It must be asked, whether or not, Marcus Garvey came to Nassau in 1928, specifically to tell one Bahamian man, just what he thought of him? Before an audience of  Bahamian negroes in 1928, Garvey called Joshua Cockburn, a Bahamian and the captain of the S.S. Yarmouth, a ship once part of the defunct and ill-fated shipping company owned by Marcus Garvey, and the reason why he went to prison,  a “damn scamp!” Cockburn was not in the crowd in Nassau and Garvey’s comments went down like a lead balloon.

In the book, The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association, Dr. Gail Saunders writes that Captain Cockburn was Bahamian. It is also noted that when Garvey called Cockburn a “damn scamp” it was not well received by the all Bahamian audience and he had to change the subject.

The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers – The Caribbean Diaspora, 1910-1920 Volume XI – Garvey in Bahamas page cxlviii 

Who was Joshua Cockburn and why did he have a falling out with his then boss Marcus Garvey. Well, it was said that Cockburn bought a ship for Garvey’s Black Star Line for which he received a kick back. Cockburn allegedly over paid for a dump of a ship with the overpayment being kicked back to him from the seller. The old ship was not sea worthy. This began the downward spiral of the Black Sea Line of Garvey which only operated for three short years from 1919 – 1922. It was one of the reasons which precipitated Garvey going to prison.

 Joshua Cockburn (Bahamian) First Captain of the S. S. Yarmouth by Thomas Quirk

Thomas Quirk writes about Joshua Cockburn and his relationship with Marcus Garvey

“Based on my research, almost all we know about Captain Cockburn and The Black Star Line comes from The Marcus Garvey Papers. Cockburn went to see Garvey at his office dressed in his White Captain’s Uniform with Gold Braids during the summer of 1919. Garvey had just incorporated The Black Star Line and had just been audited by The New York District Attorney because he had been accused of selling stock in a company (The Black Star Line) that only existed on paper. Cockburn was a credentialed British ship’s master, which suddenly made The Black Star Line more of a reality. Cockburn was tasked with procuring a ship and the necessary maritime papers to sail it. He went out and bought an old “tramp” ship called The Yarmouth. This is the first instance of Cockburn taking advantage of his situation. He earned a commission form the seller and the old ship was purchased for much more than it was worth. In defense of Cockburn, he himself said that the important thing was that The Black Star Line now had a ship and the organization would give colored people hope throughout the world. Garvey and his associates appear to have agreed. The Black Star Line sold a lot of stock during Cockburn’s tenure as Captain. Why did he buy a tramp ship? Probably because he would have been very familiar with tramp ships from his years sailing for British companies. Although Garvey wanted the Black Star Line to be more of an Ocean Liner for passengers, Cockburn was experienced at hauling freight. Supposedly the Frederick Douglass (Yarmouth’s new name) was not seaworthy in January, 1920 when Garvey ordered Cockburn to take it out of N.Y. Harbor to Cuba. Cockburn had arranged to haul 900 tons of Whiskey for Green River Distillery. They paid him $2500 to load the ship in time to beat the new Prohibition Law set to take effect at Midnight January 16th. Again, the story gets hazy here. Just 100 miles out at sea the ship had mechanical problems and had to dump its cargo. Supposedly, someone sent an SOS that said “we’re drunk”. Cockburn maintained that the white first mate and white engineer purposely drove the ship on to a reef while he was asleep. Garvey would later accuse him of being “a drunk” when he confronted him in court. The engineer who got the ship running again testified at the same court hearing that he saw Cockburn unload 3 cases of whiskey onto a rowboat that had approached the ship. The ship was towed by the coast guard back to New York Harbor. After expensive repairs (Garvey claims Cockburn got another kickback for the repair) the ship went to Cuba and Cockburn and his crew were welcomed with excitement. COckburn sent a telegram to Garvey and said not to pay the repair bill because it was a rip off and the captain had just signed it to get The Frederick Douglass out of port. Cockburn worked for Garvey for the next 5 months. Garvey wanted him to sail to different U.S. Ports to help sell stock. Cockburn wanted to haul freight. Garvey accused Cockburn of being unaccountable and “reckless”. Cockburn accused Garvey of the same thing. He was being paid $400 a week by Garvey. Garvey stopped paying him and then ordered him fired. For the next two years there was great antipathy between the two men, who both lived in Harlem. The U.S. Government had been investigating Garvey for a long time. Their agents kept asking Cockburn to testify against him. Cockburn was willing to testify but refused to say that Garvey had violated the Mann Act. The Mann Act was often used against Black Men who traveled with white women across state lines. Garvey had a young light skinned secretary named Amy Jacques (who later became his second wife). I feel Joshua Cockburn would not testify against Garvey for something that he himself could have been accused of (Pauline Theresa Cockburn was a good deal younger than Joshua and light skinned). Garvey’s associates threatened Cockburn’s life. Cockburn testified at Garvey’s mail fraud trial in 1923, he just told about the cruises the ship took and the companies efforts to use the cruises to sell stock. Garvey acted as his own defense lawyer and questioned Cockburn for a long time. I find it interesting that Captain Cockburn became a very wealthy man during the 20’s and 30’s. He had a realty company named after his wife Pauline. Why was Cockburn’s first Black Star cruise such a disaster? The rest of his life he was a savvy operator, whether as a ship’s master or a real estate operator. During the rest of the decade, Wall Street would mimic what The Black Star operators had done, stock speculation went up and up and people put all of their money into it. Then in 1929 the market crashed.”


