Captain Hugh Mulzac wrote of his experiences as first officer of The S.S.Yarmouth for Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Shipping Line in his as told to autobiography A Star to Steer By. A combination of race pride and a desire to return to the sea motivated him to travel from his home in Baltimore, Maryland to Liberty Hall in Harlem during the third week of January 1920. Mulzac was getting used to the idea that an Afro-American like himself would never be able to get an officer’s job on a merchant ship when a friend had shown him one of Marcus Garvey’s flyers for The Black Star Shipping Line. Mulzac traveled to Harlem wearing his officer‘s uniform, then waited on a line of 100 or more men, all of whom were there to apply for jobs, buy stock or just offer appreciation#. He had an appointment so he walked ahead of the line and up to the third floor. In the top floor office Marcus Garvey sat at a desk behind stacks of small bills, the savings of low wage working Negroes who had contributed what they could to Garvey’s Black Star Line endeavor. Mulzac recalled the conversation forty three years later:
“I am going to make you chief officer of the Yarmouth,” he said, “but this is only the beginning. You are going to help man a vast fleet of speedy ships engaged in The African Trade. Afro-Americans shall come into their own.”
“Yes, Yes,” I assented, entranced by the enthusiasm of this man who was obsessed with what he considered to be the great idea. Before I left I had purchased five shares of stock in the Black Star Line and cherished a clear vision of being commander of a great fleet.
Firsthand contact with Mr.Garvey’s enterprises a few days later began to undermine any more grandiose illusions. Although a great deal of publicity had attended the “launching” of the first ship in the proposed Black Star fleet, the Yarmouth was not a vessel to set a sailor’s heart aflame…Her boiler crowns were in need of repair, and her hull was practically worn out. She could not have been worth more than $25,000 when the Black Star Line acquired her for $165,000.#
Mulzac felt badly about the passengers who had the misfortune to sail on the Yarmouth during its disastrous Whiskey Cruise. He remembered it this way in his autobiography:
The condition of the passengers numbering 35 was pitiful. They had to sleep in cold, wet, filthy rooms and were partly frozen. I thought at the time that I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea because I had just given up a decent position for the sake of race pride.# The Yarmouth was in deplorable condition after it had almost sunk 35 miles off the coast of Cape May during the evening of January 18. Its’ large cargo of whiskey and gin had been loaded in such haste that the ship listed heavily to starboard.My immediate task was clear-to make the Yarmouth as shipshape as possible so we could resume our voyage. Not only was she carrying a heavy list, but the ashes from her furnaces had been dumped under the lifeboats, the cargo was topsy-turvy, dunnage was all over the vessel, much of the gear was not in operating condition and her plates were covered with rust.I called for a gang of stevedores and made the crew snap to. Mr.Garvey came aboard and was so pleased with the appearance of the vessel that he hinted broadly that he intended to discharge Captain Cockburn and make me master of the vessel. I was anxious not to be put in such an ambiguous position, first because while Mr.Garvey was boss ashore, Cockburn was the master at sea, but more to the point, since the Yarmouth was under British registry, my American license would not qualify me to take command.#
Like the other Garveyites among the Yarmouth’s crew, First Officer Mulzac could not imagine that any of the responsibility for the Yarmouth’s troubles could be laid at the feet of Marcus Garvey. The leader of the U.N.I.A. promised the empowerment of the Negro Race, something any Negro mariner or veteran of the Great War might be attracted to. Although President Woodrow Wilson had pledged that Negro participation in The Great War would bring them greater social equality at home after the war the reverse had proven to be the case. Violence aimed at reminding returning Negro war veterans that they did not have equal rights was common in the southern United States.# In Liverpool, England, the colored neighborhood of Sailor Town had experienced a racial pogrom led by white war veterans in 1919.# Sailor Town was where Joshua Cockburn and his wife Pauline lived when they were married in 1911. They had called Liverpool home for many years before relocating to Lagos, Nigeria.#
Captain Cockburn told his side of the Whiskey Cruise story to his new first officer. Mulzac found his new Captain to be an imposing figure. Throughout his time serving as his first officer, Hugh Mulzac appears to have served Captain Cockburn honorably. In 1923 Mulzac related what Cockburn said in his account of his experiences for the Black Star Line in the Cleveland Gazette:
He told me that he did not intend to make the trip for Mr. Garvey and that Mr. Smith Green had drawn up the most ridiculous contract he had ever seen. Therefore he had refused to take the ship out of New York. The cargo was worth one million dollars and the ship was chartered the day before prohibition went into effect and she had to be loaded away from the port before midnight or the cargo would be confiscated. Therefore the freight was valued at $100,000 which the owners of the whiskey would have been glad to pay in order to get it out of New York. The Black Star Line’s president and general manager drew up a contract for $11,000 without consulting the captain. That amount would not even be enough to pay the expenses of the ship to its destination. Then again, the cargo was not even assigned to anyone and had to be put in bond in Cuba. For these reasons Captain Cockburn refused to sail. Thereupon the owners of the cargo approached him and offered him $2000 to take the ship out. He accepted and sailed but unfortunately the whiskey was thrown into the ship’s hold in such a hurry that the cargo shifted off Cape May as a result of bad weather, causing the ship to have a heavy list. She got water-logged and part of the cargo had to be thrown overboard so the ship could return to New York.#
Mulzac’s account of Cockburn’s account of the Whiskey Cruise sheds light on Captain Cockburn’s relationship with Marcus Garvey by January 23, 1920. Although Garvey and members of the Yarmouth’s crew would allege that Cockburn had arranged a secret deal for the commission he received to take the Yarmouth out the day prohibition began, it was not much of a secret since the captain was willing to tell his new first officer, a man he had just met. Mulzac’s explanation of the reason the Yarmouth had a heavy list does not convey the whole story of why it listed#. In fact the ship left New York with a heavy list to starboard that could be observed from shore. Cockburn did not relate to Mulzac that the Yarmouth sank because (according to crew member James Hercules) its sea cock had been pulled out by assistant engineer Dillon Govin#. This may demonstrate that the captain was not aware that one of his crew had sabotaged the ship. Dillon Govin remained a crew member on the Yarmouth until its demise as a Black Star Line vessel in 1921#.
Hugh Mulzac would not have to deal with the problems of the Yarmouth’s engine room crew, those who actually made the old steamship run, because Marcus Garvey had hired an American Negro named John O.Garrett to be the Yarmouth’s new First Engineer. According to Mulzac:
Our chief engineer John O. Garrett was one of our most intelligent young engineers and no one could have handled that ship with better skill#.
Garret’s impression of Captain Cockburn was less favorable. During his testimony at Marcus Garvey’s 1923 trial on charges of mail fraud, Garret testified that he and the other new officers of the Yarmouth were thrilled to receive their pay only to have their captain demand $100 cash from each of them for shares of Black Star Line stock. According to crewman Aubrey DeSouza, all ship’s officers on the Yarmouth were required to purchase stock in the company.# Garret’s description of the way his captain took the money was matter-of-fact but it also gives an impression of Captain Cockburn as a Captain Bligh, a man who did not convey concern for the members of his crew as human beings. Although Marcus Garvey took issue with many of Joshua Cockburn’s actions while Cockburn worked for the Black Star Line, he did not take issue with Garret’s description of Captain Cockburn taking money for BSL stock. This is because stock sales were the primary purpose of the Black Star Line. Just as Cockburn took money from his new engineer, so Marcus Garvey and his many stock agents took money from hard working field hands, janitors and other low wage workers for the coffers of The U.N.I.A.
One thing that Marcus Garvey had done well was to equip Captain Cockburn with two highly qualified officers, First Officer Hugh Mulzac and First Engineer John O. Garrett. The Yarmouth now had an entirely Negro crew and Captain Joshua Cockburn now had capable officers who could help him operate the ship effectively. Despite the fact that it was an old ship with problematic boilers, the Yarmouth made it to Havana, Cuba with its cargo of Liquor in four days#, traveling along the east coast of the United States at a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour.# The S.S. Yarmouth would spend thirty-two days in Havana. During this time The Yarmouth, known as The Frederic Douglass to the U.N.I.A. and its followers, would demonstrate the Black Star Line’s potential for social impact, specifically why it might make white governments tremble. It would also demonstrate the great drawbacks of the Black Star Line, specifically how the lack of shipping industry acumen among its members inevitably led to the line’s eventual bankruptcy.
