Shanghaied By Bunco Kelly

Neal Pollard

There is a fascinating, if obscure, American figure from the era when ships ruled the waters of this land, carrying freight across the seas.  Apparently, ship captains relied upon men (often of “questionable” character) to fill their crew quotas.  In a tale of truth being stranger than even Pirates of the Caribbean fiction, there were unscrupulous men who scoured docks and seaport towns looking for incapacitated and inebriated men to serve as unfortunate conscripts for these vessels.  Among the dishonorable, Joseph Kelly stood out for unconscionable tactics.  He was legendary.  His nickname, “Bunco,” came from the time he took to the Portland, Oregon, dock a wooden Indian he covered in blankets and delivered for $50.  He kidnapped prostitutes and cut their hair, passing them off as sailors.  His most infamous deal may have been delivering at least 24 men to the British boat, The Flying Prince–bound with logs for China–that were found, to the captain’s chagrin, to be dead.  The men thought they had staggered into the Snug Harbor Saloon, but they missed it by one door.  They went into the basement of the neighboring Johnson and Sons Mortuary and downed a fatal amount of embalming fluid.  Such misfortune for ships’ captains were no concern to the ruthless and avaricious Kelly, who flouted the law and flirted with constant danger (,, and

Perhaps we have a hard time feeling sorry for the salty seamen shanghaied by Bunco Kelly.  The same is true of the ship captains. They were trying to impress men into service that were not cognizant or coherent, all too happy to pay the likes of men like Kelly.  Those who received men this way were as dirty and dishonest as these Shanghaiers.

The New Testament mentions some spiritually unprepared people who were susceptible to religious “teachers” with the scruples of a Bunco Kelly.  In Romans 16:18, Paul mentions some who “by their smooth and flattering speech…deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.”  Elsewhere, he speaks of others who were like children, “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). Jude spoke of certain ones who crept in unnoticed and turned the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude 4).  In these tragic cases, who is to blame?  The peddlers or the ones who “buy” these eternally rotten “goods”?  Yes!  God will judge, in strictest terms, false teachers (cf. Js. 3:1; Jude 4), but he holds each one of us accountable for what we choose to believe (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3-4).  Do not allow yourself to be “crimped” by unscrupulous men!  Get into God’s Word and know it.  It is your safeguard against the shady strategies of spiritual shanghaiers.

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