Garvey’s reputation preceded him long before his trip to Nassau

No one was more surprised than Marcus Garvey himself, when his proposed two-day visit to the Bahamas was approved for 19-20th November 1928.  The government of Bermuda however, was not so accommodating to the organizer of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the Back To Africa Movement. Bermuda had banned Garvey from visiting the island out of fears that he might rouse anti-establishment sentiment among the black Bermudian population.  Despite having some ardent supporters on the ground in Nassau, Garveyism didn’t seem to reach the peak and ferocity that Garvey and his local Bahamian followers had hope for.

Part of this may have had something to do with an article appearing in the local Nassau newspapers just three years prior.  The article was a reprint of the American news which detailed that Marcus Garvey had been labelled a swindler and his prison sentence of five years along with a $1,000 fine, had been upheld on appeal. On June 18, 1923, Garvey was convicted of using the US mail system to defraud investors in stock of his shipping company the Black Star Line.

Garvey went to prison in 1925. He had served half of his sentence when President Calvin Coolidge commuted the rest of his prison term and had him deported to Jamaica.



The sentence of Marcus Garvey, a negro, to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of $1,000 for using the mails to defraud investors in stock of the Black Star Line was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision practically closes all avenues of escape for Garvey. His case can be heard by the United States Supreme Court only through application to the Court for a writ of certiorari, which is granted rarely.


Government officials said yesterday Garvey’s career in this country was ended, because when his imprisonment is over he will be deported back to Jamaica, where he was born.

The Black Star Line was incorporated by Garvey with a captain of $10,000,000. It was said that $1,000,000 was collected by the sale of shares at $5 each. Federal Prosecutor Maxwell S. Mattuck who prosecuted Garvey, said that all the investors got for their money was an old steamship or two, nearly always laid up for repairs.

Garvey was convicted before Federal Judge Mack on June 18, 1923. He conducted his own defence. During he testimony it developed that the creation of a steamship line was only one of his projects. He was head of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. He called himself the “Provisional President of Africa” and “Prince of Men.” He said he was the creator and leader of organisations called the African Legion, Black Cross Nurses and the Distinguished Order of Ethiopia.

Garvey had a large following among his people. Recently he organised the Black Cross Navigation Company and started it in business with a vessel which he called the Booker T. Washington. He has been touring the country as a lecturer.

At his office in Harlem it was said he had gone to Cleveland to speak. At the Federal Building he was reported to be in Philadelphia. He is under $15,000 bail and Government officials deemed this sufficient to hold him, although a long term in prison and deportation await him. Mr Mattuck said he would make every effort to hasten Garvey’s commitment.

The decision of he Circuit Court described as follows Garvey’s schemed for raising money  by selling Black Star stock:

“While there centre around Garvey other associations or corporations having for their object the uplift and advancement of the negro race, the entire scheme of uplift was used to persuade negroes to buy shares of stock in the Black Star Line at $5 per share, when the defendants well knew that said shares were not, and in all human probability never could be worth $5 each or any other sum of money.

“It may be true that Garvey fancied himself a Moses, if not a Messiah; that he deemed himself a man with a message, and believed he needed ships for the deliverance of his people; but with this assumed, it remains true that if his gospel consisted in part of exhortations to buy worthless stocks, accompanied by deceiving false statement as the the worth thereof, he was guilty of a scheme or artifices to defraud.”