Cuban agents of the U.N.I.A. had advertised the arrival of the Yarmouth. U.N.I.A. sympathizers came from all over Cuba to see the ship owned and operated entirely by black men. Years later Hugh Mulzac recalled:
They came out in boats when we arrived, showering us with flowers and fruit, but we couldn’t let them aboard. We lay at anchor for five days waiting for a berth, and I worked the crew overtime cleaning and painting the ship so we could make a good impression. Finally, however we moved to dock and were overrun with visitors from dawn until sunset.#
In 1920 the idea of a shipping line owned and operated by black men was a powerful symbol of empowerment for people of color in the Americas and the Caribbean. Colonial governments ruled by Great Britain and the United States Government found this sort of symbolism threatening. Anxious official colonial government communications contained in the eleven volume Marcus Garvey and The United Negro Improvement Association Papers and the United States government’s surveillance of the U.N.I.A. under the auspices of J.Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Intelligence (which was closely linked with The United States Bureau of Investigation- forerunner of the F.B.I.) clearly demonstrate this fact.
Unfortunately ignorance of how the shipping industry worked among the Black Star Line’s Board of Directors and U.N.I.A. agents who were supposed to help with the line’s operations in foreign ports doomed Marcus Garvey and Joshua Cockburn’s bold endeavor. Hugh Mulzac explained why the Yarmouth lost money while it waited for a place to dock in Havana’s harbor:
Since the charter party’s overriding interest had been in getting the cargo of whiskey out of the United States waters no arrangements had been made for a Cuban consignee. Normally the owners of a vessel are protected against delays by a demurrage clause in the contract. But because there was no formal consignee and the operators had failed to insist upon the protection of a demurrage clause in their contract with the owners of the liquor, every delay meant that the vessel lost more money.
To the five-day wait at anchorage was added a two-week delay when we tied up because of a longshore strike. Thus, instead of collecting the value of its cargo space for each day‘s delay, including Sundays, which would have amounted to several thousand dollars daily, we not only lost our expenses and possible profits but had to pay the maintenance of the 35 passengers bound for Jamaica and other Caribbean ports.#
Insult would be added to injury when the Pan Union Corporation, the company that contracted with Black Star for the shipment of Green River liquor and wine sued Marcus Garvey for the cost of the shipment in the fall of 1922. Garvey was found to be liable for the entire payment that the Pan Union Company had made to the Black Star Line, $8,508.38.#Garvey blamed Captain Joshua Cockburn for this calamity because Pan Union’s lawyer Anton Gronich had played up the idea that the Yarmouth’s captain and his crew had been drunk when the Yarmouth was rescued by the Coast Guard cutter Seneca during the infamous Whiskey Cruise of January 16-20, 1920. The reason Marcus Garvey was sued by Pan Union was because he and the rest of the operators of his shipping line had no idea how to secure important insurance on shipments such as a demurrage clause.
Black Star Line Secretary Edward D.Smith-Green did not travel to Cuba aboard the Yarmouth. Marcus Garvey sent him by rail to Key West Florida and then by steamer to Havana where he was to oversee the unloading of the whiskey cargo. Green would later tell a story of his encounter with southern racism to a U.N.I.A. audience at Liberty Hall in Harlem. As he traveled from Miami to Key West Green enjoyed himself in a smoking car with some other passengers until he was accosted by a white man who, upon realizing that Green was not a porter, told him he did not like “riding with Niggers.”# According to Green the man was intent on doing him bodily harm until Green implied that he had a gun by putting his hand on his pocket and asking the man if he wanted to start something. The man left the smoker car while the people Green was with jeered him. After a seven hour wait for a steamer in Key West, Green departed for Cuba.
This story sounds plausible but one wonders how Green was able to get away with threatening a white man with bodily harm, receive support from the people he was sitting with and not face violent retribution from other whites on the train or the white authorities. Either the U.N.I.A.’s Secretary was lucky that he left the country several hours later or the story did not occur quite how Green said it did. He used the story to begin his speech about his experiences with the S.S.Yarmouth in Cuba and it conveyed a sense of empowerment that made the U.N.I.A. popular with Negroes during the racially charged second decade of the twentieth century.
Once he was in Cuba Green was impressed with how strongly the U.N.I.A.’s Havana chapter had advocated for the Yarmouth to receive a berth despite the fact that one had not been secured for it before it left port. Green insisted that “there was no hitch with the whiskey cargo and there were representatives of consignees in Havana.”# This account of the consignment is contested by the accounts of three men who were working on the Yarmouth, Captain Joshua Cockburn, First Officer Hugh Mulzac and crewman Aubrey DeSouza. All three men have stated that there was no consignee for the whiskey cargo in Cuba. Mulzac in his autobiography, Cockburn in his testimony during the Garvey trial of 1923 and DeSouza in his taped interview at the Schomburg Center in 1982. Mulzac and DeSouza have both related that the whiskey cargo was placed in bond. Mulzac noted that this was done 32 days after the Yarmouth had reached Havana.
Despite the issues with the cargo of liquor the arrival of the Yarmouth had caused a sensation in Havana. According to Green, the fact that the Yarmouth’s arrival had been covered by the white owned newspaper El Mundo resulted in an invitation to a government reception from Cuba’s President Mario Garcia Menocal . Green told the audience at Liberty Hall:
“That was the greatest shock of my life. I did not realize that the propaganda was taken even to the palace of the President of the republic. In spite of the shock I made up my mind since the opportunity presented itself that I would appear and present in the strongest language I could the aims and objects of 4,000,000 black men.”#
Green’s reflection was met with cheers from the audience. He went on to relate the story of his and the Yarmouth’s officers meeting with President Mario Garcia Menocal:
“On the morning mentioned the captain in his uniform and the officers and men of the Yarmouth got into some automobiles sent for us by the captain of the port. When we reached there we found the harbor police drawn up. As we approached they came to salute. We were there for about five minutes when the captain himself with some other gentlemen and important citizens-representatives of the Cuban Republic-escorted us to the palace of the President. When we arrived there we found a guard of honor drawn up at the gate and we alighted from the automobiles they came to salute and we saluted. We entered the elevator and were taken up a few flights. After waiting in the ante-chamber for a few minutes, a man appeared dressed in uniform and announced in Spanish that the President required our presence immediately. We marched in, I heading the procession. I found the President, the Colonel of the Camp and other Cabinet officers in the Cabinet chamber, seated around the table. As we approached they rose and the President came forward and asked me who I was. I told him and then I introduced him to the captain and other officers. The President then addressed us. I am not able to tell you what he said, but he welcomed us to Cuba. A photograph was taken at this meeting.” #
Hugh Mulzac recalled:
Though Captain Cockburn and I were almost constantly occupied…we found time to enjoy the welcome of the Cuban people., from President Menocal on down. There was a party nearly every night. President Menocal honored us with a banquet at the Presidential Palace and expressed his great pride in seeing colored men make their own opportunities in the field of commerce. Before the evening was over he promised the support of the Cuban government for the ventures of the Black Star Line.#
One week after the visit with President Menocal, Edward D. Smith Green and the officers of the Yarmouth were invited to visit Camp Colombo, the soldiers camp. The soldiers paraded and then the national anthem was played. Green told the U.N.I.A. audience:
“My friends, I can assure you that these men were in earnest-because the major part of the Cuban army consists of Negroes. And when they saw Negroes with the uniform of the steamship line, they thought they would go wild with enthusiasm.”#
The men of the Yarmouth returned to their ship with some of the Cuban officers. The freshly painted ship demonstrated “that an all Negro ship was one of efficiency.” Edward D. Smith Green showed the Cuban officers pictures Marcus Garvey and Frederic Douglass (the Yarmouth’s real name so far as the U.N.I.A. was concerned) as he tried to convey how important each man was to the achievement of “our race”.
