Captain Joshua Cockburn: The Black Star Line, The Whiskey Cruise and The Origin of Rum Row

The Yarmouth had a heavy list to starboard as it carried the last legal shipment of liquor out of New York Harbor on January 17th, 1920

The Yarmouth had a heavy list to starboard as it carried the last legal shipment of liquor out of New York Harbor on January 17th, 1920

Perhaps the most controversial incident involving Joshua Cockburn’s brief career as Marcus Garvey’s first Black Star Line captain was The Whiskey Cruise. On 17 January 1920 The S.S. Yarmouth carried the last legal shipment of alcohol to leave New York Harbor. This was the day National Prohibition in the United States began. Three days later, Cockburn and his ship were back in New York and 500 cases of whiskey were missing from the original shipment of over 15,000 cases of whiskey and gin. Although there are many uncertainties about what happened during The Whiskey Cruise, it is certain that the legal wrangling between Great Britain, the United States and Marcus Garvey‘s United Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.) resulted in the understanding that the United States would enforce Prohibition only as far as the three mile limit of its coastline. This would allow ships flying British and Canadian flags to anchor just outside the three mile limit in order to sell liquor to Americans who did not support Prohibition. This informal fleet of ships became known as Rum Row.

The New Year 1920 dawned with a sense of urgency on the piers of Manhattan. The Volstead Act had passed. National Prohibition was set to begin on January 17, 1920. Barges laden with liquor hurried down the East River, risking collision with ice flows in an effort to bring their soon to be illegal cargoes of liquor to locations where they would be safe from confiscation. The Green River Distillery of Kentucky was one of many alcoholic beverage producers rushing their products to the port of New York by any form of transportation possible. Although he was about to depart on a combination honeymoon/business trip to Canada, Marcus Garvey and his Black Star Line Secretary Edward D. Smith Green drew up a contract with the Pan Union Corporation of New York to transport thousands of cases of Green River Whiskey, Gin and barrels of wine to Cuba.

On January, 8th 1920 Captain Joshua Cockburn brought the Yarmouth up the East River upon returning from the ship’s maiden voyage to the Caribbean. He became dismayed when the Black Star Line’s white marine superintendent pulled up to his ship in a tugboat and came aboard to inform him that he would have to leave port as soon as possible with a large shipment of liquor from the Green River distillery in Kentucky.# Captain Cockburn was outraged by the fact that the Black Star Line had agreed to transport the cargo for a mere $9.00 per ton. Testifying at Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923 he lamented:

“It would not even pay for the coal bill. Apart from that you had to have stores. I explained all these things. That you had to have stores and we had to have repairs being made, and the most particular thing of all was (Garvey‘s) speech at Liberty Hall against the white people, and the difficulties I had in getting a crew…I could not have gone unless I had qualified officers…I could not get them, no, sir, because (Garvey was) abusing the people when I was looking to the white people to help me in that respect“#

The Captain was referring to the fact that Marcus Garvey’s oratory had become increasingly militant since The Tulsa Oklahoma race riot, the latest of many racial pogroms in the United States and Great Britain during the year 1919. The National Association for The Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) Secretary James Weldon Johnson called the summer of 1919 “Red Summer” because so much Negro blood had been spilled.

Herbert Hoover, chief of the new division of Intelligence which was closely aligned with The Federal Bureau of Investigation, viewed 1919 as Red Summer for different reasons. In June, anarchists had sent mail bombs to 19 government officials. This led to the creation of Hoover‘s intelligence division, which was designed to gather information on radical groups in The United States.# Hoover was particularly concerned about Negro agitation. Especially the Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey and his U.N.I.A. It was Hoover who suggested infiltrating the organization to seek out Communists. In an ironic form of affirmative action, the bureau hired its first Negro agents to pose as U.N.I.A. enthusiasts#. These agents filed regular reports which now provide historians with an inside view of the operations of the U.N.I.A. and The Black Star Shipping Line.

