Hamilton Cochran was born on 9 September 1898 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father Joseph, a clergyman, sought to give his son a good education and sent him to Swarthmore Preparatory School. In April 1917, after the United States declared war on Germany, Hamilton, at only eighteen, left school within a week and enlisted in the United States Coast Guard.
After three months of training in New London, Connecticut at the Coast Guard Academy, located in Fort Trumball, the Service assigned him to the USCGC Algonquin. This Coast Guard cutter was one of six warships that the Coast Guard sent to fight in Europe. On 25 September, the Algonquin steamed from Boston, towing a minesweeper to Halifax and then sailed for Gibraltar, arriving there on 16 October.
During the war, the Algonquin convoyed merchant ships between the English Channel ports and Gibraltar. Hamilton spent fifteen months on this duty. The Algonquin participated in twenty-one convoys without losing a single ship. The Algonquin returned to New London in February 1919. During Cochran's twenty-three months in the Coast Guard, he visited twenty-eight different ports and returned to the states a seasoned tar.
Service to his country had a huge impact on the young man. Within months after stepping off the Algonquin he wrote a couple of documents that related to his wartime service. One was entitled "Hunting the Hun with the Coast Guard." Restless for knowledge Cochran entered the University of Michigan that fall, after only three years of study, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism.
After college, Cochran could not shake the sea from his veins and sailed on the Red Star and Munson lines in passenger and freight vessels. For seven years he worked for Ronald Press as a salesman and from 1930 until 1932 he served as a vice president of the Diamond Wax Paper Company in Rochester, New York.
In 1932, his life took a turn that would foster his writing for the rest of his life. He accepted a job as the Commissioner of Public Welfare for the government of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas. While in the islands he became fascinated by the history of area and particularly the tales of pirates. Here he was able to gather much of the material he would use for his first and many of his later books.
In 1937, he wrote his first book entitled: These are the Virgin Islands. It is a historic synthesis of the rich history of the islands. It narrates some of the islands' unique maritime tales and relates the events and the people, which make up the region's rich lore. Between 1935 and 1943, Cochran worked for Standard Oil Company as an advertising executive. During these years his writing career flourished. In 1941 he wrote his first novel entitled Buccaneer Islands. It was written for young readers and was published by Thomas Nelson. Later came Windward Passage (Bobbs-Merrill, 1942) and Captain Ebony (Bobbs-Merrill, 1943). In writing these books he utilized material he collected while he had worked in the Virgin Islands. In 1944 he landed a job with Curtis Publishing Company as the automotive marketing manager for the Saturday Evening Post. Three years later he published his fourth novel Rogue's Holiday, published by Bobbs-Merrill.
During World War II, at the age of forty-four, feeling that his country needed him, he again joined the Coast Guard. He served as a temporary reservist in Flotilla 605. From April to November 1943, Cochran worked several days each month for the Coast Guard.
By the late 1940s he had traveled extensively throughout the Western Hemisphere. During his life he logged more than 100,000 miles at sea. In 1958, Cochran wrote his most well known book Blockade Runners of the Confederacy, published by Bobbs-Merrill. For decades this book has served as a general resource for everyone who is interested in reading about the Civil War blockade. In 1960, Curtis Publishing Company made Cochran the director of advertising. Two years later he began work for Stanley Publishing Company as a vice president. Cochran retired in 1964 devoting his time to writing and volunteer work with the Philadelphia Maritime Museum.
Cochran also contributed poems to three anthologies and wrote articles for the Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, and other magazines. In 1976, a year before he died, his final book, Pirate Wench: The Voyages and Adventures of Ann O'Shea was published by R. Hale. In all, he wrote thirteen books during his lifetime.