Fish Pirates

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What the heck is a fish pirate?!?  A fish pirate is someone who breaks the law by overfishing beyond the limits set by law. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we had them in Sodus Point and you messed with them at your own peril. The fish pirates often used gill nets (a fishing net that is hung vertically so that fish get trapped in it by their gills) which they would put in front of the various creeks coming out of the bay while the fish were spawning. They would catch many fish but this decimated the fish population on the bay especially the greenbacks.


Gill net drying in the sun. Photo courtesy of Bob Chase, Jr.


Rosa Fox found this article from the June 17, 1898 Oswego Daily Times. Here George Carver (game protector and good guy) has teamed up with William Bennett and are kicking Fish Pirates butt and they don’t like it one little bit:

fish pirates article june 17 1898 Oswego daily times


The Fish Pirates strike back! Round two goes to the Fish Pirates! Deborah Hopkins researched this newspaper account….


The Syracuse Evening Herald, 1904








Persecution by Fish Pirates Demented William Bennett






This occurrence, Together With Threatening Letters, received by Him, Affected His Mind So That He Was Sent to Willard, But Now Is Allowed to Resume the Management of His Property.


Sodus Point.  March 21 – William Bennett of this village, who lost his mind some years ago because of the threatening letters he received from fish pirates, followed by the burning of his barn, has been adjudged to be again of sane mind, and his wife, Mrs. Jennie Bennett, who for nearly four years has been committee of his person and property, has been discharged by order of Justice Durwell (?) of the Supreme court.


William Bennett lives on a small place on First Creek near Margretta grove.  Besides truck farming he runs a boat livery and stables horses.  His property is adjacent to that of Capt. Ben Hopkins, the owner of “Santiago”, otherwise known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.  Mr. Bennett is about 73 years old and well preserved.


Several years ago, while the late George Carver, as Game Protector used to make life wearisome for illegal fishermen at Sodus Point, he was in the habit of visiting Mr. Bennett’s place at all hours of the day and night, put out his horse in Mr. Bennett’s barn and often took Mr. Bennett’s boats to go after the fish pirates.  He also took boats belonging to Capt. Ben Hopkins.


Yacht and Barn Burned


This angered the pot hunters, and Captain Hopkins’s yacht Wanderer was burned one night in 1899 while it was anchored out in the Bay from Captain Hopkins summer cottage.  Following this, Mr. Bennett received threatening letters telling him what would happen if he allowed Game Protector Carver to hang around his place.  Then followed the burning of Mr. Bennett’s barn, on which there was no insurance.


These threatening letters and the burning of his barn preyed upon Mr. Bennett’s mind to such an extent that he became insane.  He imagined that his wife was not faithful to him.  At length, Mrs. Bennett had her husband examined by Dr. Harry F. Seaman and another doctor, and he was found to be insane, and on October 16th, 1900, was admitted to the Willard State hospital.  He wrote to his friend Captain Hopkins, that he wanted to get out.  Mrs. Bennett was appointed committee of the person and property of her husband and opposed it.


Hopkins Tried to Help Him


Captain Hopkins enlisted the sympathy of neighbors and secured Attorney Meric M. Kelly to help him and habeas corpus proceedings were instituted.  Mrs. Bennett, assisted by Doctor Seaman and Attorney Harry O. Button opposed the matter vigorously, but February 2d, 1901, after a lengthy examination, Justice Dunwell released Mr. Bennett and he returned to his home at Sodus Point. 




His mind gradually became restored and his wife allowed him to manage the affairs of the place.  For nearly three years, he had been in full control, —- of his property.  He made a petition through Attorney harry O. Baker on Saturday to be adjudged sane again.  Mrs. Bennett asked for her discharge as his committee and made an affidavit supplemented by that of Dr. Harry F. Seaman.  Mr. Bennett attended court in person and Judge Dunwell granted the request, restoring him to the management of his person and property.

Transcribed from website

Deborah L. Hopkins

Feb. 7, 2013


A couple of follow-up notes from subsequent research: The name of Benjamin Hopkins vessel that was burned was “The Unknown”.  Claude DoVille became Game Protector, and replaced Mr. Carver. He also put up with a lot from those who disobeyed the law. See the next story……


By 1908, the Fish Pirates were still going strong, well organized and now using the latest technology (the telephone) to stay one step ahead of the game and fish protectors as illustrated in this April 9, 1908 newspaper article:

Fish Pirates article from April 9 1908