Jamestown Historical Society

Machine Guns in Narragansett Bay: The Coast Guard’s War on Rumrunners, a talk and slides by Christian McBurney

Event Type:


Senior Center
6 West Street, Jamestown, RI

Oct 10 2023
4:00 PM - 6:00 PM

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All invited. Free.

 During World War I and World War II, Rhode Island was dotted with coastal forts filled with large caliber guns. Yet they were never fired in anger. By contrast, from 1929 to 1933, during Prohibition, U.S. Coast Guard vessels frequently fired machine guns at rumrunners in Narragansett Bay.

 In December 1929, off Jamestown, machine gun fire killed three rumrunners on the notorious Black Duck. Despite the incident drawing national protests, the carnage continued. The Coast Guard fired machine guns at dozens more rumrunners in Rhode Island waters, killing another man, severely wounding two others, and causing several boats to explode or sink.

 Join author and historian Christian McBurney as he explores the use of excessive force in Narragansett Bay and other Rhode Island waters against crews that were mostly made up of local fishermen (many from immigrant families) trying to earn extra dollars and fulfill a strong demand for bootleg liquor, including among wealthy elites.

Christian McBurney is the author or co-author of eight books on Rhode Island history. He is the publisher and chief editor of the Review of Rhode Island History at smallstatebighistory.com, devoted to Rhode Island history. He practices law in Washington, DC and he and his wife have a second home in West Kingston, Rhode Island.