Liberating the Edward A. Horton and Blog News!

As games like Shadowrun and Leverage have taught us, heists are great. But while heisting corporate secrets, priceless antiquities, or bearer bonds might come as no surprise, what about heisting a fishing boat? One impounded by the Canadian government? And working alongside the American fishermen she was seized from in the first place? I present to you the delightful tale of the schooner Edward A. Horton!


Also, this post marks three years of the Molten Sulfur Blog. I’ll do a recap of where we’ve been and where we’re going at the end.


This post is brought to you by beloved Patreon backer Arthur Brown. Thanks for helping keep the lights on! If you want to help keep this blog going alongside Arthur, head over to the Patreon page – and thank you!



In 1818, the U.S. agreed to give up its claims to certain lucrative fishing grounds also claimed by Canada. New England fishermen, however, were not going to let some dumb treaty stop them from fishing those no-longer-disputed waters and worked them anyway. In 1870, Canadian customs boats seized thirteen American fishing schooners, five of them from the famous fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The next year, the Canadians seized three, two of them from Gloucseter. One was the schooner Edward A. Horton, the subject of our tale.


The Canadians seized the Horton off St. George, New Brunswick and took her to Guysborough, Nova Scotia. The Horton’s captain, Harvey Knowlton, was determined to get his ship back. While the Canadians waited for a court to convene in Guysborough to determine the fate of the Horton, Knowlton recruited six Gloucester fishermen to his cause. Disguised as gold prospectors, they traveled to Canso, Nova Scotia to the home of notorious Canadian smuggler Captain ‘Spud’ McDonald.


In Canso, Knowlton and his crew learned that the Canadians had stripped the Horton of her sails and placed them in a Guysborough warehouse. That warehouse was the team’s first objective. Under cover of darkness, Knowlton and his men traveled to Guysborough and snuck into the warehouse. They got the sails, then snuck down to the docks. As they started bending the suit, they discovered they had the wrong sails! They’d accidentally grabbed some other schooner’s sails in the dark. So they had to sneak back to the warehouse and get the right ones.


Once this crew of good-natured pirates had the right sails affixed, they still had to wait for the tide to come in. This stretch of seacoast is famous for its dramatic tides; this whole time, the Horton had been aground by the dock. When the tide came in, the Horton slipped her lines and sailed homewards under a northwest breeze. She headed far out to sea, so she wouldn’t encounter any pursuers the Canadians might send after her.


Eight days later, just after dark, the Horton arrived in Gloucester. The town greeted her with a grand parade: a torch-lit procession, gun salutes, rockets, fireworks, and a band! The town chairman presented Knowlton and his team with $1,000 as a reward for sticking it to the Canadians. A song was even written in celebration!


“The schooner Edward A. Horton as she appeared rounding eastern point light, Gloucester, Mass, Oct 18th, 1871, after her re-capture from the Canadian government by Capt. Knowlton and his gallant crew of six men.”


When doing an adventure inspired by the Horton heist, the obvious hook is for your PCs to be among the people your Knowlton-analogue recruits for the mission. In addition to details present in the real story (I particularly like the parts where they hung out with a notorious smuggler captain and grabbed the wrong sails), you might have them deal with a night watchman at the docks or at the warehouse. In real life, Guysborough is so small I wouldn’t be surprised if neither site was guarded, but in your campaign, a watchman could be a lot of fun. Do you buy her off? Get her drunk? Sweet-talk her into supporting your righteous scheme? You can have a similar obstacle if someone wanders down to the docks while the party’s waiting for the tide to come in.


Do you have thoughts about unusual heists? What’s the weirdest thing ever heisted at your gaming table? Come tell me about it on Facebook or Twitter!

This post marks the three-year anniversary of the Molten Sulfur Blog. As with last year, the highlight was being nominated for an ENnie. Thank you to everyone who voted – you’re all amazing. To those of you I met at Gen Con Online two weekends ago, it was a huge amount of fun to game with you!

This year, I started a Patreon, which is now pulling in enough money to cover my research costs and my web hosting – I’m breaking even on this hobby! Thank you to all of my Patreon backers – you’re truly wonderful!


I also started and terminated a podcast. Turning every blog post into a short episode took about an hour a week and wasn’t much fun. I probably never had more than a dozen regular listeners, and those numbers weren’t climbing, so I decided the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze. Better to focus my attention on researching and writing for the blog – work I genuinely enjoy! So instead of running my own podcast, I started appearing every two months on the Dicegeeks podcast, where the host and I talk about three recent blog posts. It’s a lot of fun, and the show as a whole has a great track record of interesting guests; you should check it out!


Readership almost doubled over the past year, and is now high enough that I don’t have a good estimate of how many regular readers this blog has. We’re averaging 224 sessions a week, though, so that feels pretty cool!

That said, I’m not sure what I can do to sustain this growth in readership. I’ve had good luck posting my weekly content over at the (frankly top-notch) subreddit /r/rpg, and folks from there drive quite a lot of my new readership. But lately I’ve noticed that – while Reddit still drives a lot of traffic my way – few people from Reddit are new. They’re all folks who’ve visited the blog before, presumably from an earlier Reddit link. Are there other places that you think I should be advertising myself? Other online spaces that you (yes, you) hang out in that you think would like the content I produce here?


In closing, this blog’s not going anywhere! I’ve got a buffer of four months of content already written. I haven’t missed an update in three years, and don’t plan to anytime soon! It remains a joy to research and write for you (yes, you!). Here’s to next year!

-


Sources:

History of the Town and City of Gloucester, Cape Ann, Massachusetts by James Robert Pringle (1892)

Cod by Mark Kurlansky (1997)

The Maine Folklife Center

Note that I likely have some of the details wrong; all the pieces in these accounts don’t quite fit together. I still have no idea how Captain Knowlton and his crew got back to Gloucester in the first place after the Canadians seized the Horton.

About

Everyone needs content for their RPG campaigns: adventure hooks, puzzles, NPCs, political machinations, combat encounters, and adventure sites. That’s what this site provides! I draw RPG content from real-life fact and folklore, then give advice on how to adapt it to your fictional campaign. I believe content that is grounded in reality (however fantastical) is richer and more vibrant, and your players will appreciate the difference.

 

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