Prohibition: The "Noble Experiment" Seen from a Fishing Boat

The subject of Congress's extraordinary attempt to banish alcoholic beverages from America's restaurants, bars and other public places looms large in Ellery Thompson's writings, published and unpublished.  He was only 21 when the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920, but was unavoidably caught up in the effects the "noble experiment" had on his maritime world.

Ellery got into some minor trouble after agreeing, against his better judgment, to ferry a well known rum runner, Bill McCoy, from New London to his schooner, Arethusa, anchored in "Rum Row" off the east end of Long Island. After being detained by the Coast Guard for this mysterious activity, he was hauled into the Custom House to explain himself. His experiences and observations during the Prohibition years are a recurring topic in his memoirs. He also gave at least one talk about them and they were to occupy much of his projected third book, Draggerman's Loot.

Below: Ellery's 1968 talk to the New London Lions Club was reported in some detail in The Day paper, but incorrectly gives his age as 30 when Prohibition began.

From the Thompson-Krepcio Collection; reproduced courtesy of The Day

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Below:  An unpublished Thompson typescript from the Thompson-Krepcio Collection, one of very few embellished with a drawing.  The small figures beyond the boat are probably gathering (or hiding) bottles of liquor.
Prohibition/ET drawing of boat
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Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

Photo from The Mariner's Museum, Newport News, Virginia

First published in 1931, prior to the end of Prohibition, a new edition of The Real McCoy was brought out by Mystic's Flat Hammock Press in 2003 and reprinted in 2007.  It's an entertaining, illustrated account of the exploits of William F. McCoy, perhaps the most notorious of the law-defying rum runners smuggling liquor into the United States between 1920 and 1933, and bootlegging his own as well. A new foreword by Stephen Jones, local maritime historian and himself author of a book on the subject, brings Ellery Thompson's brief, unwitting encounter with McCoy into the larger story.  

Prohibition: The "Noble Experiment" Seen from a Fishing Boat