The Shootout that Ended Prohibition
All Production Stills by: Cahill Taft © 2021
When the machine gun jammed, Charlie Travers was wounded, but still alive, and his story of the events conflicted with the Coast Guard's.
At 2am on a foggy December night in 1929, 23 year-old Charlie Travers was carefully navigating his boat, the Black Duck, and its load of liquor from 12 miles offshore into Newport Harbor to supply the millionaires in the mansions on Bellevue Avenue. His crew strained their eyes in the thick fog and listened for the bell buoys that guided them into port.
Commander Alexander Cornell, a seasoned Navy war veteran, had cracked the smugglers' radio codes and was lying in wait. He tied his gunboat to a bell buoy at the entrance to Newport harbor, doused his lights and waited in the dark with his crew manning a .30 caliber Lewis machine gun and a Hotchkiss 1lb Mark 1 Deck Gun.
As the Black Duck emerged from the fog, the Coast Guard's searchlight blinded the bootleggers and the .30 cal Lewis machine gun raked the vessel with deadly tracer bullets. The gun, which fired 500 rounds per minute, jammed; but not before three crew members were cut down. Captain Charlie Travers, wounded and in shock, begged for assistance for his dying crew and surrendered his vessel.
Charlie's survival was not anticipated by the Coast Guard captain. What followed was a massive government cover-up and push-back against an onslaught of public protest against the brutal enforcement of Prohibition laws. Many have said that this shootout marked the beginning of the end of Prohibition.
Charlie Travers joined the Coast Guard when he was only 15 years old, and was working as a lobsterman at age 17 when he was recruited to smuggle liquor. By the time he was 21, he commanded the fastest rum runner on the East coast, Black Duck. He, and his wife Mildred, operated from Seaview, a picturesque salt-water farm where they raised poultry and cattle, and ran a thriving bootlegger business. The bootleggers were revered by the locals. The smuggling industry provided much-needed income to the New England families throughout the 1920's and the Great Depression.
The Black Duck recreates this important and colorful period in New England history, while unravelling the elaborate cover-up of what happened on that fateful night off of Newport.
Producer John Taft, along with writer Paul Madden, interviewed a former rum runner who was present on the night of the shootings. They have also conducted extensive research at the National Archives in Washington D.C. where forensic evidence included machine-gun bullets pulled from the hull and the victims. Internal government documents show the trajectory of the incoming bullets as they passed through the hull and the victims. The forensic evidence did not support Coast Guard testimony...
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