Green and the Yarmouth’s officers meeting with President Menocal and meetings with Cuban businessmen and landowners demonstrate that their was a viable need for a shipping line that could compete with the established lines of powerful western nations like the United States and Great Britain. Although both nations liked to proclaim their commitment to free trade the fact was that neither nation wanted to extend that freedom to colonial subjects who lived in regions important to industrialized business interests back home. Green told his U.N.I.A audience that after meeting with the Cuban military officers aboard the Yarmouth:
“They were extremely proud because they realized that we were in dead earnest-that we did not intend any longer to be dominated by alien races…The Cuban Negro has at last got the vision. The Black Star Line will lead the way for them. They intend to follow until such time as it is necessary -to die for the cause”# The U.N.I.A. crowd responded with cheers.
Green had traveled to San Juan Hill after the Yarmouth had left for Jamaica after its 32 day stay in Havana. He wanted to see “that place made famous in American History because of the valor and bravery of Negroes.” Green was shown “the Peace Tree” under which had been signed the peace treaty between the Spanish and the Americans. On the tree beside the Peace Tree Green carved the letters UNIA. He told his audience at Liberty Hall:
“I wanted it known that the cause for which we stand had at once time sent a representative down there who had pluck enough to leave imprinted on that tree right beside the “Peace Tree” the letters of the greatest movement in the world today.”#
For Edward D.Smith Green, Secretary of the Black Star Line, the inscription he carved was not about peace, which had meant for Afro-Caribbeans and many Latin Americans conquest by the United States and an unfair economic relationship akin to the colonialism practiced by Europe and Japan in other parts of the world. Green told his U.N.I.A. audience that he was thinking more about war when he carved UNIA onto the tree on San Juan Hill:
“With this sign I have conquered. With this sign of the red, black and green, I was admitted to the presidential palace; with this sign I was admitted to a camp and given military honors; with this sign I was recognized all over the world; and because of that fact I am prepared to follow this sign as long as life lasts…I believe that one day upon the shores of Africa we will drive the enemy from the soil of our forefathers. On that day perhaps we shall see the great African eagle soaring to the mountain top of Ethiopia and there planting for eternity the flag which the Negro has been able to produce and maintain even at the cost of his blood.”The U.N.I.A. audience responded with cheers.#
Before the Yarmouth had left Havana the officers and Edward D.Smith Green were feted at a banquet by the Havana branch of the U.N.I.A. on February 25.# A day earlier 12,500 colored laborers had gone on strike in the Panama Canal Zone#. U.N.I.A. organizer Cyril Henry was in the canal zone encouraging the strike. The strikers hoped that the U.N.I.A. would send financial support. They represented 50-60% of the Panama Canal Zone’s workforce.
The Yarmouth made a brief stop in Jamaica. Hugh Mulzac observed that the ship was greeted by hundreds of people upon its arrival in Kingston. But there was no cargo to load or discharge. Captain Cockburn kept the ship in Jamaica just long enough to repair the ship’s boilers and take in bunkers and stores. Mulzac recalled that repairing the boilers took place at every port. Crew member Aubrey DeSouza recalled that “the ship was seaworthy but the boilers were inadequate. They had to be welded at every port- very time consuming.” Once the boilers had been repaired the Yarmouth headed for the Panama Canal Zone.
By telegram, Marcus Garvey pledged to offer whatever support was needed for the Negro strikers in the Panama Canal Zone. Upon reaching Colon on March 1st Henrietta Vinton Davis, the highest ranking Black Star officer aboard the Yarmouth wired back to Garvey:
Cable made profound impression offer gratefully received burden on us immediate help needed advise#.
The Panama Canal Zone the strike was over by the time the Yarmouth arrived in Colon. However, the situation for West Indian workers in the zone remained tense. Hugh Mulzac explained it this way:
When Americans succeeded the French as builders however, they brought with them not only great resources of capital and technological skill, but also that characteristic hallmark of the United States civilization,-flagrant social discrimination.
The “colored” and “white” signs which designate public facilities throughout the South had been replaced in Panama by “gold” and “silver” signs. The West Indians resented having to buy provisions from the “silver” commissary while their white colleagues purchased from the “gold” store, an indignity that applied even in the post office! An even more grievous affront was that “gold” pay envelopes invariably contained more money than “silver” ones, even when the workers performed the same duties side by side.#
In Colon, Captain Cockburn did something that Marcus Garvey never seemed able to accomplish, he provided direct assistance to Negroes who needed it. Garvey had been dumbfounded when victims of the Omaha, Nebraska riots showed up at Liberty Hall in need of direct relief.# Confronted with a similar situation in Panama Cockburn chose to act. According to Hugh Mulzac:
We agreed to take 500 (West Indians) to Cuba which was then importing workers for sugar and banana plantations. The accommodations I hastily constructed in the holds were terribly inadequate, and before we were to discharge our passengers at Santiago de Cuba we encountered many difficulties, including shortages of fuel, food and equipment, but the migrants preferred risking these hazards to remaining a moment longer in a country where they were not free.#
With 500 unexpected passengers to go along with the passengers who had booked passage on the Yarmouth in the Caribbean, The Yarmouth was in the Panama Canal Zone to pick up two people who worked for the U.N.I.A. According to Captain Cockburn, his orders were to take the two people he picked up to ports in Costa Rica to let people see the ship.# The two people he picked up were Cyril Henry who had been informing U.N.I.A. headquarters about the labor strike in Panama and Henrietta Vinton Davis the only woman to serve on the Black Star Line’s Board of Directors. According to crew member Aubrey DeSouza, Miss. Vinton-Davis was given the best cabin on the Yarmouth because she was the chief U.N.I.A. fund raiser on the voyage.
Henrietta Vinton-Davis was a trained Shakespearean performer and elocutionist. Her speeches were very popular with audiences because she was able to employ her ample rhetorical talents in front of large crowds. By the time she started working for the U.N.I.A she was over sixty years old.#
Chief Steward Cyril Byron purchased a large supply of meat, presumably to feed the new passengers. According to Aubrey DeSouza this was before refrigeration made it possible to store such a large quantity of it. The meat rotted in the hold and had to be thrown overboard. Sixty years later, DeSouza was still upset by the “terrible waste” that he had frequently witnessed aboard the Yarmouth.
The Yarmouth made stops at Bocas del Toro, Almirante and Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. At each stop they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds. Hugh Mulzac recalled:
In Bocas del Toro thousands of peasants came down from the hills on horses, donkeys and makeshift carts, and by a special train provided by the United Fruit Company, which since it was going to lose money anyway, declared a legal holiday. The crowd on the dock was so thick that when we threw our heaving lines ashore the peasants seized the hawsers as they came out of the water and literally breasted us alongside the dock. In the tumult that followed dancing broke out on deck, great piles of fruit and flowers mounted on the hatch covers , and UNIA agents signed up hundreds of new members.#
Marcus Garvey’s Negro World Newspaper ran an enthusiastic story about The Yarmouth’s appearance in Bocas del Toro. Henrietta Vinton Davis and Captain Cockburn made speeches. Miss. Davis’s speech was described as delivered with “her usual eloquence.”# Captain Cockburn tended to give short speeches that focused on the Black Star Line’s need for more money in order to purchase more ships for the line.
H.S. Blair, Division Manager for United Fruit Company in Almirante, Costa Rica wrote to his General Manager George P.Chittenden about the Yarmouth’s visit. He reported:
Trains were furnished for little more than cost for the people of Almirante to come see the Yarmouth. The people were disappointed because they had to wait in the rain for the Yarmouth’s arrival. But then they went aboard and visited and then heard speeches at the rail station until 11 o’clock.
In coming up the dock in Almirante the Yarmouth ran into a lighter at the end of the dock. The company insisted on payment from the Yarmouth but he ship’s carpenter was assigned to fix it instead…Various persons aboard the Yarmouth reported that she was in very dirty condition. Several Latin Americans who have taken passage on her to Limon and other ports got off at Bocas saying that it was impossible for them to go farther with the steamer in such condition….The American Consul at Bocas stated that the Yarmouth was short two bills of health from ports at which she had called and is liable for a fine of $5000 for each of these on arrival in New York.#
Marcus Garvey’s Negro World article about the Yarmouth’s visit to Almirante reported a different piece of financial news, stating that the local U.N.I.A. branch there was offering $5,000 in gold to the honorable Marcus Garvey as “a small remnant of shares sold for the Black Star Line Corporation.”
