Devon Smugglers: The Truth Behind the Fiction

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Devon smuggling was very much a reality.  Between 1700 and 1850 it became a huge industry, perhaps the majority of Devon’s adult population active in it, profiting from it or at the very least colluding to keep the evidence hidden.  All social classes were involved.  Members of the aristocracy and the clergy were among the financial backers.  None of them thought that cheating the government of taxes was wrong, and blatant smugglers who were tried were usually found not guilty by sympathetic local juries and magistrates.  Smugglers were particularly active in Devon because there were so many sailors and fishermen ready to assist and the county’s two long and indented coastlines were ideal for landing contraband and conveniently close to sources of supply in France, the Channel Islands and the Atlantic routes. However, the “Free Trade” was not especially romantic and smugglers inevitably resorted to violence and intimidation in challenging the armed authority of the state.  This book attempts a balanced view of a trade that flourished in Devon despite the government’s best attempts to stamp it out – and was then defeated by the simple expedient of lowering import duties.