NYC Ambrose Lightship at dock in East River

Ambrose Lightship  was a common site for smugglers during Prohibition. The Lightship marked the entrance  to  Ambrose Channel. That channel is in New York’s Lower Bay before the Narrows which connects to the Upper Bay.


The lightship is located now at a dock in Manhattan on the lower East River.  People can visit it at the South Street Seaport Museum.

If this lightship could talk,  it would tell  tales of liquor smuggling when it was in active service. Once a Canadian captain stopped his ship near the lightship around midnight to unload liquor onto a local barge. The Coast Guard patrolling the area  happened upon the unloading. During the gunfire, the captain was hit.  He was rushed to the Marine Hospital on nearby Staten Island where he died. Conscious to the end, he refused to say anything helpful to the authorities.

Other approaches to Manhattan

A few  smugglers approached  Manhattan  from Long Island Sound and Hell Gate or  through waterways to the west of Staten Island. But the vast majority sailed, steamed, or motored past Ambrose Lightship. Usually in the dark of night.

[For more on smuggling liquor from the sea, see chapters 1-3 in Smugglers, Bootleggers, and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City (SUNY Press 2013). The book, less than 200 pages, is scholarly and contains narrative, photographs, extensive footnotes, bibliography, index, and primary documents.]