H.S. Blair was pleased to inform his general manager George P.Chittenden that: The Yarmouth had no particular effect on the labor situation. All speeches made by the visitors had in view the collection of money. They repeatedly urged people to give money to buy shares in the Black Star Line. They held up before them the idea of a Black Republic in Africa. By far the cleverest speaker of the lot was Henrietta Vinton Davis.
Blair also provided an interesting observation about the Yarmouth’s crew and its renowned cargo of Green River Whiskey, which was said to have been thrown overboard during a gale off Cape May, New Jersey:
It seems that the members of the crew of this steamer are doing a considerable business in selling Green River Whiskey. We presume that this is liquor reserved from the cargo taken by the Yarmouth from New York to Havana. We understand that they were supposed to throw 500 cases overboard. At any rate Green River Whiskey was offered here in Almirante by members of the crew for from a dollar to two dollars a bottle and a good deal of it was bought at these rates. I was also told that there was a good deal of drinking and disorder on the ship. This I cannot prove.
Apparently the Captain and the crew of the Yarmouth had participated in keeping a share of the whiskey they were supposed to transport to Cuba. During his testimony at Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923 Captain Cockburn blamed his crew for hiding bottles of liquor throughout the ship, pointing out that he and the ship were cited at every port on the voyage. This was a common problem for skippers and their ships during the first months of prohibition in the United States. Crew member Aubrey DeSouza blamed Cockburn, stating during his 1982 interview that the Captain had “broached the cargo” when the whiskey was loaded on January 16,1920. Although there was tension between crewmen who were loyal Garveyites and Captain Cockburn, it is possible that everyone aboard the Yarmouth felt entitled to some of the Green River Whiskey due to the unfair contract that was arranged for the whiskey cargo.
H.S. Blair was not inclined to view the Yarmouth in a positive light but his assessment of the ship and what the U.N.I.A. was up to in Costa Rica is more realistic than J.Edgar Hoover’s appraisal which led to The Bureau of Investigation’s justification for investigating Garvey’s organization (Hoover was certain that Communists had inspired the U.N.I.A.).
If one were a Latin American passenger on board the Yarmouth one would have traveled expecting a certain cruise like atmosphere during the voyage. This became impossible once Captain Cockburn decided to take on 500 passengers who would travel more like refugees than passengers on a cruise ship. So far as selling whiskey is concerned, the crew may have felt empowered by the ability to earn extra money while in Central American ports. A big problem on the Yarmouth’s maiden voyage had been the firemen’s belief that they had to be paid more. The Yarmouth had been away from home for two months by the time it left Costa Rica to sail back to Cuba. Bootlegging Whiskey may have provided some of the crew with necessary income.
According to Hugh Mulzac, the Yarmouth sailed to Santiago de Cuba to discharge the 500 West Indian passengers Cockburn had taken on in Colon, Panama Canal Zone. The Yarmouth’s boilers had to be repaired again. Then the Yarmouth sailed to Jamaica where Captain Cockburn arranged to take on a cargo of 700 tons of cocoanuts bound for New York.# The Yarmouth received a message from Marcus Garvey ordering the ship to a U.N.I.A. meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. According to Hugh Mulzac, Captain Cockburn would have to go to Nassau the Bahamas for food supplies and then Norfolk, Virginia for coal due to British wartime restrictions that prevented him from obtaining food and fuel he could afford anywhere else.
According to crew member Aubrey DeSouza, Captain Cockburn’s decision to travel to Nassau was an act of hubris; he simply wanted to show off the ship he commanded in Nassau, the place of his birth.. When the Yarmouth arrived in the Bahamas Cockburn demonstrated why certain members of his crew could not stand him. First Officer Hugh Mulzac warned the captain not to drop anchor in the channel the Yarmouth was in but Cockburn insisted he knew it was shallow enough to lay anchor there. Aubrey DeSouza stated that First Officer Mulzac knew Cockburn was wrong because he was a better navigator, capable of using the stars to chart his ship’s position. According to DeSouza, Captain Cockburn could only navigate by the sun.
What happened next forever established Captain Cockburn as a fool in the eyes of Aubrey DeSouza and some other crew members aboard the Yarmouth. Cockburn ordered the Yarmouth to drop anchor. Mulzac had been right, it was too deep in the channel to lay anchor. During the night, the Yarmouth drifted out to sea. Even worse, the ship’s $1,000 anchor had been lost. Cockburn hastily ordered the ship to port but the Yarmouth could only dock in Nassau for a few hours before leaving for Norfolk. Cockburn and his officers did go ashore but they could not stay very long.
The Yarmouth’s visit to Nassau appears to have made a great impression on the local colored population of Nassau. On May 27th The Union Mercantile Association Ltd., led by several prominent colored professionals held a meeting to discuss the purchase of a motor boat. The boat was to be used for purchasing food and dry goods in Florida that could be sold to the colored people of Nassau at rates lower than those charged by white merchants. The meeting was attended by 100 people and 400 shares of stock for the purpose of financing the boat were sold. It is noteworthy that Union Mercantile’s spokesman was Rueben A.Bethel of Eleuthra. This is the same place that members of Joshua and his wife Pauline Cockburn’s family most likely came from. Bethel stated that even bigger movements to make the colored people independent would take place if the motor boat plan was a success. He was such a big fan of Marcus Garvey that he named his new born son Marcus.#
What happened in Norfolk, Virginia is also a matter of contention. The Yarmouth supposedly went there for coal but Marcus Garvey accused Captain Cockburn of picking up three women while in port. The women were affiliated with the U.N.I.A. One of them was the wife of Black Star Line Treasurer Ellie Garcia. Marcus Garvey later insisted that Captain Cockburn tried to have intercourse with Mrs.Garcia during the voyage from Norfolk to Boston.# Cockburn insisted that the women were taken to Boston for the purpose of starting a Black Cross Nurses affiliate.
Captain Cockburn offered this explanation for his controversial decisions after leaving Santiago de Cuba:
“After leaving Jamaica, the last port of latitude, I had to call at the Bahamas or Cuba to take in stores sufficient to bring me up to these waters. On the first trip I called at Havana and it was a very expensive call for my stores. Therefore on this occasion I decided to call at Nassau to take in stores to enable me to reach New York. From Nassau I had not sufficient coal on board to bring me up to New York, and therefore I called at Norfolk, Virginia and coaled. I was ordered (by Garvey) to go to Philadelphia and to speak at a hall. The Cocoanuts rotted by the time the ship was in Boston.”#
Cockburn was frustrated by Marcus Garvey’s conflicting orders regarding where to take his ship:
“I got a cable every day changing my port: come to Boston, Come to Philadelphia, Come to New York, Come to Boston, Come to Philadelphia.” #
Upon reaching Philadelphia Captain Cockburn was told to display the ship and let people tour it. He sat down with Marcus Garvey and explained that he had a shipment of cocoanuts that had to be delivered to New York because they were perishable cargo. Garvey overruled his captain and ordered the Yarmouth to Boston.#
Captain Cockburn brought the Yarmouth to Boston so that U.N.I.A. members and prospective members could inspect the ship. During Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923 he testified:
“Both Garvey and I spoke at the meeting in Philadelphia. We said that both voyages of the Yarmouth had been successful. To my mind it was because we sold a lot of stocks. No money was made from transporting passengers and cargo. A considerable amount of stock was sold. People were told that the Black Star Line needed more money because it was going to buy a new ship that would be called the Phillis Wheatley.”#
This aspect of Joshua Cockburn’s testimony in 1923 during Marcus Garvey’s mail fraud trial helped to get Garvey convicted of mail fraud. Cockburn’s testimony helped to prove the U.S. Government’s case that Marcus Garvey had defrauded the public by selling stock in a company, The Black Star Line, that was not viable. Proof of this was the fact that it was advertising the Phillis Wheatley, a ship it never actually owned. Aubrey DeSouza advised Marcus Garvey during the time that he was acting as his own lawyer and cross examining Captain Cockburn. DeSouza agreed with the decision against Garvey. “Mr.Garvey was very sincere… but he was guilty of selling stock in an insolvent company.”
