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Mound House Happenings shares the latest in ongoing projects, site improvements, scheduled programs and events, plus interesting facts and photos on our unique archaeology, history and ecology.

Mound House

Mound House
October 15, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jack DeLysle and Rum smuggling

While the Mound House has had a variety of interesting resdients, one of the most colorful was a British promoter named Jack DeLysle. DeLysle came to Southwest Florida amid charges of smuggling rum from Cuba to the United States during the alcohol free era of Prohibition. The following narrative describes the event and is pulled from newspaper accounts from the time.
Jack DeLysle in front of a Ft. Myers home

The Uralia, a schooner containing a ship load of whiskey was wrecked on a sand bar below Naples during heavy northeast gale Saturday, the fifteenth of January 1921. Three days before the ship had set anchor off the coast of Naples and when the storm hit the crew attempted to secure the boat in Gordon’s Pass and became grounded on a sand bar. A large number of cases of alcohol washed ashore and were then salvaged and were either hidden in mangroves or stolen and changed hands.  The vessel originated in Mobile several weeks before the incident under the name Frank M. and sailed under an American flag. It then sailed to Tampa, Naples, and Key West before it anchored in Havana. It was here that the boat was loaded with alcohol and changed its name to Uralia and its flag to British. Its destination was meant to be Pensacola but the Uralia was forced to drop anchor off of Fort Myers due to the storm.

The crew originally consisted of Jack and John Delyse, Captain Brindley L. Coats, a Spaniard, and a black deck hand named Cleveland Bodden or Bedden. Jack DeLysle, had previously served in World War I as a captain in the air service and “acted as one of the official air photographers for the British government.” DeLysle met his wife and two year old son in Havana and sailed back to Fort Myers with his family on a separate ship. At the time of the shipwreck DeLysle and his family were living in a suite at a Naples hotel and “apparently caring little for expense. Among the incidentals added to the furnishings of the suite was a handsome piano.” When police arrived at the shipwreck, the crew consisted of John Delysle, the Spaniard, and Cleveland, John claimed that he was merely the engineer and that the captain had fled the ship.

Major William, federal prohibition enforcement officer, arrived in Fort Myers from Tampa and worked alongside Sheriff Frank B. Tippins and Officer John Barnhill to investigate the illegal alcohol aboard the ship. They estimated that originally the Uralia held close to 995 cases. The cases were labeled “Soap” and marked in blue chalk with the number “12.” While most of these cases disappeared, the officials were able to find a couple of cases labeled “Country Club” whiskey. The alcohol in these branded boxes appeared to have originated from New Hope Kentucky before Prohibition was enacted, at that time it was shipped out of the country to Cuba. The officers stated that the liquor is a very poor grade, at least the bottles discovered by them. The investigators discovereed Cleveland’s diary and found that he was employed by Captain Coats three months prior to the incident; he and the captain met the DeLysles in Mobile Alabama and chartered them for this trip. They then sailed to St. Andrews Bay and then down to Tampa where the DeLysles came aboard. It appears that on the cruise down south between Key West and Cuba Capt. Coats and DeLysle had a quarrel “over whether they should bring back with them a load of Chinamen or a load of booze, the former claiming it was more profitable to smuggle in Chinamen to the United State.” Once they arrived in Havana Coats registered the boat as the Uralia under Cleveland’s name since he was a British subject.

The DeLysle brothers were taken to Tampa for a trial before Walter O. Sheppard, the United States Commissioner. The two brothers were represented by their attorney R.A. Henderson. Cleveland was called as a witness during the trial as was Will Tomlinson and J.O. Whidden.
Both brothers were declared innocent after it was found that a number of the witnesses had been caught with liquor and one of them at least had been convicted several times previously for illegal sale of liquor. The testimony of one man, that he purchased illegal liquor from Jack DeLysle, was thrown out after several witnesses proved that Jack DeLysle was not in Fort Myers on the day the witness said, nor for two days prior to that time.  The jury acquitted the DeLysle brothers after only ten minutes of deliberation and with not a single dissenting vote.