Captain Cockburn spoke at The U.N.I.A.’s Liberty Hall in Harlem the night after the Yarmouth returned from its maiden voyage. Hubert Harrison, The Negro World Newspaper’s chief editor, related a portion of Cockburn’s speech about problems aboard the Yarmouth in his diary:

“At one time the Captain retired about midnight leaving explicit instructions, a man at the wheel, and the ship on a certain course. At four o’clock he awoke to find the fixes banked, the ship on a reef, wireless messages already sent out saying that the ship was sinking, life-belts distributed to passengers and crew and the boats being swung out from the davits-and all this done without any attempt being made to wake or call him. He had to threaten to shoot before he could get things again under control. Then, with the help of an officer who was not an engineer he got steam up and backed his ship off the reef. There was a white chief engineer and a white first mate on this trip and the treachery was generally supposed to have been the work of the engineer mainly.”# In a letter to Marcus Garvey from Sagua La Grande, Cuba after the accident, Cockburn had explained why his white First Officer Frank Milne had beached the ship:

He appears to be very sore because one of the crew said, that in a few years hence, there will be only Japanese and Black Star Line steamers running the oceans so I suppose he made up his mind to kill things at once#.

In the same letter Cockburn stated that his chief engineer Phillip Maylor was constantly drunk. Maylor and Milne were the only white men among the Yarmouth’s crew. Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line was supposed to be an all Negro endeavor but he and Cockburn had struggled to find qualified black officers.# One reason for the dearth of qualified Negro officers in The United States was the fact that there was a great deal of racism and discrimination in The United States shipping industry. The U.S. Merchant Marine Union did not admit Negroes#.

Although Cockburn blamed the only two white men aboard the Yarmouth for the accident he had also had trouble with other members of his crew. U.N.I.A. member Edward Timmy of Brooklyn was a sailor on the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage. He unwittingly related conflicts between Captain Cockburn and certain members of the crew to William A. Bailey#, an undercover United States Bureau of Investigation agent whose alias was Special Agent WW:

The crew was wholly incompetent, the firemen consisting of men who had really never been to sea and knew very little about furnaces of any description. The first assistant engineer was not only unlicensed but also inexperienced. This man is a member of the Longshoreman’s Union, as were two or three others of the crew. When about five days out at sea the “firemen” became seasick and wholly unable to resume their responsibility of keeping up enough steam to keep the vessel going, the captain attempted to force them back to work. This they refused to do and Captain Cockburn then offered overtime if they went back to work. To this proposition they complied and carried the ship to port. Upon reaching Kingston, Jamaica the men asked permission to go ashore. The captain refused this permission and the men then asked to be given some money with which to purchase a few things that they were really in need of. This request was also denied. Thereupon the men took it upon themselves to refuse to do any work unless they were advanced some money. The captain went ashore and returned with a number of Kingston (white) policemen who told the men that unless they complied with the orders of the captain they would be imprisoned. The men stated they were perfectly willing to return to work but not until their demand for an advance of some money had been complied with. The captain then made a promise that he would pay for anything that the men ordered or purchased on shore providing the bills were sent to him.

Upon returning to her deck at New York, the men of the vessel were paid off and the men who had been promised overtime pay were not given same. These men took up the matter with the local British consul, and the latter interceded on their behalf with the captain. The captain agreed the men were entitled to some consideration, but denied having promised them overtime pay. ..The majority of the crew were members of Garvey’s organization and that is the reason the matter did not reach the public press…# Captain Joshua Cockburn’s negative interactions with dissatisfied members of the Yarmouth’s crew would play a decisive role in The Whiskey Cruise. Aside from mechanical problems, a toxic atmosphere of distrust and resentment existed between the captain, his boss Marcus Garvey and a contingent of crewmen who had conflict with Cockburn on the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage.

U.N.I.A. member Cyril Henry traveled on the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage as a BSL stock agent. He wrote a piece for The Negro World about his experience. According to Henry, the situation with the firemen got so bad that the other members of the ship’s crew held a consultation and agreed to take turns manning the furnaces but when they needed to rest “the firing crew lapsed back into their wonted inefficiency.”#

Dillon Govin was the assistant engineer who had argued with Captain Cockburn. Govin shared Marcus Garvey’s ideal of an African homeland. In 1918 he had drawn the attention of British officials in Canada and the Caribbean when he wrote a letter to the Governor of Canada suggesting that Negroes be given territory in Africa:

No nation can deny our inalienable rights to a domain in Africa. Are we, though weak, to stand idly and speechless, to see another partition of Africa, our Fatherland? Are we to witness a repetition of Congo atrocities, separate Native restrictions and exploitations at the hands of white nations? Are we to be crowded off the face of the earth and be subject to the will of white men all over the world? Never if truth and justice is still supreme. We should not fear, though weak at present, the ultimate triumph of our cause…In accordance with our right to Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness we should colonize, develop and maintain a large African State.# Govin was an idealistic Garveyite but he was not a trained engineer. Captain Cockburn needed a trained engineer and appears to have been primarily interested in empowering Negroes via an independent all Negro shipping line that could serve ports in The Caribbean.