On the way back to New York Captain Cockburn requisitioned 100 tons of coal that his chief engineer John Garret had already requisitioned#. He brought the Black Cross Nurses with him without telling the port authority that they were on board. He knew that he was going to be fired. He had told Garvey that he would wreck the Yarmouth. While at the helm of the Yarmouth as it headed to New York Aubrey DeSouza listened as Captain Joshua Cockburn bragged to his officers that he had made a large commission on the original charter of the Yarmouth from The North Atlantic Steamship Company to the Black Star Line.
These acts of hubris damned Captain Joshua Cockburn. Although he would go on to be a successful Harlem Real Estate Operator with the help of his wife Pauline, Cockburn has been doomed to be remembered as a corrupt, incompetent sea captain who misused his position and took advantage of Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line.
When the Yarmouth returned to New York City Marcus Garvey staged a parade in uptown Manhattan that Hugh Mulzac called “the greatest demonstration of colored solidarity in American History before or since.”# The Yarmouth would go on two more voyages with a white captain. Marcus Garvey had decided to fire Joshua Cockburn. Initially The Black Star Line sent Cockburn a letter stating that they were looking into his accounts as Captain of the Yarmouth and would pay him later. Eventually Cockburn was sacked. By the end of June 1920 he no longer worked for the Black Star Line.
Before he left the Yarmouth for good Captain Cockburn managed to remove the Yarmouth’s other anchor, the one that he had not lost in the channel in Nassau. Marcus Garvey replaced Cockburn with a white Canadian Captain named Dixon. The Yarmouth’s next two voyages were less successful than the ones Cockburn had undertaken and the Black Star Line no longer featured a Negro Captain. BSL stock sales plummeted.
By July 1921 Leo Healy, attorney for the North American Steamship Company, was in control of the Yarmouth because the Black Star Line could not make the required payments on the ship. An article in the Brooklyn Standard Union featured Healy’s plan to turn the ship into a party boat that would be permanently anchored just outside of the three mile limit of the United States off the coast of New Jersey#.
Healy told the Standard Union that the investors in the line wished to remain anonymous. The Yarmouth party boat would be able to serve alcoholic beverages legally to patrons who rode out to it in small boats. The ship was to feature a cabaret where music and dancing would be featured. The one hitch in the plan was the fact that the small boats would have to cross shipping lanes to get to the Yarmouth. This fact alone was enough to sink Healy’s Yarmouth party boat idea, which never came to fruition. This is the same Leo Healy who would claim that Captain Joshua Cockburn purposely pulled the Yarmouth’s sea cock out and caused it to start sinking in order to throw cases of whiskey to small ships waiting alongside the vessel during The Whiskey Cruise of January 1920.#
During the years 1921-1923 Joshua Cockburn would be involved with The Bureau of Investigation whose undercover agent James Amos cultivated him as a witness against Marcus Garvey. Cockburn also joined Cyril Briggs African Blood Brotherhood (ABB). According to Garvey biographer Colin Grant, the ABB had developed one overriding goal, to destroy Marcus Garvey.# The only evidence of Cockburn’s participation in the ABB was his appearance at a meeting on December 18, 1921 at Rush Church in Harlem. Former U.N.I.A. and Black Star officials came to speak against Marcus Garvey. This meeting was broken up by angry Garveyites.# Another meeting was to be held two days later at the Palace Casino with “Protection Guaranteed.”# Garvey maintained that top officials who had left the Black Star Line had done so because they were corrupt. However, most of these men had joined with Garvey because they were talented, educated Negroes who wanted to improve conditions for their race.
Joshua Cockburn was interviewed by the Bureau of Investigation several times during the years 1921 and 1922, not for the purpose of uncovering any of his own wrongdoing, but to provide information on the wrongdoing of Marcus Garvey. Garvey himself provided damaging information to an undercover agent in November 1921, when he lamented that Captain Cockburn had inflated the Yarmouth’s many repair bills as much as 200% when he was captain of the S.S.Yarmouth.# Garvey’s contention is contradicted by agent James Amos interview with former U.N.I.A. and Yarmouth crew member Louis LaMothe. According to LaMothe, all work on the Yarmouth was required to be approved by Marcus Garvey except in foreign ports, where it was approved by local U.N.I.A. agents.#
Lamothe was with Captain Cockburn and Edward D.Smith Green when they were called to Chief Revenue Officer James S.Shevlin’s office in February, 1920 to explain problems with the Yarmouth’s whiskey cargo#. LaMothe told agent Amos that everything went smoothly with the shipment of liquor, a comment that strains credulity because the Yarmouth encountered a myriad of problems with its whiskey cargo between January 16 when it was loaded in Manhattan the day before prohibition and the end of February when it was unloaded to be left in a warehouse in bond in Havana, Cuba. LaMothe may have had his reasons for not bringing up issues that occurred during The Whiskey Cruise of 1920, but there is little evidence that Agent Amos or other bureau agents investigated the Whiskey Cruise. This is interesting since the possibility that federal prohibition laws were broken was strong, given all the speculation and story telling that key figures involved with the Black Star Line engaged in regarding the incident.
Bureau agent James E. Amos interviewed Joshua Cockburn several times during the year 1922. Cockburn invariably directed Bureau Agents to other Negroes who could inform them about negative things about Marcus Garvey. Sometimes the people Cockburn identified were no longer living at the addresses he provided. At other times the agents met with men who had negative things to say about Marcus Garvey.
On April 14, 1922 James Amos interviewed Reverend Norman Wilson who told of being beaten by Garveyite thugs after telling members of his congregation not to associate with Garvey. Wilson expressed fear about testifying in court against Garvey because his congregation was still sympathetic to the U.N.I.A. leader.# There was a hint of fascism in Marcus Garvey’s popularity with the Negro masses. Reverend James Eason, the American leader of the U.N.I.A. was killed by Garvey loyalists on January 1, 1923 after an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Marcus Garvey as leader of the U.N.I.A. During his later years in England, Garvey professed admiration for Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini, but this was probably because Haile Selassie, the deposed leader of Abyssinia, had snubbed him and other Negro leaders in London.#
One thing Joshua Cockburn did not do to Marcus Garvey was to go along with the Bureau of Investigation’s initial attempts to gather information on Garvey’s affair with Amy Jacques in order to charge him under the Mann Act. The Mann Act had been used to against Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion. Although designed to prevent forced prostitution, it had been used against Johnson for traveling with his white girlfriend. Amy Jacques had some European ancestry and she was much younger than Marcus Garvey. Joshua Cockburn’s wife Pauline was a white woman with African ancestry. Joshua had married her in Liverpool, England when he was thirty-two and she was fourteen and a half. However much he despised Marcus Garvey, Joshua Cockburn did not participate in the Bureau of Investigation’s attempt to make a federal case out of Garvey’s marital problems.
Joshua Cockburn provided key testimony in Garvey’s 1923 trial on federal charges of mail fraud. In 1925 Marcus Garvey lost his appeal, which hinged on convincing the appeals court that government witness Joshua Cockburn had been as guilty of fraud as Garvey had. Garvey was sent to the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, where he would spend part of his time serving as head bathroom cleaner.# For the rest of his life and in perpetuity through his writings, Marcus Garvey would hold Joshua Cockburn personally responsible for the failure of the Black Star Shipping Line.
