Who was Cleo

Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe was a born badass and Prohibition was her time to shine.

Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe was a born badass and Prohibition was her time to shine.

While people across the country were peddling watered-down, colored-up liquor—moonshine that made you go blind—Lythgoe set up a wholesale liquor business in the Bahamas and imported premium whiskey from Scotland and Ireland. 

She bought fast boats and hard men, often a pistol or two, and daringly sailed her whiskey up to Rum Row where it was purchased and bootlegged into New York and New Jersey. Prohibition didn’t stop the rich from drinking fine whiskey and they paid people like Lythgoe to ensure they were well supplied. 

A couple of arrests seriously boosted her image and she found herself hounded constantly by her own version of the Paparazzi. Ultimately known as “The Bahama Queen” or “The Queen of the Bootleggers”, flags flew at half-mast in the Bahamas when she died in 1974. 

Lythgoe™ Bourbon salutes Ms. Lythgoe and all whiskey women who unapologetically break the rules to drink good whiskey!

Have you heard the expression “the real McCoy”?

Captain Billy McCoy was known to bootleggers far and wide as an honest supplier of booze during Prohibition. While other ship’s captains would sell bootleggers “stretched” whiskey (in other words, water was added to whiskey to “stretch” supplies), Billy McCoy always sold exactly what he said was in the bottle. If a bootlegger bought whiskey from Captain Billy, it was said to be “the real McCoy”, an expression that has since become synonymous for the real thing or the genuine article.

Cleo Lythgoe hired Billy McCoy for many of her runs up to Rum Row and they became fast friends (some say they were romantically involved). Captain McCoy later wrote of Lythgoe:

“She was a tall slender girl with black hair, a brain as steady as her own dark eyes, and a history that was nobody’s business. She came to Nassau as agent for Haig and McTavish’s Scotch whisky, no one knew from where. She made no secret of her background, but she told an entirely different tale to everyone who asked. She was born in California. She had been born in India. She was a gypsy. She had been raised in the Middle West. You could take your choice.

Nassau was not the best place in those days for attractive unprotected women, but though she was the former, she certainly was not the latter. Members of the rum mob who drew their own conclusions concerning her and then tried to operate accordingly, probably will recall the breath-taking fury she could show, and one or two must remember the pistol jammed into their ribs by way of making things clear. An able thoroughly competent girl was she; no twittery jane at whom one could make passes with impunity. She expected others to mind their own business as she attended to hers. She worked at that overtime and in its course she nearly ran me ragged.”