Dillon Govin and Boatswain James Hercules had no use for Captain Cockburn. During his 1923 testimony at Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial Hercules tried to comment on incidents when the captain drank or stole alcohol and the fact that he had over reacted when the Yarmouth had hit a reef during the maiden voyage. Hercules was forbidden to go into specifics because the district attorney ordered him to stop talking about Captain Cockburn because he was not on trial.#

Aubrey DeSouza joined the Yarmouth’s crew in time for The Whiskey Cruise. In 1982 he was interviewed at The Schomburg Center in Harlem, New York City#. DeSouza shared Govin and Hercules contempt for the first Black Star Line captain. He felt that Cockburn was a negligent skipper who allowed too much waste with regard to procurement of the Yarmouth’s provisions. The only incident identified by DeSouza as an act of corruption on the captain’s part was when Cockburn “broached” the whiskey cargo. DeSouza believed that Cockburn had taken some of the whiskey for himself by taking advantage of the fact that the cargo was not officially tallied as it was loaded.

The Captain took the blame from the unhappy members of his crew for the poor state of their ship. Perhaps he should have. After all it had been Cockburn who had advised Garvey to buy the ship for the Black Star Line. At a September 12 1919 meeting of The Black Star Line’s Board of Directors (all of whom were required to be U.N.I.A. members) the Captain explain the transaction:

He (Cockburn) advised the board to negotiate a charter for the ship on Saturday morning the 13th of September at which time it is intended to make the first payment of $16,500 on the Yarmouth. The cost of the charter will be $2,000 per month. He explained that even if the Corporation did not make money on her charter, the psychological effect on the people would be so great that the chartering of the ship alone would boost the sales of stock, whereby the finances of the Corporation would be augmented by said sales of stock.#

The total cost of the Yarmouth was $165,000. This was far above what it was actually worth. The ship’s owner W.L.Harris was a Texas cotton merchant who had purchased the ship to transport cotton to The British Isles during The Great War. When Garvey, Cockburn and the Black Star Line officials had come to look at the vessel at the 134th street pier in Harlem it had been obvious to Harris that with the exception of Cockburn none of them knew anything about the shipping industry. He advised his attorney Leo Healy that “Garvey was worth $6,000,000 because he could collect $1 a piece from all the Negroes in the world”. He (Harris) said that “if this Negro has so much money we are going to sell him the ship and make as much as we can.”# Healy later noted that Harris made a large profit on the charter of the Yarmouth. Joshua Cockburn and four other sales agents received $1650 commission payments on the charter of the Yarmouth. Although Cockburn had come to New York in late 1918 to act as a sales agent for wealthy African investors interested in buying schooners,# supporters of Marcus Garvey have always found the fact that he took a commission on the Yarmouth transaction as proof that he was corrupt. During his 1982 interview, Aubrey De Souza recalled that while stationed on the Yarmouth’s bridge, he had overheard Captain Cockburn brag to his officers about the amount of his commission which had been paid in direct relation to the cost of the vessel.

Marcus Garvey claimed to be unaware of the commission despite the fact that Leo Healy claimed that Garvey was present at the meeting when Cockburn and the other sales agents’ commissions were discussed#. Healy noted that Garvey was anxious to buy a ship. He inferred that Garvey expected to profit from the purchase of the Yarmouth despite its high price.# According to The FBI files on Marcus Garvey, The Black Star Line sold 850,000 shares of stock during the first eight months that it had the Yarmouth.# The line was entirely financed by the sale of its stock. It represented the first great stock boom of the 1920’s, peaking during the time that Captain Joshua Cockburn was at the helm of the Yarmouth, October 1919-June 1920.

Whether he knew of Cockburn’s commission or not the fact was that Garvey no longer trusted his captain. Things had begun to unravel in October 1919 when Garvey’s fiancé Amy Ashwood needed $500 for a new apartment. Joshua Cockburn had offered to lend her the money prompting Garvey to cut her a check on the Black Star Line account. Cockburn believed that Garvey’s jealousy played a role in his decision to use Black Star funds.# Money from BSL stock sales was beginning to pour into Garvey’s coffers. Although the money often came in small denominations from Negroes who earned very little, the total amount of BSL stock sales amounted to thousands of dollars.