That man Cockburn! May God damn him to eternal oblivion. That man had in his hands the commercial destiny on the seas of the black man. He sold it, every bit of it, for a mess of pottage.#
Cockburn was doing well financially by the time Marcus Garvey was sent to prison. He had left the sea to work as a Real Estate Operator in Manhattan and he found that he was very good at it. The fact that Joshua had a wife who was white in appearance must have helped. The author Claude Mckay states in his book Harlem: Negro Metropolis, that during the early 20th century Negroes relied on friendly whites and Latinos to help them purchase properties in upper Manhattan. McKay noted:
The blacks willingly paid from a hundred to two hundred percent more than did the whites…Faced with opposition, the Aframerican realtors resorted to stratagem to develop Negro Harlem. They got “fronts” to make certain contracts and deals. The fair-skinned members of the group were used as decoys. Posing as whites they achieved better bargains.#
Joshua and Pauline Cockburn also benefited as realtors from the fact that Marcus Garvey had drawn so many enthusiastic followers to Harlem.As the headquarters of the Garvey movement, Harlem became nationally and internationally famous. McKay observed:
When the Garvey movement first attracted world attention, 1918-1919, the solid Black Belt extended from 127th to 145th Street between Fifth and Eighth Avenues. From 125th Street to 110th Street Jews dominated. The breaking of the boundaries coincided with the rise of the Pan-African movement. #
The Sun and New York Herald Newspaper reported the growth of the Negro population in Harlem with this headline on May, 23 1920:
City’s Negro Colony
Harlem Settlement Becomes World’s Largest
In Period of fifteen years-Property
Holdings Exceed $100,000,000
There is at least one piece of evidence that suggests Joshua Cockburn the Real Estate Operator was as irresponsible as he had been when he was commanding the Yarmouth. The Afro American Newspaper reported on October 31, 1924 that a tenement owned by the former Captain Joshua Cockburn had burned down and that “incendiarism” was charged. One of Cockburn’s tenants had seen two Negroes and a white man hanging around the building’s basement just before the fire started. One woman perished. One female tenant who experienced the fire was the mother of eleven children. She lived in the basement. The buildings “alarm box” was faulty and it took ten minutes to let the fire department know that there was a fire.#
There was money to be made in Harlem Real Estate and Joshua and Pauline Cockburn made their share. On February 25, 1925 The New York Times reported that Joshua Cockburn had donated $5,000 to the construction of the Episcopal Cathedral of St.John the Divine. This was done in memory of his son Joshua Percival Cockburn, who had died at sea on the Cockburn’s journey from Sierra Leone, Africa to New York in 1918#. Joshua said his donation was “in memory of my only son who died and was buried at sea.”
Marcus Garvey had been sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary a few weeks earlier after losing the appeal of his conviction for mail fraud. Garvey’s lawyers had based their appeal on the fact that witnesses had stated that Captain Joshua Cockburn had received a commission from the sellers on the sale of the Yarmouth.# Garvey’s lawyers argued that this was the reason the Black Star Line had failed. They pointed to the fact that Cockburn had been Marcus Garvey’s marine adviser and profited from the charter of the Yarmouth from the North American Steamship Company to the U.N.I.A. as one example of Marcus Garvey’s victimization at the hands of his employees. The appeal was rejected.
Throughout the sixteen years he lived and worked in Harlem, Joshua Cockburn maintained a realty office and shipping agency at 2164 7th Avenue.# He and Pauline were occasionally mentioned in the society pages of Negro newspapers. They attended a dinner at The Alcidean Club and vacationed at Edgewater. Captain Cockburn’s most enduring contribution to Harlem society was his donation of a silver cup that served as a trophy for an invitational tennis tournament between teams from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania#. The Cockburn Cup Tennis Tournament was still being played as late as 1954.
The Cockburns appear to have weathered the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression.
In 1934 they traveled to Haiti with prominent American Negro businessmen who had formed the Haitian Afro-American Chamber of Commerce. The organization had been formed at the request of Haitian President Stenio Vincient, who had been in the United States to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The fact that the United States had recently withdrawn U.S. Marines from Haiti after a long occupation had become an important social cause in the United States and the Caribbean.
The United States had occupied Haiti since 1915. The Wilson Administration had installed a pro-American President Philippe S.Dartiguenave, who ran the island nation as a dictator using a combined U.S Marine Haitian gendarmerie to maintain order. The U.S. led occupation of Haiti included racial segregation, press censorship and forced labor#. The plight of Haiti had become a popular cause among liberal Americans such as Clarence Darrow’s colleague Arthur Garfield Hayes, who viewed the occupation as part of The U.S.A.’s alarming tendency to oppress dark skinned people. While he had been a crew member of the Yarmouth in 1920, Aubrey DeSouza had met Haitian girls who had been raped by U.S. Marines during the occupation.# DeSouza’s experience was corroborated by N.A.A.C.P. Secretary James Weldon Johnson, who traveled to Haiti to observe conditions for himself in 1920.
The members of the Haitian Afro-American Chamber of Commerce had sailed from New York on August 17, 1934. They held a ceremony at the tomb of Toussaint L’Overture during which they laid a wreath on his tomb. Each member of the chamber of commerce then studied his particular area of expertise in the agricultural, commercial or industrial field. Captain Cockburn wrote a report in which he analyzed Haiti’s problems with shipping and suggested that the Haitians start their own shipping line. His closing recommendations do not sound like those of a huckster out to take advantage of gullible Negroes:
That the Haitians receive every worthwhile effort of the Afro-Americans to help them, always realizing that we are slow to act and are ourselves working against financial, economic, social and political handicaps. #
A year earlier Pauline Cockburn had purchased property in Edgemont Hills, a suburban development located on the Scarsdale/Greenburgh town lines in Westchester County, New York. In 1936 Joshua hired contractors to build a home on the property. He and Pauline moved in on New Year’s Eve of that year. Early in 1937 their nearest neighbor Marion Ridgeway complained about the presence of Negroes in Edgemont Hills because she was aware that the properties there had a common deed covenant that restricted them to people without “Negro Blood” unless the Negroes were employed as servants.
In his deposition for the trial Joshua Cockburn stated that the deed covenant had been acted upon because a white contractor named Norman Zaubler was angry with him#. Zaubler had spoken to Cockburn at another property site in the nearby city of Yonkers. Cockburn had offered Zaubler some property in exchange for building him a house on Pauline’s property in Edgemont Hills. According to Cockburn Zaubler declined the offer but later became angry that Cockburn hired someone else to build his house. Zaubler threatened Cockburn with a lawsuit and then followed through by filing suit against him for violating a common deed covenant attached to all Edgemont Hills properties that forbid Negroes from owning or renting there. Zaubler denied Cockburn’s accusation. He stated in his testimony that Joshua Cockburn had threatened to protect his property with guns if necessary. Cockburn denied Zaubler’s accusation.
The Cockburn’s deed covenant trial was eventually heard in the Supreme Court of New York in White Plains. Thurgood Marshall assisted American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Arthur Garfield Hays in the Cockburn’s defense. N.A.A.C.P. Secretary Walter White helped plan the defense, which revolved around the idea that there was no legal definition for the term Negro in the United States. Pauline Cockburn was very light skinned but had always taken it for granted that she was a Negress and associated with colored people.# The property in Edgemont Hills had been purchased in Pauline’s name. Technically she was the only one on trial although Joshua Cockburn’s testimony provided the basis of the judgment.
Judge Parsons Davis ruled that Pauline Cockburn had violated the deed covenant because she was an “Octoroon” who had at least 1/8 Negro blood and her husband Joshua Cockburn was obviously a Negro based on his appearance.#
Marcus Garvey had been freed from prison in Atlanta Georgia in 1927 and deported to Jamaica. By 1937 he was penniless and living in London where published a periodical called The Black Man. Garvey heard of the Cockburn’s trial and saw fit to comment on it in his publication under the bold headline HOW FOOLISH:
In one of the exclusive residential suburbs of New York an injunction was filed against a Negro the other day to prevent him from living in the district among white people, after he had purchased property there to the extent of L 4,000 ($20,000). The Negro, in contesting, pleaded instead of his civil rights as an American Citizen to live where he likes, that black as he was, and colored as his wife was, they were not Negroes. That being the point on which the Judge had to give his decision, he came to a quick judgment just by looking at the man and the woman, and declared undoubtedly one was of full Negro blood and the other had Negro blood in her veins.
The man has appealed against the judgment and an Association known as the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People of New York has promised to put all its financial resources behind the man to enable him to succeed in his appeal-the appeal naturally based upon the judgment of the Judge that the Negro is a Negro…and who is the Negro? He is no other than Joshua Cockburn. Captain of the first ship of the Black Star Line- a man who professed then to be a true and proud Negro. He was then poor when he came to the Black Star Line. After he left the Black Star Line he became rich and a Real Estate Operator in the City of New York. While he became rich the President of the Black Star Line had to spend two years and ten months in a Federal Prison for what others did to the Black Star Line. But for Cockburn and others the Black Star Line would be one of the most successful Steamship Companies to-day and the black race would be proud of themselves and their ownership of a mighty Merchant Marine.
