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Cape Cod Rum Runners

A wide variety of schooners, steamers and other vessels, loaded with thousands of cases of liquor, waited for smaller speedboats to make their purchases before heading back to shore, usually under cover of a moonless night. “A more raffish and villainous fleet had not been brought together since the days of [pirate] Jean Lafitte,” Zora noted.

Captain Bill McCoy is often credited as being the founder of Rum Row. When ships began dispensing liquor to visitors from the mainland, it was usually products that were mixed on board the ships, cut with water, creosote, dyes and other chemicals. McCoy, who was known to hide out on Martha’s Vineyard, only sold genuine alcoholic beverages, earning him the name “The Real McCoy.”

Speed boats from the Cape, equipped with Liberty engines from World War I aircraft, came to Rum Row to buy liquor that was bought in Europe and dispensed from the island of St. Pierre, a French possession located just offshore from Newfoundland. Payment was usually made with cash, but prearranged transactions took over by the mid-1920s. This cut down on hijacking, where rum runners were robbed at gunpoint of their liquor and/or cash.

Cummings, who worked for a rum runner in Scituate, was in Boston’s Copley Square one night and met up with members of the notorious Gustin Gang. They forced Cummings to go along on a hijacking mission at a Mashpee beach. A shootout ensued, with the Gustins prevailing. Cummings stayed hidden behind a tree while firing his pistol into the air.

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