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Moonshiners and Prohibitionists

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Moonshiners and Prohibitionists
    Book Description:

    Homemade liquor has played a prominent role in the Appalachian economy for nearly two centuries. The region endured profound transformations during the extreme prohibition movements of the nineteenth century, when the manufacturing and sale of alcohol -- an integral part of daily life for many Appalachians -- was banned.

    In Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia, Bruce E. Stewart chronicles the social tensions that accompanied the region's early transition from a rural to an urban-industrial economy. Stewart analyzes the dynamic relationship of the bootleggers and opponents of liquor sales in western North Carolina, as well as conflict driven by social and economic development that manifested in political discord. Stewart also explores the life of the moonshiner and the many myths that developed around hillbilly stereotypes.

    A welcome addition to the New Directions in Southern History series, Moonshiners and Prohibitionists addresses major economic, social, and cultural questions that are essential to the understanding of Appalachian history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3017-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    On May 26, 1908, North Carolina voters approved a referendum banning the sale and manufacture of alcohol within state lines. Temperance crusaders had longed for this day, one that many felt would never come. Throughout the nineteenth century, their calls for statewide prohibition had fallen on deaf ears because most North Carolinians, like other Americans, believed that alcohol played an important role in their everyday lives. But temperance advocates proved to be a stubborn bunch. Even though they initially experienced widespread opposition to their cause, they continued to write editorials in newspapers, deliver speeches at churches and on street corners,...

  6. Part I: The Beginnings of Antialcohol Reform, 1790–1860

    • 1 “This Country Improves in Cultivation, Wickedness, Mills, and Still”: Distilling and Drinking during the Antebellum Period
      (pp. 9-30)

      Bluford McGee was born in 1832 and raised on the bank of Beaver Creek in Wilkes County, located on the eastern slopes of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. In 1850, McGee and several neighbors left the county for the California goldfields. There, he found nothing but hardship. He discovered little gold and developed severe rheumatism, which left him unable to walk. McGee spent the next twelve years at a San Francisco hospital, where he wrote an autobiography of his early life in Wilkes County.¹

      McGee’s father, also named Bluford, was a central figure in his autobiography. The elder McGee farmed...

    • 2 Select Men of Sober and Industrious Habits: Alcohol Reform and Social Conflict during the Late Antebellum Period
      (pp. 31-60)

      “No other institutions in our opinion, can have a more salutary influence in checking vice, and giving a right direction to our various passions and appetites, than Temperance Societies.” So wrote physician Jason F. E. Hardy, explaining why he and other middle-class reformers had founded the Asheville Auxiliary Temperance Society in April 1831. One of the first of its kind in western North Carolina, this organization was initially a success. Forty mountain residents, mostly from Asheville, joined the society that April because they believed that alcohol impeded the community’s moral and economic prosperity. Two months later, the number of members...

  7. Part II: The Golden Age of Moonshining, 1861–1876

    • 3 “Is There Any Way to Get at the Distillers?” The Fall and Rise of the Moonshiners, 1861–1868
      (pp. 63-86)

      On March 18, 1862, a group of angry women, armed with axes, marched through the streets of Newton in Catawba County, North Carolina, determined to do something to rid their town of the influence of alcohol. They were headed toward the train deport, where local distillers had brought large quantities of homemade whiskey. Two weeks earlier, these “Ladies of Catawba” had demanded that the distillers stop manufacturing alcohol, arguing that it deprived the poor of corn. Those distillers now sat astride their barrels of liquor and faced an angry mob. Some of them tried to diffuse the situation by pointing...

    • 4 “They Tax Us and Give Us Negro Civil Rights”: Moonshiner Violence and the Politics of Federal Liquor Taxation, 1868–1876
      (pp. 87-114)

      Conservative Zebulon B. Vance from Buncombe County smiled when news reached him of his triumph over Republican Thomas Settle in the 1876 November gubernatorial election. For the first time since the Civil War’s end, a Conservative was governor of North Carolina. Throughout the state, Conservatives, who shortly thereafter renamed themselves Democrats, celebrated Vance’s victory and the defeat of Congressional Reconstruction. One newspaper declared that North Carolina was “now a white man’s state and white men intend to govern it hereafter.”¹

      North Carolina Republicans were livid over the news, and many blamed the state’s western counties for their defeat. Henderson County...

  8. Part III: The Road to Prohibition, 1870–1908

    • 5 Civilization Requires Prohibition: The Beginning of the End for the Moonshiners, 1870–1882
      (pp. 117-148)

      When President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Green B. Raum as commissioner of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in August 1876, moonshiner resistance to federal liquor taxation was increasing throughout the mountain South. In western North Carolina, J. J. Mott and other agents informed the new commissioner that conditions there were bleak. The moonshiners were well armed and ready to fight, and they had the support of most communities. Even county sheriffs and state attorneys lent a helping hand, detaining and prosecuting revenuers “on trumped up charges, alleged to have been committed while these officers were in the discharge of official...

    • 6 “These Big-Boned, Semi-Barbarian People”: Creation of the Myth of Violent Appalachia and Its Consequences, 1878–1890
      (pp. 149-170)

      “It is a good deal the fashion to ascribe to this transmontane country an undue share of that moral and intellectual darkness . . . characteristic of the back woods settlement.” So wrote an anonymous mountain resident to theAsheville Citizenin 1883, angry over the media’s portrayal of western North Carolina as a violent and uneducated region. “The error begins with ignorance of facts,” the writer pleaded. “The mountain people are neither so ignorant nor so irreligious as careless persons pronounce them.” Nor were most of them violent moonshiners. “While there is occasional violence,” he explained, “it is so...

    • 7 “Afloat on the Tide of Improvement”: The Uplift Movement and Rise of Prohibition Sentiment in Rural Communities, 1885–1900
      (pp. 171-188)

      During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Appalachia became a center of mission outreach. Northern and—to a lesser extent—southern evangelicals journeyed to the region, where they discovered an impoverished rural culture in dire need of reform. Like journalists and novelists, missionaries believed that geographic isolation had prevented modern civilization from reaching mountain communities. As such, most highlanders remained “traditionalists” who refused to abandon folkways that impeded economic and moral progress, the most damaging of which, the missionaries believed, was the distillation and consumption of alcohol. With the help of local townspeople and the growing influence of...

    • 8 “Wilt Thou Send the Revenues Down upon the Distillers”: A Political History of Prohibition, 1882–1908
      (pp. 189-214)

      On April 21, 1908, federal judge Jeter C. Pritchard, a Madison County resident and former Republican senator, arrived in North Wilkesboro to deliver a speech in favor of statewide prohibition. Four months earlier, the General Assembly had ordered a general election to take place on May 26 that would allow the voters to decide whether to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol in North Carolina.¹ Pritchard, a proponent of legal prohibition since the 1890s, quickly agreed to canvass the state to rally support for the proposed law.² In his North Wilkesboro speech, the judge voiced the sentiments of thousands...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 215-220)

    Prohibitionists’ legislative triumph over King Alcohol in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century was nothing short of amazing. They had managed to make illegal a product that Americans had enjoyed for generations. By centering its attention on the saloon, the Anti-Saloon League convinced countless Americans that the most efficient way to combat intemperance was to eliminate the businesses that sustained it. This strategy often led to statewide prohibition laws in the North and West, where the number of saloons had increased twofold since the Civil War. In western North Carolina and other parts of the rural...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 221-282)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-314)
  12. Index
    (pp. 315-325)