Photo of the Week
FROM THE SCHS LIBRARY ARCHIVES
“How shall we know it is us without our past?”
– John Steinbeck
RUM RUNNERS / EAST END
by Wendy Polhemus-Annibell, Head Librarian
Diagram of a Rum Running Boat. (Diagram found in volume 22 of the Osborne Collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society Library Archives. Artist and date unknown.)
A 1925 newspaper report detailed the indictment of a state trooper and his gang of hijackers for breaking into the Benson estate near Montauk with the intent of stealing $200,000 worth of bootleg liquor being stored at the property. The supposed owner of the contraband, Frank Dickinson, caretaker at the Benson estate, was only fined $500 by Suffolk County officials. Reportedly, he paid the fine, “smiling, from a fat roll of bills, and started out of the courtroom, when he was served with a subpoena and rushed before a federal grand jury charged with the task of finding out who paid him for storing the liquor, who owned the contraband, and about general bootlegging and bribery in Suffolk County.” Rum running was big business on Long Island!
The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating liquors and ushered in a period in American history known as Prohibition that lasted for 13 years (1920-1933). During Prohibition, off the coast of eastern Long Island, there was an area known as Rum Row. Local rum runners would set out in the evening to Rum Row in small boats from the harbors at Greenport and Montauk and other locales in hopes of loading hundreds of cases of contraband. Upon their return, they would evade, outrun, or bribe their way past Coast Guard and local police patrols.
Captain William McCoy is credited with establishing Rum Row, the line of boats that would anchor off the south shore of Long Island. He was known to fill the holds of his schooner with Johnny Walker Red and Bacardi from two small French-owned islands off the coast of Newfoundland. While other rum runners would water down their goods, McCoy had a reputation for fair dealing and quality products–and was thus nicknamed “the Real McCoy.”
HOT OFF THE PRESS!The 2020 issue of Journal of the Suffolk County Historical Society will be published in November. The popular annual publication is available to members only. Supply is limited, so be sure to send in your membership request before the end of the current year to receive your copy of our latest JSCHS! Topics to be explored include ritual magic in Southold, the battle of Northville, a biplane landing on a Greenport farm, and the exploitation of migrant farm workers in 1960s Riverhead.