Captain Cockburn is now rich and having his troubles trying to lose himself among the white people of New York. It is surprising that he is no longer a Negro. We never knew a person could change his race and skin so easily, but the peculiar anomaly is that the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People is to collect money from Negroes to prove that a Negro is not a Negro.#
Pauline and Joshua Cockburn were allowed to stay at their home in Edgemont Hills because their lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays convinced the plaintiffs that he would win the case on appeal which would result in more Negroes moving to Edgemont Hills.#
Joshua Cockburn put the anchor he had taken from The Yarmouth on a rock in front of his house. Perhaps it is a symbol of a life lived at sea and a desire to claim what he had earned. Reflecting on his memories of Captain Cockburn in 1982 former Yarmouth crewmen Aubrey DeSouza could only shake his head in disgust at the thought of the Yarmouth’s anchor sitting out in front of Captain Cockburn’s house in Scarsdale. “He was so” DeSouza appeared to search for an adjective he could not find. Then he said “bold.” Joshua Cockburn died at his home in September, 1942. The anchor remains in front of the house he and Pauline Cockburn built in Edgemont Hills.
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 (www.navcen.uscg.gov) 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 Ancestry.com, 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.#
This is the story of the Cockburns, who bought property and built a house in Edgemont Hills in Westchester County, New York only to find out they were not legally allowed to reside in it. But that is only part of the story. Joshua and Pauline Cockburn belonged to a unique community of Afro-Caribbean seafarers. They were part of a mixed race community that resided throughout the port cities of The British Empire.
In 1937, an important case involving the validity of racist deed covenants was heard at the New York State Supreme Court in White Plains. The case involved a lawsuit brought against Mrs. Pauline T. Cockburn by Mrs. Marion A. Ridgway of the Edgemont Hills neighborhood in Greenburgh, New York. According to an article in The New York Times dated May 23, 1937, Ridgway sued her neighbor, Pauline T. Cockburn, because Cockburn had violated a common deed covenant attached to neighborhood properties.
The covenant stated that “No part of said parcels shall ever be leased, sold, rented, conveyed or given to Negroes or any persons of the Negro race or blood, except that colored servants may be maintained on the premises.” This covenant is representative of the hostility to the Great Migration by white Americans in the North. In this case scientific racism, the idea that racial qualities are inherent in a person’s blood was used to ensure that no one with any hereditary relationship to Negroes could own or use the property.
Pauline and her husband Joshua belonged to an interracial seafaring community that had developed during the 19th century in dockside areas throughout the British Empire. The nexus of this unique community was located in Liverpool, England, where the Cockburns were married in 1911. On their marriage certificate, Joshua had listed his occupation as Master of Foreign Going Ships. He went on to command a ship in Great Britain’s West African Cameroon Campaign in 1916, and in 1920 had become the first captain of Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Shipping Line. The two men had a serious falling out during the summer of 1920.
According to The New York Times, on March 23, 1923, Cockburn was a witness at Marcus Garvey’s trial when the United States Government charged Garvey with mail fraud. Garvey was jailed and later deported while Joshua Cockburn became a wealthy Harlem real estate operator. Garvey maintained that Cockburn’s stake in his real estate business came from money he had made from illicit transactions while he had served as Garvey’s captain. Newspapers often reported the Cockburn’s activities during the twenties and thirties.
An article in The New York Times reported that Joshua made a $5,000 contribution towards the construction of The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in memory of his only son, who had died and been buried at sea. He had done so by donating through the committee of the Episcopal Church of St.Phillip in Harlem. Joshua Cockburn also donated a large silver cup to the New York Tennis Association in 1926, and the Cockburn Cup Tennis matches became an annual interstate tennis tournament in upper Manhattan. They were still being held the year the Cockburn trial took place. The Cockburns were also listed in the society pages of African-American newspapers and the business pages of the New York Times and the Yonkers Herald Statesman. Joshua and Pauline Cockburn established the Pauline Realty Company.
During the late 1930s, Joshua purchased the Old Tree Inn in Yonkers with two female business partners and opened Harlem’s first post-Prohibition liquor store. According to the 1940 census, Pauline Cockburn listed her occupation as “retail liquor,” so it is safe to assume that she worked at or operated the store. At his trial for mail fraud, Marcus Garvey had accused Joshua Cockburn of putting his realty business in his wife Pauline’s name because he had obtained the money for it illegally. The tradition of the seafaring community the Cockburn’s belonged to provides another explanation.
Although The Cockburns had been married in Liverpool they were originally from The Bahamas. West Indian mariners did not have the means to use banks in the larger, often racist communities they resided in. Therefore they developed communal cooperative systems in which they loaned each other money or pooled their money together. The West Indian community in Harlem was renowned for its frugality. According to Marcus Garvey’s second wife Amy Jacques Garvey West Indian families founded cooperatives in which groups of people pooled their money together to buy real estate. A standard practice was for the men to give the cooperative money to their wives who acted as bankers for the cooperative. This might also explain why Pauline Cockburn’s name is the only name listed on the Edgemont Hills Property’s Pauline Cockburn originally purchased the Edgemont Hills property on April 16, 1933. She and her husband Joshua built a $20,000 home there and moved in on December, 31, 1936. Marion Ridgway explained to the press that she thought she had purchased a home in a “very exclusive neighborhood.” Pauline Cockburn was reported by the Times to be “extremely light skinned“. She later testified in court that her mother was Italian and her father had some “Negro blood.” On her marriage certificate Pauline’s father is listed as Ernest Bethel and his occupation was Mariner. The Bethels and Joshua Cockburn were citizens of an interracial seafaring community that did not regard racial differences as a deterrent to a good marriage. It must have been painful for the Cockburn’s to have their identity called into question over a home that they had built on property they had paid for four years earlier. In The United States, a nation that purported itself to be the land of the free, The Cockburns were being charged with purchasing a home in a community where they were only welcome as servants due to their ancestry.
The Cockburns had an excellent defense team. Arthur Garfield Hays of the American Civil Liberties Union was lead counsel; his assistant counsel was a young N.A.A.C.P. attorney named Thurgood Marshall. Their goal was to call into question the fact that the United States had no legal definition of what a “Negro” actually was. Hays hoped to prove that deed covenants were invalid in New York State because the term Negro could not be defined.
On March, 4, 1933, the New York Age reported that Hays had written Walter White, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed secretary of the N.A.A.C.P, to explain why he wanted to try the case:
I do not quite understand why the question has never been raised before, but it is about time that someone raised the point that there are practically no Negroes in The United States. You people call yourselves Negroes just like a lot of us call ourselves Jews, who come from a certain race and belong to a minority group. In other words, we are not willing to desert an oppressed group even if we have the opportunity to do it. Nobody knows what a Negro is, even Negroes themselves, any more than anyone knows what a Jew is, and I’d like to be helpful in getting the courts to do away with artificial distinctions among people of the human race.
In his 1942 autobiography City Lawyer Hays states that, “for illustrative purposes, on the first day of the trial a large number of light skinned Negroes and an equally large number of dark Italians.” His goal was to demonstrate that color alone could not be a determining factor with regard to a person’s race.
Marion Ridgway sought an injunction to force the Cockburns from their home at the New York State Supreme Court on February 1, 1937. Pauline Cockburn was the only person named in the suit because Joshua’s name had not been listed on the deed. Ridgway and her attorney Morris Orenstein asked Judge Raymond E. Aldrich to issue an injunction to prevent the Cockburns from residing at their home in Edgemont Hills.
Indicative of the world situation during the late 1930s, Attorney Hays referenced Nazi Germany. The Yonkers Herald Statesman reported on February 2, 1937, that he had argued, “No one but the Nazis of Germany can be certain about a race.” Jews had been denied their citizenship rights in Germany since 1934. The headline in The Herald Statesman’s stated the goal of the Cockburn’s defense team: “Supreme Court Asked to Rule on Question: What is Negro?”