While Garvey become distrustful of his Ship Captain’s intentions towards Amy Ashwood, Cockburn was angry that Garvey had a lot of money from BSL stock sales and had yet to pay him.# Marcus Garvey had contracted with Captain Cockburn for a half salary of $200 for September and October 1919 and then a full salary of $400 per month when the Yarmouth went to sea for The Black Star Line. Cockburn gave many speeches and traveled to different cities to help advertise the new all Negro shipping line. In Newport News Virginia the two men even had to share a bed. Cockburn was not actually paid any salary until January 1920. Marcus Garvey often expected people to work for the Negro cause and wait to receive compensation until later. For this reason he had many enemies among people who initially believed in him and wanted to help him achieve goals of The U.N.I.A., which aside from the creation of a Negro nation in Africa centered on black racial pride, self-sufficiency of Negroes through private ownership of Negro operated businesses and an appreciation of The Negro Race’s contributions to civilization.

The Yarmouth was tied up beneath the Brooklyn Bridge at the 22nd street pier in Manhattan on January 16th 1920, the last day of legal alcohol consumption in the United States. Five hundred barrels of wine and 15,800 cases of whiskey and gin were being hastily loaded onto the ship by increasingly drunken longshoremen and members of the Yarmouth’s crew. The men made a habit of breaking open cases of booze, drinking down or hiding bottles in their clothes or in nearby buildings and then resuming the process of loading the ship. One newspaper observed “the orgy of drinking went on for 24 hours.. Some of the men loading the ship were arrested multiple times, eluding their captors and then reappearing on the dock.”#

Captain Cockburn sought out the North American Steamship Company’s legal counsel Leo Healy for help because he did not want to leave port. Leo Healy felt compelled to cajole the captain to get the gigantic cargo of liquor away before it was confiscated by revenue agents. This despite the fact that Healy found the situation at the pier to be a bacchanal.# Healy had asked Cockburn if he could procure a few bottles of whiskey but realized that he could easily take what he wanted from one of the many busted open cases on the pier#. According to The New York Tribune the agents stood by waiting for a nearby tower clock to strike midnight, at which time they would confiscate any cases of liquor still on the pier#. Pan Union President George J. Nagy was at the pier, anxiously waiting for the Yarmouth to be loaded so that it could depart before the official start of Prohibition.

Healy later testified that he brokered a deal in which Nagy agreed to pay Captain Cockburn $2500 to get his cargo loaded and out of port. Cockburn accepted the deal, which he saw as a commission for expediting the shipment. Such commissions were common in the captain’s experience. Edward Smith-Green, Secretary of The Black Star Line was rumored to have received a cut of the commission, but Cockburn denied this under oath during his 1923 testimony in Marcus Garvey‘s trail for mail fraud. Leo Healy later testified that Cockburn‘s “commission” was not a typical or ethical way to conduct business.# This despite the fact that according to his own testimony, he was the man who brokered the transaction.

Federal Agents impounded the Yarmouth at midnight and seized 3000 cases of liquor that were still on the dock. Prohibition was now the law of the land in the United States. The Yarmouth was allowed to leave with over 15,000 cases of liquor and 500 barrels of wine (the last legal shipment of alcoholic beverages to leave New York Harbor) on the afternoon of January 17th. Some of the cargo was out in the open

because there were no bulkheads between the cargo holds and the bunkers.# Observers from shore noticed that the Yarmouth listed noticeably to Starboard as it slowly made its way down the East River.# Crewman Aubrey DeSouza recalled that the ship had a 35 degree list when it was out at sea. This was a dangerous condition for a ship to be in. By agreeing to depart New York with such a poorly loaded cargo, Captain Joshua Cockburn had put everyone aboard the Yarmouth in danger.

Later that day The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper reported that a brief radio message was picked up at the U.S. Naval Station on Staten Island: “we’re drinking“.# The Eagle reported that those who heard the message envied the ship that had sent the message because New York and the rest of the United States was dry. Late that evening another message from the Yarmouth was picked up at The Coast Guard Station in Boston. This message stated that water was leaking into the ship’s bulkhead. At 4:00 p.m. on January 18th The Tompkinsville Coast Guard Station on Staten Island received a new distress call that said “we’re sinking.” The U.S.C.G. Cutters Itasca, San Jacinto and Seneca were dispatched to offer assistance. The Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger reported on January 19th that the Yarmouth had encountered a gale and was sinking 35 miles east of Cape May. # Crewman Aubrey DeSouza recalled the ship being caught in a gale during his 1982 interview at The Schomburg Center.

