funded his venture, instead making up identities of persons to whom he was to transfer custody of the opium and aliens. He also claimed that Frank Hall, his crewman, knew nothing about the opium and the aliens. Likely as a reward for his loyalty, unknown persons helped Lundy escape from jail before trial and smuggled him back to Victoria in a trunk. Despite mounting seizures over the next two decades, smugglers continued to sneak loads of opium by boat into the Pacific Northwest. Only after Canada outlawed the importation and use of opium in 1909 for other than medical purposes was the torrent finally reduced to a trickle, as producers of refined opium were forced to close previously legal production facilities in Vancouver. Nevertheless, with ongoing demand and a near-guaranteed highprofit margin, operations merely shifted south to Mexico. Smugglers there continue to move drugs and aliens into Southern California today. Dan Laliberte served for more than thirty years in the US Coast Guard, during which time he participated in or provided intelligence support to the interdiction and repatriation of hundreds of undocumented Haitian migrants, and the seizure of numerous drug smuggling vessels and the arrest of their crews. He writes on historical topics involving the Revenue Marine Service and Coast Guard. A frequent contributor to Sea History, his work has also appeared in American History, Naval History, and the Nautical Research Journal. 45


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