The most notorious local confrontation between smugglers and U.S. Customs officials took place on the Winooski River in August of 1808. The customs service learned that the smuggling vessel Black Snake would be transporting a cargo pf potash to Canada. They sent the twelve-oared revenue cutter, Fly, to intercept the smugglers. The clash left two soilders and the captain of Fly dead, and another officer seriously wounded. The smugglers wre captured and brought to trial, and Cyrus B. Dean, a member of the crew, was sentenced to death. Some 10,000 people gathered in Burlington to witness the hanging. Three other men from Black Snake brought to trial were convicted; two were sentenced to fifty lashes and ten years imprisonment, the third to imprisonment only. Although the captain of the vessel, Truman Mudgett of Highgate, ermont, was tried, the jury could not reach a verdict and the case was finally dismissed.

Courtesy Art Cohn, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

written by Pete Sutherland
performed by Pete and Karen Sutherland

This music available at:

A storm of war is brewin’, oh see the lightning flash
Tho the woolen mills of England, they still call out for ash
In Tom Jefferson’s embargo, the king of England’s blind
For he cannot tell Canadian ash from our Green Mountain kind
CHORUS: And its ashes, potashes, with ashes laden down
The wily boat the Black Snake for Montreal is bound
So pass the word downriver from town to mountain town,
For a smuggler’s grimy dollar, all the forest will come down!

Now hear this, Dr. Stoddard, your hand you soon must fold
There’s a Fly within my Customs House, a twelve-oar cutter bold
Along the broad lake highway, this Fly will soon take wing
And Mudgett and his smuggler boys will feel the deadly sting
Oh tell me, Dr. Penniman, why do you raise alarm?
For tho we heed no Customs House, we mean your men no harm
Your soldiers cruise the broad lake, to stop our trade they try
But were they not born Green Mountain boys the same as you or I?

That long hot first of August, in the year Eighteen-oh-eight
With a jug of rum in a sheltered bay the Black Snake’s men did wait
At nightfall to set sail again, the eastern shore to gain
Then up the Onion River, there Joy’s landing they’d attain
And it was half a day behind her rowed hard the cutter Fly
On old North hero’s wooded shore a handkerchief she spied
“Take care, Lieutenant Farrington where the river weaves and winds,
Follow the trail of onions and the Black Snake there you’ll find”

‘Lieutenant’, cried the helmsman, “I see her ‘round the bend
This snake be ripe for taming, her evil’s at an end”,
So Farrington, he jumped aboard - from the beach there came a yell:
“Now the man who lays a hand on her, I’ll blow his brains to hell!
Come on my boys - parade yourselves - you’re cowards to a man!
The Black Snake she is boarded and its we must make a stand!”
“Your blood upon this river!”, it was then the smuggler’s cry
And the battle soon was joined between the Black Snake and the Fly

Now across the wide Winooski, the muskets loudly sang -
And for murdering three customs men, one smuggler has to hang
One smuggler he’ll be hanged and the rest to prison gone
Tho they’re sure to gain their pardon with this war a-comin’ on
So raise your glass to smugglers, for they help small towns survive
And now the lake’s alive with snakes - the potash business thrives
Of the reputations ruined, not one can be regained
But who with a boat and a bottle of rum might not yet do the same?

c 1992 Pete Sutherland p BMI, Epact Music All Rights Reserved