Assistant engineer James Hercules testified at Garvey’s 1923 mail fraud trial that the ship had started to sink because its’ sea cock had been pulled out. Hercules informed the court that it had been pulled out by assistant engineer Dillon Govin. The assistant engineer was identified by sailor Edward Timmy as the man who had tangled with Captain Cockburn on the ship’s maiden voyage. Hercules told the court that “He (Cockburn) wasn’t giving us a square deal”. According to Aubrey DeSouza, Cockburn “had broached the shipment“ because it had been loaded so hastily there was no formal record of how many cases of liquor had been loaded onto the Yarmouth. Edward Smith-Green later informed The Sun newspaper of New York that a lock was sawed off a steel bulkhead leading from the engine room to the hold and one of the wooden hatches was smashed; Green thought that Captain Cockburn had the key to the hatches#. Cockburn had deficiencies as a Captain, but he did impose order upon his crew as best he could. His efforts were not always successful. Certain members of the Yarmouth’s crew were intent on taking liquor for themselves.

The logbook entry regarding the towing of the Yarmouth by The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Seneca was entered by Officer Edward H. Smith. His entries state that the operation to initiate the tow of the Yarmouth took place between midnight and 2 a.m. on January 19th. The Seneca towed the Yarmouth back to New York. Squalls of hail and snow were encountered between 4 and 6 p.m. The Yarmouth was released from the Seneca’s towline at 6:50 p.m. # There is no mention of drunken behavior on the part of the captain or the crew. No mention of jettisoned cargo. No mention of smaller ships following the Yarmouth to pick up its cargo. These were all stories that were told about The Whiskey Cruise after The Black Star Line had gone bankrupt and Marcus Garvey was facing charges for mail fraud. According to his obituary posted by the U.S. Coast Guard ( Officer Smith later became known as Iceberg Smith for his contributions to the Coast Guard’s study of Icebergs and Oceanography. Smith rose to the rank of Rear Admiral during his illustrious career which included important contributions to the field of oceanography and decorations for his service in World War I and World War II. Officer Smith appears to be a reliable source with regard to his logbook entries for the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca. The towing of The Yarmouth appears to have been a routine operation.

The story of the drunken captain and crew would be told in 1922 by Anton Gronich, a lawyer for The Pan Union Company, which successfully sued Marcus Garvey because of the Black Star Line’s mishandling of the whiskey cargo.# In 1923 Leo Healy told two slightly different stories about The Whiskey Cruise during the time of Marcus Garvey’s trial on charges of mail fraud. On the witness stand Healy specifically stated that he “read in the World” that the wireless telegraph call to the Coast Guard went out as S-O-U-S-E instead of S.O.S. and that Captain Cockburn had evacuated his passengers into lifeboats while holding a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other. Healy also stated that tugboats and other small ships were on hand to abscond with the whiskey that Captain Cockburn jettisoned.# Healy later told The Brooklyn Standard Union Newspaper that Captain Cockburn had evacuated his passengers in lifeboats, handing each of them a bottle of liquor before they departed.# On the witness stand in 1923 Healy insisted that he had read these facts in The World, a newspaper that ran in his native Brooklyn every morning. The only part of the story Healy claimed to have read in the newspaper that actually was reported was the fact that a radio call went out that said “we’re drinking” which was reported by The Brooklyn Eagle.

By 1923 Leo Healy had gone from being a corporate attorney to a defense lawyer to Assistant District Attorney of Brooklyn. He probably wanted to distance himself as much as possible from his involvement with The Whiskey Cruise, which would have demonstrated his involvement with what The Federal Government of the United States considered a radical group of Negroes. By playing up the possibility of Cockburn’s bootlegging in a country that was now three years into Prohibition, Healy was broadcasting the idea that The Black Star Line was a sham. Another possibility is that Healy told all he could without implicating himself in a bootlegging conspiracy of which he was intimately aware.

Late in life Healy maintained that Garvey’s organization had arranged to have some of the liquor taken for bootlegging purposes#. Marcus Garvey often called employees who disappointed him drunkards but was known to be a teetotaler. No one has ever come forward to corroborate Healy’s version of events. Aubrey DeSouza could not stand Captain Cockburn but had no recollection of anything resembling Leo Healy’s version of events during The Whiskey Cruise. Although Marcus Garvey liked to tell the story of boats following the Yarmouth out of port there was no mention of smaller boats following the Yarmouth to pick up whiskey in the newspapers or Bureau of Investigation Reports during the month of January 1920, when The Whiskey Cruise occurred. The story was widely covered by newspapers up and down the east coast.

