By Victoria Scannella

In the time of Prohibition, lasting in New Jersey from 1922 to 1933, parts of South Jersey were most famously known as “Rum Row”, the most famous for being the largest of the “Rum Rows” along the East Coast.

 Although cities such as New York, Chicago, and Atlantic City were all notorious for their bootlegging, the convenience of farmland and rural area that is Cumberland County made for its fair share of rum runners during the Prohibition era. The proximity to the Cohansey River allowed for boats to come in, load the liquor onto trucks, then distribute the liquor to wherever was necessary. The Cohansey River has been used to smuggle things for quite some time, as early as the American Revolution and the time of the Underground Railroad, as recently as transporting Marijuana in the 1970s. (7)

The investigation of a rum ring was ordered by Judge Stanger on April 26, 1930. The Judge ordered, “an immediate and sweeping investigation by the grand jury now in session into the charges of gigantic rum-running, threats, and intimidation against peaceable citizens, cowing them into silence by the rum ring, was eminently proper.” (1) The investigation looked into several charges including rum running, threats, and intimidation against citizens and others involved, such as workers, to keep them quiet. Edward Cronwell, a truck driver for those indicted in the conspiracy, was one of those who were threatened for “squealing” or otherwise ratting out the rum runners. Judge Stanger is quoted as saying, “Rum rings, whether composed of residents or non-residents, must have it made plain to them that they cannot use any point on our bay shore or navigable streams as headquarters from which to conduct their business.” (1) It is unclear just how long the river had been used for transporting illegal liquor, but it is clear that it is not until 1929 that there is repercussions for the act.

Seven men were arrested as being part of the alleged ring; John Callahan (who has several aliases), Cyril Eppinger (also several aliases), James Ernest, Benjamin Emerson, Edward Hymer Sr, Joseph Uhland, and Warren Hancock. They were all from Cumberland County, Bridgeton, South River, and Greenwich Township, among other towns in the area. John Callahan was considered to be the “brains” of the operation, while Cyril Eppinger was the Lieutenant. 

There is some confusion during the trial as to who was holding the liquor, whether that was Joseph Uhland or Warren Hancock, and who paid their workers on their farm to help with the unloading of the liquor. However, some witnesses from Greenwich Township claimed to know that the teams used were from Warren Hancock’s barn. Hancock also acted as a “decoy man”, leading officers on a chase for a truck that was empty once it was caught. Hancock was charged with “luring officers on a false scent” (4). It is unclear whether these trucks belonged to the rum-running ring Hancock was a part of or another truck that he hoped to pin the officers to.

John T. Callahan was the most prominent person on trial, as he was arrested five years before for being involved in a similar situation, breaking prohibition laws. The prosecution had brought about Callahan’s prior charges to further indicate that he would be involved in this crime syndicate for which he was accused. The article, which brings readers up to speed, reads,  “John Callahan had pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy in Cumberland County courts in October of 1925, paying a $500 fine.” (5) He opted to testify against one of the men he was working with, although there was no promise that he would be rewarded for his testimony. Despite this warning, he was given five years probation; had he broken the probation, he would have had to serve the prior sentence of one year in prison, in Middlesex County, NJ. 

During the trial, Callahan was accused of being in a sedan that was following a liquor truck going Northbound on Stathem Neck Road in Cumberland. No one could positively identify Callahan as being in a car involved in bootlegging with a truck carrying the illegal rum with intent to distribute. At first, Callahan had claimed he was not in Cumberland County at the time but instead was in New York. Mayor Thomas Dolan was called to the witness stand and testified that he had been with Callahan at the time, at the polls voting, as it had been election night. Despite the fact that this disproves Callahan’s statement that he was not in Cumberland County at the time, it still served to strengthen his alibi that he was not involved with the rum-running he was presently being accused of. 

He was also accused of trying to invite a man named Fred Renne, who was a witness called to testify, to join his operation. Callahan allegedly introduced himself under a false name that Renne knew was not his name, said as much and Callahan responded with something along the lines of, “I wanted to see how you would react to the fake name.” (4) This was the most convincing evidence of the entire trial that Callahan was indeed a rum runner and the ringleader of the men. 

As of September 13, 1930, Cyril Eppinger was found not guilty of the charges because there was no documentation that he was involved in the events of November 5, 1929. Following this newspaper, there is a gap in the documentation of such newspapers until October 10, 1930. The Rum-Runners trial had resulted in a disagreeing jury, which led to a new trial being requested, set for December 1, 1930. As of a newspaper from November 7, 1930, it becomes known that Callahan, Ernest, and Hancock pleaded “non-vult,” more commonly known as “no contest” to the charges that morning. John T. Callahan, James Ernest, and Warren Hancock were each charged a fine of $1,000 (which is around $18,000 today with inflation). 

It is unclear what happens to the men after the trial has concluded, which means that they either continued their crimes and did not get caught again, or this trial scared them into a more peaceful way of life. John T. Callahan appears a few more times in newspapers in North Jersey, in the Jersey City area, attempting to obtain a license to sell liquor. As seen in several newspapers from as early as 1956, “Take notice that John T. Callahan and Francis Callahan have applied to the Secretary of the Board of Alcoholic Beverage Control of Jersey City for Plenary Retail Consumption License #270 for premises situated at 273 ½ Washington St. Jersey City.” (6) There is no indication as to whether Callahan or his partner ever got the license to sell. 


“Get at the Facts.” Bridgeton Evening Times. April 26, 1930. (1) (Accessed June 26, 2023). 

“Higherups in Rum Smuggling Must Answer in Court for Law Violations.” Bridgeton Evening Times. May 17, 1930. (2) (Accessed June 26, 2023). 

“Rum Truck Driver Confused on the Witness Stand – Attorneys Begin Arguments to Jury.” Bridgeton Evening Times. September 10, 1930. (3) (Accessed June 26, 2023).

“Others Ready to Fight in Defense.” Bridgeton Evening Times. September 10, 1930. (4) (Accessed June 26, 2023). 

“Rum Truck Driver Confused on the Witness Stand – Attorneys Begin Arguments to Jury.” Bridgeton Evening Times. September 12, 1930. (5) (Accessed June 26, 2023). 

“Notice.” The Jersey Journal. January 19, 1956. (6) (Accessed June 26, 2023). 

Don E. Woods | For “Baywalk Empire: History of Prohibition in South Jersey.”, August 17, 2015. (7)