ELKTON — Several weeks ago we introduced you to locally born Col. Thomas Egenton Hogg. His grand manor home in Cecil County mysteriously burned to the ground, leaving a trail of litigation and insurance claims as to the cause and consequences. He ended his life as a respected wealthy man in Philadelphia, but in his youth, Thomas was a pirate for the Confederate Navy.
It seemed that all the Baltimore Hogg brothers were restless types. Older brother William moved to California during the Gold Rush to work as a jeweler. Younger brother James headed to Australia to find gold, living there for 30 years. Thomas went to Louisiana sometime in the 1850s seeking fame and fortune, causing some trouble as well.
As a Confederate sympathizer at the outbreak of the Civil War, Hogg devised a plan to help their cause. He realized that there was plenty of money to be made in the Pacific interrupting the Union trade ship routes. So in November 1863, with the support of the Confederate military but acting as a civilian, Hogg and five Irish cohorts boarded an American schooner Joseph L. Gerrity bound for New York in Matamoros, Mexico. Imprisoning the captain, they sailed south to British Honduras dropping off the crew along the Yucatan coast and renamed the ship the Eureka.
Unfortunately due to poor winds, it took Hogg and his crew two weeks to arrive at British Honduras, allowing the former crew to alert the United States consul Charles A. Seas in Belize about the incident. Although an arrest warrant was issued for Hogg and his crew, he sold the cargo of cotton, dismissed all but one of his crew, and managed to escape. They then stole a small boat and sailed down the coast of Honduras. After bribing their way out of Honduras, they canoed to Nicaragua and then to Guatemala where they managed to board a British steamer headed to Nassau, Bahamas. Despite all the setbacks, Hogg made off with between $15,000 and $20,000 ($225,000 to $250,000 in today’s currency) in gold from this adventure. A lot of the money was used to escape Central America.
In April 1864, Hogg served in the Confederate Army and soon after was appointed master’s mate in the Confederate Navy. Again, Hogg felt there were more opportunities similar to his previous one. He decided that the “Union was weak in protection of commerce in the Pacific.” In 1864 after revealing his plan to the Confederate Navy in Richmond, Va., he was instructed to “Strike a blow at the California and whalesman in the Pacific.” This time he enlisted the help of Edward A. Swain, a midshipman in the Confederate Navy.
They left Richmond, heading for Wilmington, N.C., hoping to catch a ride to Nassau. They boarded the Tristram Shandy, a British steamer built for blockade running, but the ship was intercepted by the Union steamer USS Kansas. Although Hogg and Swain managed to pass themselves off as British crew members, they were still jailed in New York. Swain used a British passport and Hogg used a bribe, allowing both men to be free once again. Their next stop was Canada where they caught a ship to Havana, Cuba.
In Havana, Hogg assembled a crew of 15 men, purchasing clothing, guns, ammunition and handcuffs to prepare for the mission. The plan was to board the steamer Guatamela in Panama, capture the crew, and sell the cargo just as Hogg had done with the Gerrity. But somehow the plan was discovered by Thomas Savage, acting consul in Havana. Soon the Union War Department knew of the plan and a trap was set.
Hogg and company traveled from Havana in October 1864 to St. Thomas, catching a mail steamer headed for Panama. But due to bad weather, they arrived in Panama after the departure of the Guatemala. Hogg decided to revise the mission, and waited several weeks for another ship. Finally on Nov. 15, 1864, Hogg, using the alias of “Esson,” boarded the steamship Salvador along with his crew unaware of the trap laid before him. Under the guise of a routine check, the ship’s captain assembled all the passengers in the great cabin for ticket validation. After which, an American naval captain boarded the ship, targeting “Esson” to step forward for this routine check. The search of Hogg and his men revealed British passports and handcuffs. They found more damning evidence in the luggage: more handcuffs, guns and Hogg’s papers. It seemed that Hogg’s luck had run out, and the pirates were all arrested.
Hogg was then sent to San Francisco to await his trial in Fort Alcatraz. All of the pirates were found guilty and sentenced to hang. But by the time that was set to happed, the war was over. Hogg was then given a life sentence in San Quentin Penitentiary. In April 1866, President Andrew Johnson ordered the release of the Salvador pirates. So Hogg only served one year of prison time for his pirating adventures. It seemed that his luck had not run out after all.
So what was next for our local pirate? The end of the war was to be a time of reconstruction and new expansion in the west. After his release, the intrepid entrepreneur headed north to Oregon to start on his next phase of life: president of the Oregon Pacific Railroad.
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