The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

By Herbert Asbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWELVE
Smugglers Afloat and Ashore

American drinkers first heard the good news about Rum Row in July 1921, when some of the New York newspapers reported briefly that several strange ships lying offshore were believed to be selling liquor. All doubt was soon dispelled. Within a few months rum ships were strung out along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida, busily dodging the Coast Guard and discharging their cargoes of booze. The number varied, for they were constantly coming and going, but at times as many as a hundred vessels were in line. Another, but much smaller, Row was operating in the Gulf of Mexico, principally off Tampa, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston, and other Gulf ports. A third was beginning to form on the Pacific coast, bringing liquor down from Vancouver and up from Mexico and Lower California; eventually it extended from Seattle to San Diego. The western rum fleet, however, was never as large or as important as the one on the Atlantic coast; it was too far from the main sources of supply and the big eastern markets.

Segments of the fleet lay off Savannah, Norfolk, Baltimore, Boston, and other eastern seaboard cities, but the greatest concentrations were off Long Island and the coast of New

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