John Carter - The King of Prussia - Cornish Smuggler

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John Carter of Prussia Cove was known as the “King of Prussia” and was the most successful and notorious smuggler of the Penzance district between 1777 and 1807, together with his two brothers, Harry and Charles. According to 19th century historian Sabine Baring-Gould, John Carter received his nickname as a boy. The cove was originally called Porthleah but became Prussia Cove in recollection of Carter’s exploits.

Prussia Cove
Prussia Cove

The family ran an efficient and profitable smuggling operation that continued for many years, using three small inlets – Pisky’s Cove, Bessie’s Cove and Prussia Cove. These spots had considerable natural advantages in that they were so sheltered and secluded that it is impossible to see the harbour without leaning over the edge of the cliff above. Some of the many caves were reputed to be connected with the house above by secret passages. (click picture to see full size)

John Carter had a reputation for honest dealing. On one occasion during his absence, the excise officers carried off a recently arrived cargo of tea to the Penzance custom house. On his return, Carter and his men broke into the stores at night and carried off all the confiscated cargo, without touching a single article which he did not consider belonged to him. The excise men knew immediately who had broken in as he was known to be an upright man. There are many other stories about the smuggler, including a history written later by his brother, Harry Carter.