January 12, 2011

The History Of The Rum Runners Of Florida

Bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico as well as being in close proximity to the Caribbean, Florida has seen its share of rum running in its past history.  It is also referred to as bootlegging, a popular activity during Prohibition and was practiced in order to circumvent the law and avoid taxation.  Additionally, rum running became very popular for the same reasons that bootlegging did.  Although the terms bootlegging and rum running are used interchangeably, this is incorrect as bootlegging refers to smuggling over land whereas rum running typically occurred on open waters.

Another aspect is the fact that the term “bootlegging” was believed to have originated several decades before rum running when Civil War soldiers would sneak liquor into their camps by concealing the bottles inside of their boots or down the legs of their pants, hence the name of the practice.  Conversely, the term “rum running” was born during Prohibition during the 1920’s and early 1930’s.  During this period in history, ships would head out from the Island of Bimini nearby and would transport rum to the numerous Florida speakeasies along the coastal areas.

Evidence and remnants of the rum runners

One of the most famous rum runners was a captain by the name of Bill McCoy who began smuggling rum from Bahamas and especially Bimini into southern Florida.  It didn’t take long for the US Coast Guard to realize what he was doing so he would meet smaller boats about 3 miles offshore in order to transfer the rum.  This 3 mile limit was based on the US jurisdiction over foreign waters and was soon called the “Rum Line” while the vessels lined up to take the product from McCoy were referred to as “Rum Row.”

One of the most notable pieces of evidence of the rum running era is a ship called the Sapona.  It had a concrete hull and ran around during a 1926 hurricane near Bimini, and the remnants of the ship are still visible today above the water line.  It is a popular scuba diving site as well as a navigational landmark for numerous boating enthusiasts.  Additionally, the US Army used it as a bombing target practice site during the Second World War and most of the original concrete hull is no longer visible as a result.  Scuba divers have oftentimes found empty rum bottles at the dive site as well.

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