In a nice story about the island of St. Pierre, off Newfoundland, Steven Pearlstein [front page, Aug. 22] refers to Bill McCoy as a gangster. I am sure his family, if any are left, would object to such identification. To be sure Bill McCoy was known as a rumrunner during the early days of Prohibition -- even as the king of rumrunners. But he did not bring liquor ashore or across borders. Compared with Joe Kennedy, he was a small-time entrepreneur.

Though I am not familiar with the steamer mentioned in your article, I know that Bill got his start in the business by purchasing Gloucester-style fishing boats from Newfoundland. He bought most of his liquor on the British island of Bermuda, which was a short run from his home in southern Florida. He would then sail up the coast to New York and heave to just outside the three-mile limit, staying outside the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard and other law agencies. There, high-speed boats belonging to the bootleg barons of New York and New Jersey would collect his produce.

He was noted for the quality of his liquor -- he never diluted it -- and that's where I always heard the saying "the real McCoy" came from. To protect his cargo, he did carry a 30-caliber machine gun on deck to ensure that the "gangsters" who were coming after the liquor didn't attempt to hijack him and his liquor. He was eventually caught and served a jail sentence and never went back into the business.

As a teenager in Gloucester, I met and got to know Bill McCoy and in fact sailed on his last large vessel, the Sachem, a three-masted, 130-foot schooner, which he had sold to a group planning to sail to the Pacific. To call him a gangster is a glamorous overstatement, as he was really nothing but a smart businessman. At least he was not running around the streets of New York or Chicago involved in murder and other mayhem.

-- Norman T. Hatch