What did occur during the early morning hours of 19 January 1920 was that Captain Cockburn successfully argued to have his ship towed all the way back to New York. He later explained his thinking while testifying at Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923. “I jettisoned the cargo (500 cases of whiskey) after having been caught in distress. I had a ship standing by me all night, as I explained to the court before. And I returned to New York and made my protest to the custom house or British Consul.”# He had papers for New York and he knew the British Consulate there. The Yarmouth flew British and Canadian Flags so the cargo of liquor would have to be treated as that of a foreign nation. The British Flag meant that an empire that espoused free trade and command of the seas as its chief virtues had a vested interest in what happened to the Yarmouth’s cargo of liquor. These facts would be taken into account as British and American Officials argued over what to do with the ship. .

Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger carried this headline on page 3, January 19, 1920 Leaky Booze Ship, Reeling to Port; May Lose Cargo. The Ledger’s byline stated that the liquor cargo was worth 2 million dollars and was in danger of being lost. The Ledger identified the Yarmouth as a British Ship- the only one with an all Negro crew- and noted that the ship was being towed to The Delaware Breakwater- the three mile limit of the U.S. Coastline with a now illegal cargo of liquor. Major Roy L Daily, Assistant Revenue Agent in Philadelphia informed the Ledger that a precedent would be set regarding how cargoes of liquor transported by foreign nations would be handled by the United States now that Prohibition had become law. Major Daily stated that whether to seize the cargo or allow the ship to sail on after repairs was fine depending on what the highest admiralty court decided. The Yarmouth had papers for New York and the ship’s owners may contend that they were entitled to keep their cargo. Although it would take three weeks of legal wrangling, Captain Cockburn had protected his cargo. A legal precedent acknowledging the right of foreign ships to carry alcohol outside the three mile limit of the United States coastline would be established. This created the legal loophole that allowed for the creation of Rum Row.

The Yarmouth was back in port. Newspapers lamented the loss of the 500 cases of whiskey while noting that the cargo of liquor still on the ship was now worth millions of dollars. The Washington Times reported that on January 23, the Irvine Engineering Company placed a libel of $11,723 on the Yarmouth. The New York Evening Standard reported that Chief Revenue, now Prohibition Agent of New York James S.Shevlin had traveled to Washington D.C. to confer with government officials about what to do with The Black Star Line‘s ship.

On the night of January 23, Marcus Garvey addressed a Liberty Hall audience for the first time since his wedding. Although he was upset about what had happened to his ship and its cargo of liquor he made hay of the situation when addressing his U.N.I.A. audience. Garvey pointed out that the liquor had belonged to “southern crackers” but since The Black Star Line was a powerful corporation, The U.S. Government and The British Government were protecting its interests#. He had a point. After one of the most difficult years for Negroes since the end of slavery The Black Star Line was a company that had garnered the support and attention of important American and British institutions. Stock Sales in Black Star continued to climb. Earlier that day, Garvey’s newly hired First Officer Hugh Mulzac had boarded the Yarmouth for the first time, found ashes and rust throughout the vessel and commanded the stevedores to get the ship back into ship-shape.# Mulzac had the distinction of being a licensed U.S. officer, the only Negro ever to pass the officer’s exam in segregated Baltimore, Maryland. Mulzac could not command the British registered Yarmouth because he was a U.S. citizen but he would prove to be a capable first officer on the ship’s future voyages.

According to The Washington Times, United States Marshal Power seized control of the Yarmouth until the libels against it could be settled#. The ship’s fate appeared to be up in the air. Garvey blamed Captain Cockburn for the libels. It is reasonable to assume that the owners of The Irvine Engineering Company, which had already had a libel settled before The Whiskey Cruise, had read the newspapers and learned that the Yarmouth now carried a cargo worth millions of dollars. Just as W.L.Harris had found reason to inflate the cost of his ship, Irvine Engineering now stuck Marcus Garvey with an $11,000 repair bill.

