On February 10th, 1875, wanted smuggler Charles L. “Charley” Lawrence slipped into the frigid Montreal night, allegedly 40 degrees below zero, seeking to outwit the American detectives on his trail. Since he had fled New York City a month before, Lawrence had lodged in the first-class Ottawa Hotel, a limestone neo-classical structure whose bar-room had entertained both Confederate spies and Union Army officers during the United States Civil War. Leaving his baggage behind, Charley headed up the St. Lawrence to the town of Riviere du Loup—Wolf River—where he boarded a two-horse sleigh across New Brunswick. Protected from the cold by a Russian Astrakhan fleece coat, he rode two hundred miles to St. John and then to Halifax where he bought a ticket for the S. S. Caspian, steaming on February 25th to Queenstown, Ireland, and then to Liverpool, England.
When Lawrence and the Caspian arrived at Queenstown (now Cobh) on March 7th, representatives of Scotland Yard and the Irish police were waiting. They confiscated his possessions, including 250 gold sovereigns and diamond jewelry given to him by his close friend William M. Tweed, the “boss” of New York Democratic politics. Police also seized incriminating telegrams, reassuring letters and a codebook used by the conspirators. He was transported to London, and then extradited to the United States upon the orders of President Ulysses Grant.
For over a year, the nation’s greatest pundits debated the fate of “The Prince of Smugglers,” his co-conspirators and the officials who had failed to detect the ring earlier. This dangerous international fugitive was accused of importing not drugs, not guns, but silk. His crime was smuggling millions of dollars in fabric into the United States through the Port of New York. Silk was, of course, legal in the United States. Indeed, during the prior year, over $23 million worth had passed lawfully into the country through the customhouse. Lawrence earned the contempt of the nation by avoiding the 40 percent tariff on the luxurious textile.
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