Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vessel Has Ties to Local Politics

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vessel Has Ties to Local Politics

Article excerpt


There is more than one definition of the word filibuster. While most would think of giving long speeches about irrelevant issues to obstruct the passage of a piece of legislation, there is a more daring definition: an adventurer who wages unauthorized warfare on a country with which one's own nation is at peace.

In the 19th century, this word was commonly used for both the adventurers and their ships. This is a tale of one such ship, The Three Friends.

On the front page of the Jacksonville Journal on July 22, 1929, there appeared under the headline "A Good-Will Gift to Cuba" an appeal to purchase an old tugboat and present it to "our island neighbors."

Jacksonville's Cuban-American Goodwill Foundation was seeking to raise $30,000 to buy the tug, The Three Friends, and "present it to the Republic of Cuba to cement the friendship of these two neighbors in the south Atlantic."

The article continued: "The Three Friends is a thing dear to the hearts of all Cubans because of the part it played in Cuba's successful struggle for independence [from Spain]. That the gift would be a welcome one has been assured. Cuban officials have said they would accept with pride The Three Friends. They promised a convoy of destroyers to accompany it to Cuba when it is delivered. It would be maintained in Havana harbor as a permanent memorial, Cuban officials said."

The move had the support of a host of Jacksonville churches, civic clubs and business groups. The money raised would be used to recondition the ship for her trip to Cuba.

But, alas, that never happened. The move to raise funds fell far short in 1929, when just three months after the goodwill gift idea was announced, the stock market crashed on Oct. 29, launching the Great Depression.

Some time after World War II, The Three Friends, which had been considered the foremost filibuster of the Spanish-American War, plunged to the bottom of the St. Johns River at the foot of East Beaver Street, never to be seen again.

Dorcas Broward Drake, known more familiarly as "Mother Christmas" for the 50,000 children she delighted with gifts each Christmas until her death in 1993, came by The Three Friends through her grandfather, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, according to a book and columns by my late Times-Union colleagues, political editor Hank Drane and columnist Bill Foley.

Broward, who had been Duval County's sheriff, his brother, Montcalm Broward, and a friend, George DeCottes, had the seagoing tug built in a local boat yard in 1895. The next year, with Napoleon Broward at the helm, The Three Friends began making daring runs to Cuba loaded with arms, ammunition and men to supply the rebels in the Cuban revolution. In all, the ship made eight runs to Cuba.

In the 1890s, New York and Jacksonville were the Cuban centers of revolutionary note. …

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