On January 30 The New York Times reported that Agent James S.Shevlin placed guards on the Yarmouth to ensure that its cargo of liquor would not be taken off the ship. The value of the cargo was said to be four million dollars. The New York Sun reported that Shevlin had U.N.I.A. Secretary Edward Smith-Green meet with him at his office because he wanted an explanation as to why six bottles of liquor had been smuggled off the Yarmouth#. Smith-Green explained to reporters that the cargo of liquor had been consigned to 18 or 20 New York people for delivery in Havana, Cuba. Aubrey DeSouza stated during his 1982 interview that the customs agents hired to guard the ship stole liquor. DeSouza recalled that the agents told members of the crew that they could take liquor as long as they did not sell it. DeSouza felt that this was only fair but he thought it was wrong for the customs agents to steal liquor. Apparently it was unusual for anyone not to take something from the Yarmouth’s massive whiskey cargo. After all this was the last large supply of liquor in New York City that was out in the open and readily available to those who knew the right people. Garvey’s new wife Amy Ashwood was provided with a bottle by Captain Cockburn.

On January 31 Bureau of Investigation undercover Agent WW visited a man named Leon Munce at The Y.M.C.A. on Carlton Avenue in Brooklyn#. He had known Munce for three months, the same amount of time that the Yarmouth had been operational as a Black Star ship. Munce claimed his family was in the liquor business in Philadelphia, which he explained as the reason that he always carried a lot of money. Munce had a wireless system in his room, the same sort of system used on ships. With it he was able to communicate with his friend Homer Ringwood, the wireless operator on the Yarmouth. Munce had a chart of the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage taped upon the wall of his room. The chart was marked with the locations where the ship had made stops. He explained that it had been given to him by Ringwood.

Munce had a large supply of Green River Whiskey hidden on the premises. The Secretary of the YMCA told Agent W.W. that Munce was going to be asked to leave because it was obvious that he was a bootlegger. Leon Munce’s possession of a chart of the Yarmouth’s voyage, his reference to family in the liquor business in Philadelphia and the fact that he told Agent WW that he knew all about how things worked on the Yarmouth, suggest that there was a conspiracy on the part of certain members of the crew and perhaps their captain, to engage in bootlegging using liquor from The Whiskey Cargo.

On February 4 Marcus Garvey, Captain Joshua Cockburn and an entourage of Black Star Line officials appeared before Agent James S.Shevlin. The men spoke with Shevllin while he tried on hats in his office. He was angry that bottles of whiskey continued to be smuggled off of the Yarmouth. Shevlin asked Captain Cockburn about cases of stolen whiskey being placed in a boat alongside the Yarmouth for sale in Brooklyn. The Captain denied any knowledge of the incident. James Hercules testified three years later that he had seen Captain Cockburn throw cases of whiskey into a lighter, but it is unclear when and where he witnessed it because the prosecutor ordered Hercules to stop talking.#

Agent Shevlin impounded the Yarmouth. Leo Healy hurried off to seek an injunction to protect the ship’s cargo of liquor. On this same day The New York Times published The Welsh Reverend A.D. Jonas’s story about the Yarmouth’s Captain and Crew being unfairly treated.# Jonas was the leader of The League of Darker Peoples, an organization that advocated fair treatment for Negroes and other non-white races throughout the British Empire. He insisted that a white man who had come aboard at the last minute had sabotaged the ship and that only Captain Cockburn’s heroics had saved it. Jonas told a story that Cockburn had told about his maiden voyage on the Yarmouth to the people at Liberty Hall on January 9.Now Jonas was telling the New York Times that this is how Cockburn maintained order after the Yarmouth’s sea cock had been pulled the night of The Whiskey Cruise. The Bureau of Investigation later found out that Jonas was a paid British Secret Service informant.# It is unclear what Reverend Jonas’s true goals were, but he had the uncanny ability to upset both the Bureau of Investigation and the Negro leaders the bureau was investigating.

The next day The U.S. Attorney General advised U.S Attorney Caffey to let the Yarmouth depart. According to The Sun and New York Herald the Yarmouth’s cargo of liquor had not been impounded because it would have cost $40,000 to unload.# Special undercover agent WW submitted his reports to The Bureau of Investigation about the Yarmouth’s recalcitrant crew and the fact that a man named Munce was selling whiskey from the Yarmouth out of his room at The Y.M.C.A. in Brooklyn#.