The New York Times reported February 10, 1937, that Justice Aldrich refused to grant the injunction against the Cockburns, stating that to do so “might very well be a gross injustice.” The trial began in March. Arthur Garfield Hays of the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) was better-known than Thurgood Marshall in 1937. He had participated in the Scopes trial and many other civil rights cases during the twenties and thirties, and Hays was passionate about making the United States Government and its state governments honor the Bill of Rights. His 1928 book Let Freedom Ring detailed the myriad ways those sacred rights were dishonored by state and federal authorities on a daily basis. Hays argued that the Cockburns had every right to live in Edgemont Hills because the plaintiffs could not prove that they were Negroes. Hays believed that the individual and individual rights were sacred. He took the Cockburn’s case because the racist deed covenant attached to their property denied them this sacred right.
Hays and Marshall put Columbia Professor Dr. Otto Klineberg on the witness stand to make their case that the Cockburns could not truly be considered Negroes. According to The Yonkers Herald Statesman of March 23, 1937, Klineberg testified that 70% of the people in the United States classified as Negroes by the census were actually
mixtures of several different races. Morris Orenstein then cross-examined Klineberg. He asked Joshua Cockburn to stand and said, “Would you say this man was a Negro?”
“I would guess he is about three-quarter Negro,” Dr.Klineberg answered.
“Undoubtedly Captain Cockburn has Negro ancestry , but whether he would qualify as a member of the Negro race I could not state and neither do I believe could anybody else.”
Dr.Klineberg then amplified his statement by pointing out that in the same family blood brothers and sisters may differ markedly, some having distinct Negro characteristics and some lacking them almost entirely.
Hays then asked Joshua Cockburn if he thought he was a Negro.
“I don’t know,” Cockburn replied.
Arthur Garfield Hays relates in his autobiography that at that point Justice Lee Parsons Davis turned to Hays, and interjected, “Don’t you think he is trifling with the court, Mr. Hays?”
Hays explained to the judge that he had instructed his client to answer the question in the negative to prove the defense team’s contention that Negro is an uncertain term with no legal basis. Although some Southern states did provide criteria for determining if a person had Negro blood, the state of New York did not.
Justice Lee Parsons Davis was serving his first term as a New York State Supreme Court Justice. He had been a successful attorney for many years. While serving as the Prosecutor for Weschester County he had sent 35 men to the electric chair. After becoming a defense attorney he took part in many celebrated cases during the 1920s.
Two of those trials involved persons of mixed racial backgrounds. In the Rhinelander trial of 1925, Davis had successfully prevented a former maid, Alice Rhinelander, from having to have her marriage to a wealthy New York aristocrat annulled because she was found to have Negro blood. Davis had won the case by having Alice disrobe in front of the all white male jury to prove that one could tell she had Negro blood, if they looked closely enough. Alice Rhinelander’s parents had married in England, her father was dark skinned and her mother was white. Davis later won an annulment trial for a Westchester socialite who had married a baggage handler with Negro blood. In both cases he had successfully argued that one could tell a person of Negro ancestry simply by looking at them.
In the case of Professor Klineberg’s testimony during The Cockburn Trial, Davis said he would reserve judgment. After realizing that his primary argument of “What is a Negro?” had failed to persuade judge Davis, Hays put Norman W. Zaubler, president of the Certified Homes Corporation, on the stand. The Mt. Vernon Daily Argus reported on March 23, 1937 that Zaubler testified that Joshua Cockburn had told him he would surround his home with guns after hearing that the other residents of the Edgemont Hills neighborhood were hostile to his presence there. Hays got Zaubler to admit that he had unsuccessfully bid for the Cockburn’s building contract back in 1933. He asserted that the developer had been responsible for generating hostility towards the Cockburn’s presence in Edgemont Hills out of spite. The New York Times of March 23, 1937 reported that Hays also charged that Marion Ridgway and Zaubler had been involved in an attempt to force the Cockburns to buy more property from them. Residents of the Edgemont Hills neighborhood had packed the courtroom because they wanted to see the deed covenant honored. They asserted that the Cockburns presence would reduce their property values.
Arthur Garfield Hays conceded that this was true, but that other considerations such as the Cockburn’s civil rights under the 13th and 14th amendments should have taken precedent.
In an article in The New York Times, it reported Justice Davis’s 1,600-word ruling on June 8,1937. Davis found for Marion Ridgway on all counts. He found that Pauline Cockburn had not admitted that she had Negro blood when she purchased her property in Edgemont Hills.
Davis found no conflict with the deed covenant and the 14th amendment to the constitution.
He wrote: “There can be no doubt that the defendant is partly “colored.” She considers herself an octoroon; that is , a person with one-eighth Negro-blood. She concedes that she belongs to the “colored race” and has in the past called herself a “colored person.’ Her husband, Joshua Cockburn is concededly a “colored man.” The proof indicates that he has at least three-quarters Negro blood. In every outward appearance he is what would be called, in common speech, a Negro. There is no reflection whatever on the character of either the defendant or her husband, nothing to indicate they are anything other than an entirely respectable couple. The plaintiff brings this action simply to enforce a covenant, and asks an injunction restraining the defendant and others assisting her from using or occupying the premises.”
The law was clear. The deed covenant attached to the Cockburn’s property said that Negroes could only reside there as servants and could not own or otherwise use the property. Since Justice Davis did not agree with the defense team’s argument that the Cockburn’s could not be considered Negroes because New York State had no definition of Negro, the case was lost. Arthur Garfield Hays states in his autobiography that the Cockburns were able to remain in their home in Edgemont Hills. The plaintiffs knew he planned to appeal the verdict and that if he won it would be “ an invitation for colored people to flock to the section involved. Consequently our opponents never entered an order on the judge’s decision and the Cockburns are still living in Scarsdale.” (Although Edgemont Hills is located in Greenburgh it has the neighboring town of Scarsdale’s address and post office).
A 1941 New York Age society page entry states that the Cockburns hosted a New York society couple at their home in Westchester. Joshua Cockburn died in 1942 at the age of 62. In 1946 the Town of Greenburgh got into a dispute with Pauline Cockburn over its desire to build a sewer line on a corner of her Fort Hill Road property. She asked for $2,000, but the town refused and “began condemnation proceedings.” An easement was listed in the land records for Westchester County in 1946. In 1949 the Town of Greenburgh purchased the Cockburn’s home. It is reasonable to conjecture that the property was taken due to non- payment of taxes. A year earlier, the United States Supreme Court had ruled that racist deed covenants attached to residential properties were not legally enforceable. The justices’ reasoning in the 1948 decision was much like the reasoning that Hays and Marshall tried to use during the 1937 case. Racial terms such as “Negro” had no legal definition in the United States, so legal documents listing them could not be enforced by the courts.
In 1953 a California case much like the Cockburns’ case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. This time, the outcome was the complete opposite: the justices ruled six to one that the racist covenant was invalid. On June 16, 1953 The New York Times quoted Thurgood Marshall’s response to the decision: “This case is a natural sequel to the other restrictive covenant cases. We are quite sure that we can meet other attempts to circumvent these decisions. On the other hand we are certain that die-hard white supremacists will come forth with some other ingenious scheme which we will have to meet. We will not stop until Negroes are entirely free to live wherever they have the money to buy or rent. Although a battle had been won, Marshall recognized that the war was ongoing. One year later, Thurgood Marshall successfully argued the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that led to the Supreme Court decision that ruled that segregation in public education was unconstitutional. Research conducted by Dr. Otto Klineberg that compared the achievement of Negroes who were educated in the South with that of Negroes educated in the North was instrumental in helping to convince the members of the Warren Court that people of color were harmed by segregation in education. The court found that the 14th amendment was violated by segregation in public education.
Pauline Cockburn eventually moved to Pawtucket Rhode Island. She passed away in 1967, one year before the Federal Fair Housing Act made racially restrictive deed covenants illegal.
The Cockburn’s house in Edgemont Hills is still there. Today it is valued at over $800,000. A ship’s anchor is mounted upon a large rock facing the street at the edge of the property. Perhaps the anchor is a testament to a life of seafaring within a unique community.
They built and owned it but they were not legally able to live in it. A Deed Covenant attached to all neighborhood properties stated that anyone with Negro Blood could only be there if they were employed as servants.