We live in the coastal town of Westport, Massachusetts, almost half the year. Charley grew up not far from here, and I grew up on the coast of southern Connecticut. Both states were rum-running territories during Prohibition and the temperance movement of the 1920's. In fact, the entire east coast was rum-running territory.
Slatted wooden folding chairs pressed against each other on the floor of the Westport Methodist Church hall one night last week. Standees lined the walls. In front at a table with three other panelists and a moderator sat Carlton Macomber, aka Cukie. Cukie reminded me of a diminutive ninety-something Santa, but when he took the microphone, his unassuming voice transported us into black ships' dangerous waters.
"Boys doing the rum running outfitted their boats to meet the mother ships beyond the three-mile limit, in Rum Row. Those ships came from the deep south, overseas, and Canada. Without lights (hence, the name "black ships"), the Westport boys tried to outrun the Coast Guard cutters. They delivered their loads to trucks signalling from Horseneck Beach or up the Sakonnet River. Later on, when things really heated up with the Coast Guard, the mother ships anchored twenty-five or thirty miles out.
"I knew the guy who was the most successful," Cukie said. "He put two 300-horsepower aircraft engines on his boat, the Star. No Coast Guard cutter could ever catch him, 'cause he'd disappear into the Devil's Pocket. From outside the harbor at Half Mile Rock, it looks like there's no opening. Then his buddy would turn the big wheel to open the rotating bridge over the East branch (of the Westport River), and the Coast Guard thought he'd vanished into thin air. But he saved his money, and he was generous. If anyone needed cash, no matter who it was, he'd give it to him on the spot."
"Would you say that half the town was in on the action?" Dawn Tripp, local author and moderator, asked.
"Half the town heard the trucks go up their dirt lanes from the beaches and then up Main Road. They just kept their shades down. It was the middle of the night and those trucks never put lights on till they got out of town. They went to Fall River, Providence, New York, Boston. Heck, Mayor Curley of Boston sent people down to pick up his shipments."
"Were the syndicates involved?" Dawn said.
"If Mayor Curley was into it, my guess is a 'Yes,'" Cukie said. "What started out as a cat-and-mouse game between local boys and the Feds turned cut-throat. More and more money exchanged hands, and everyone wanted a payoff. More violence, too."
"Since we're talking about federal laws being broken, did local law enforcement get involved?"
"Oh, there might have been one or two arrests with a fine in Fall River court, but it was a slap on the wrist, really. You've got to remember, there was only one constable here in town.....and he didn't have a driver's license. If an accident happened, he called his son to take him to the scene."
- Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
- Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Published first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. Her humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. See website By CLICKING HERE.