Basically, we need to know when they were made; and how they were used.
As we have discussed in an earlier post; smuggling was pretty common and to avoid not smelling of tar and looking like a giant chicken; most customs officals were bribed, complacent or even non-existent prior to 1760.
With enforcement and aggressive customs officials in place; no longer could the old tricks apply. The British now had real, aggressive customs personnel on the docks, coupled with regular patrols along the coast to prevent off-loading and they cancelled the Flag of Truce policy making prisoner exchanges the business of the Royal Navy.
The only effective way was to off-load quietly in Newburyport and adjust the manifests before arriving at Sommersby’s Landing. (Where the Ale House and the Chamber are located)
Second, the cargo unloaded was often heavy. It was rum mostly along with other fine goods. The Tunnel was not solely for humans but primarily for large barrels – some kind of carting system or tracks would allow it to be pushed or pulled uphill.
We know from historical records and photographs that barrels were placed on carts commonly used in Newbury since the Waterside was founded in 1764. (Interestingly, one year after the end of the French and Indian War.)
We also know that as much as these smugglers may have been scoundrels in the eyes of the British; they were very religious and would never have put the tunnel inside sacred ground. They also would make sure the entrance was out of sight of the main road to Boston (Present-day State Street-Route One). They would also want it close to the other main road to Boston (Present-day Route 1A).
They also as 1760, 1807, 1811, 1812-16 became distant memory; it would be that the participants would want to cover up the illicit resources of their wealth as times became more pleasant (and more respectable) and dependable through the Industrial Revolution.
Therefore not only would they bury the tunnels; they would not mention them in historical records. The Code of Silence was amazingly universal in Colonial America; and so no mention of them nor any records would be retained. But they were also wise Yankee businessmen. Fortunes change and periods of peace and prosperity can often turn into wanton times. Therefore, it is probable they were re-opened to admit human cargo during the 1850-1861 when bounty hunters lived and ranged through New England and especially in Newburyport.
I have pinpointed the tunnel entrance which even the topography hints toward its existence. Frankly, I am very hesitant to uncover it since it’s proximity is very close to the Oak Hill Cemetery border. There are grievous fines for disturbing graves. It is not in the cemetery but it is just outside; and appearances of digging can cause some confusion as to appropriateness.
Though it is buried, when there are heavy rains the moisture trapped inside the subterranean chambers comes forth and it can be clearly seen seeping through the bottom of the hillside.
Now to muster the courage to uncover them….