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Bad Wrecker 1

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Captain Housman’s storied legacy as a wrecker officially began in 1825, the year he first entered the annals of the Florida wrecking industry. Housman and his wrecking crew were sailing the reef line during a spat of heavy weather, canvassing the shallow corals for wrecks, when they came upon an abandoned French brig Revenge.

Housman and his crew boarded the Revenge and salvaged cochineal, logwood, and sugar before strong winds and heavy waves forced them off the wreck. Captain Housman pulled up anchor and sailed north with the bounty.

According to the Wrecking Act of 1823, all property salvaged in Florida territorial waters had to be reported to a Florida port of entry. In 1825 there were only two ports of entry along Florida Territory’s east coast: Key West and St. Augustine.

When the Key West collector of customs, Fielding A. Browne, got wind of Housman’s good fortune, and the fact that Housman had headed north with his salvage claim, Browne suspected Housman was sailing not for St. Augustine, but to South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor.

Browne charged Housman with robbing the Revenge and absconding with the goods. He went so far as to report his suspicions to Captain Brown of the U.S. revenue cutter, Florida, who set off in pursuit of Housman. The account of Browne’s allegations was published in the Pensacola Gazette.

Housman first heard of the charges after the William Henry sailed into the St. Augustine port with the bounty he had salvaged from the Revenge. The charges against Housman were investigated by the Admiralty Court of East Florida and Housman was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Offended by the allegations, Housman fired off his own letter in the East Florida Herald, dated November 8, 1825, in which he clarified for all to see why he chose to sail north rather than return to Key West. He responded that he might, “take another occasion to lay before the public a history of the impartial and disinterested conduct of the gentlemen of many avocations at Key West, in their disposal of property falling under their control, and it will then be fairly understood whether there is more wisdom or folly in my giving preference to a decision at St. Augustine over one at Key West.”