The Yarmouth remained in port for another week, guarded by federal agents around the clock. This did not preclude further incidents of whiskey smuggling. On February 9 The Evening World reported that Carl Session and Arthur Johnson were arrested for carrying two bottles of Whiskey off the ship. One of the ship’s firemen, Bill Smith, had given Johnson the liquor. Fireman Smith, Assistant Engineer Dillon Govin and Wireless Operator Homer Ringwood were all implicated in bootlegging or sabotaging the Yarmouth during the first two weeks of Prohibition. Yet, according to the Yarmouth’s ship manifests which are viewable at, All three men would remain with the Yarmouth throughout the time it sailed for the Black Star Line.

A Washington Times article published on February 11 reported that whiskey smuggling had been a common problem for ships during the first weeks of prohibition#. According to The Washington Times there had been 16 separate cases involving sailors smuggling whiskey into The Port of Baltimore. Skippers complained that their ships were cited for smuggling while the sailors themselves were not subject to any punishment. In effect Ships’ Captains were being held responsible for their crews’ illegal possession of liquor. Captain Joshua Cockburn was not punished within the parameters of any laws during this time, but he has suffered the judgment of history through Marcus Garvey who labeled him an incompetent drunkard in many of his writings, which have been published in multiple editions as Thoughts and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Crew member Aubrey DeSouza stated in 1982 that he had personally informed Garvey of Captain Cockburn’s deficiencies during Garvey’s 1923 mail fraud trial. Joshua Cockburn made mistakes during his time as commander of the S.S.Yarmouth but he was not responsible for the Black Star Line’s demise, a charge that Marcus Garvey often leveled at him after The Black Star Line went bankrupt in 1921.

On February 12th both The New York Times and The Evening World reported that the Yarmouth had sailed to Cuba with its cargo. Prohibition agents were relieved that the Yarmouth had finally left port. The Evening World noted “The Yarmouth has had more troubles than all of the Uncle Tom’s companies that ever played the kerosene circuit.” But the era of Uncle Tom was over. The experience of the Yarmouth during the first three weeks of Prohibition had demonstrated that a Negro run company could earn the respect and protection of powerful governments, even when it was behaving in a controversial manner such as transporting large quantities of alcohol out of an American port during Prohibition.

The experience of The S.S.Yarmouth during the first three weeks of Prohibition in the United States was instructive for The British Empire. The Bahamas had been one of the Empire’s least important colonies before National Prohibition in the United States. Mariners interested in profiting from the fact that alcohol was illegal in the United States but millions of Americans still wanted to drink could now look to The Bahamas as a conduit for relatively safe bootlegging operations three miles off The U.S. coast. The British Government had been directly involved in consultation with the United States Government about the fate of the Yarmouth. Although the British were determined to respect the laws of the United States, they were equally determined to ensure that the United States respect free trade on the high seas. The Three Mile Limit of the United States coastline became integral to the understanding between the United States and Great Britain with the understanding that alcohol was illegal within it and legal outside of it#.

For months before Prohibition went into effect, cases of liquor had been piling up along the docks in Nassau. The Bahamas were the closest foreign islands to the East Coast of the United States. The British saw no reason not to license agents to sell British Whiskey in their colony in The Bahamas. Where the whiskey went after it was purchased was not part of The British conception of Free Trade. Ship owners quickly realized that flying British and Canadian flags protected them from search and seizure by U.S. authorities, so long as they remained outside the three mile limit.# Rum Row was born. Throughout prohibition Americans on the east coast could obtain liquor by taking boats out to Rum Row and purchasing booze. The government of Nassau discovered that it could operate at a surplus for the first time in fifty years, simply by imposing a duty on liquor sales. The income from the liquor trade allowed Nassau to develop a modern infrastructure, for the first time ever Nassau was able to provide electricity to its people#. Laborers in The Bahamas, the majority of them Negros, saw their wages quadruple during the 1920’s.

In 1928 Marcus Garvey traveled to the Bahamas to give a speech at The Nassau Parade Grounds. He spoke of the demise of The Black Star Line and accused Captain Cockburn of being a “scamp” who sold out the dream of an all Negro shipping line.”# Although the crowd of people at The Nassau Parade Grounds that day enjoyed Garvey’s speech they started jeering when he spoke ill of their native son. Garvey was forced to change the subject.

Captain Cockburn gave up life as a mariner after being fired by Marcus Garvey in June, 1920. He and his wife Pauline made a fortune in Harlem Real Estate. At his office on 126th Street in Harlem, Joshua Cockburn also acted as a shipping agent. When Prohibition ended he and Pauline opened one of Harlem’s first post-21st Amendment liquor stores.#

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