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"Taken sanely and in moderation whisky is beneficial, aids digestion, helps throw off colds, megrims and influenzas. Used improperly the effect is just as bad as stuffing on too many starchy foods, taking no exercise, or disliking our neighbor. - Charles H. Baker, Jr., The Gentleman's Companion, 1939"

In the early 1700s a combination of bad economic times and religious unrest against the Established Church in Great Britain set off a great wave of emigration from Scotland and Ireland. These Scots, and the Protestant Scottish settlers from the Northern Irish province of Ulster who came to be known as the "Scotch-Irish" in the new World, brought to North America their religion, their distrust of government control, and their skill at distilling whiskey.

The Scots were the first European immigrants to settle the Blue Ridge foothills. Following them were the Scotch-Irish, who like the earlier colonists, came seeking autonomy from rules they believed unjust. They brought a commitment to certain freedoms - the right to bear arms, the right to make drink without taxation and the right to settle their own disputes - and found sanctuary in the wilderness of Appalachia. As settlers and local governments encroached on their lands and independence, they moved farther into the highlands. Ravaged by poverty, isolation, mistrust and the consuming tasks of survival, schools were all but abandoned. Family liquor stills became the only comfort some would know. Superstition invaded religion and 'book-learning' became a thing of the devil to some.

The first waves of British settlers in North America were a thirsty lot. It is recorded that the Pilgrims chose to make final landfall at Plymouth, Massachusetts, even though their original destination was elsewhere, primarily because they were almost out of beer.

Settlers of the Smokies have been making liquor since as far back as our ancestors recall will allow, and the outline of their history is roughly that of all moonshining in America. Some Scotch-Irish who came first to Pennsylvania and then moved south to Virginia, making whiskey as they went. Scotch-Irish settlers began flowing down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road between the 1730s and the 1770s. Known as Ulstermen, after the part of Northern Ireland from which they hailed, they had come to America fleeing smallpox, sheep rot, drought, and winter fevers, but especially repressive land policies. Tireless farmers, they had introduced the potato to Ireland and turned miles of bog into productive farms, only to have their rents doubled or tripled when the leases ran out. Great lovers of "ardent spirits," they had refined the arts of Scottish and Irish whiskey making, only to have a crushing excise tax placed upon their wares. Once in America, they were hungry for their own land and positively allergic to government. They gravitated toward the wildest, roughest sections of land, tamed them as they had the Irish bogs, and kept their own counsel. When Pennsylvania grew more crowded and less welcoming, they headed south across the Susquehanna River, along the Alleghenies, and down the Shenandoah Valley, before moving on to the Carolinas.

Since the beginning, liquor making was an essential frontier enterprise. To a farmer, a still was the ideal instrument for concentrating profits: a horse could carry only four bushels of corn at a time, but it could carry twenty-four bushels in liquid form. And to every colonist alcohol was far more than a means of getting drunk. It was a disinfectant, a tranquilizer, and a medicine for countless ills. It was an anesthetic, a solvent, and an admirably stable unit of currency.

The local moonshiner who produced good stuff was a noble figure!

Corn whiskey was the first truly American whiskey, and the precursor to Bourbon. An unaged, clear spirit, it was the type of whiskey that Scotch-Irish farmers produced in their stills for family consumption or to trade for store goods. When state and federal excise taxes were permanently introduced during the Civil War, most of the production of Corn whiskey went underground to become moonshine, where it has remained ever since. A modest amount of commercial Corn whiskey is still produced and consumed in the South.

LAWFUL MOONSHINE. "Ardent spirits were then in almost universal use and nearly every prosperous man had his whiskey or brandy still. Even ministers of the gospel are said in some instances to have made and sold liquor. A barroom was a place shunned by few, in the cities. The court records show license to retail issued to men who stood high as exemplary members of churches. On November 2, 1800, Bishop Asbury chronicles that "Francis Alexander Ramsey pursued us to the ferry, franked us over and took us to his excellent mansion, a stone house; it may not be amiss to mention that our host has built his house, and taken in his harvest without the aid of whiskey."


After the Civil War, a federal tax on home distilleries became law. During the chaos of southern reconstruction, the law was easily ignored. During the 1870s, however, the law began to be enforced. Many of those arrested in the early days were unaware of the fact that home-brewing was illegal and could not understand why they did not "have the right to make a little licker" (Miller 1991:40). This did not last. The tax soon bred informers, vengeance raids, moonshining clans that ruled entire counties, and shoot outs with the tax collectors.

Ask most folks about the golden age of moonshining in Tennessee and they'll probably start talking about the Prohibition era. They'll be wrong.
"Tending the Still," a small recreation of a classic 1930s copper moonshine operation tucked away on the museum's third floor, clarifies the facts: Moonshining actually came into its own as an outlaw activity after the South rejoined the Union at the close of the Civil War. Residents of Southern Appalachia suddenly found themselves subject to a tax on whiskey that had first been passed to help the North fund its army. In some cases, the tax actually exceeded the value of the liquor to which it applied. The residents, many of whom were descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants with a long tradition of home distilling, were not happy with the situation. Things got worse as federal revenue agents stepped up enforcement. Moonshining, which the exhibit points out was very hard work, thus became solidified as a rebel way of life across the South, with Tennessee becoming a leader in the number of stills and amount of liquor produced (this from a state that was slow to legalizing "liquor by the drink" until the seventies).

This war ended in a draw. The moonshiners could not drive the revenuers out of the mountains, and the revenuers could not entirely stop the moonshiners. It gave rise to the myth of moonshiners as strong individualists unwilling to submit to outside authority.

Even when Prohibition ended, moonshining continued to boom. Prohibition was followed by the Great Depression. For many in the mountains, there was simply no way outside of moonshining to earn any cash. Most people did not starve, as they grew their own food. But at the time, there was no way to afford store-bought luxuries such as salt, sugar, clothes, and shoes. Many men turned to moonshining.

With Prohibition, moonshiners learned to sacrifice quality for volume. They turned out the backwoods equivalent of bathtub gin in hidden operations ranging from one-barrel stills to factory-size plants, and they still do.

After the depression, automakers sent buses to haul jobless "hillbillies" to the assembly lines of Detroit and Gary in the 1920's, the stubborn ones stayed to plow on.

Moonshining was a good way to make a little extra money in a cash-poor, subsistence farming economy. It was a lot easier to haul to market than large amounts of corn.

A hundred years ago, perhaps, some people made it the way they made fine furniture. But what pride it involved, what craft, was all but dismantled by Prohibition. As demand skyrocketed, some moonshiners began to throw lye, sulfuric acid, car batteries, or sacks of steaming manure into the mash to hasten fermentation. They cut their product with bleach, turpentine, rubbing alcohol, or paint thinner; stained it with tobacco juice or iodine. They cooked it in galvanized steel or distilled it in car radiators that gave off lead from soldered parts. Moonshine, I've been told more than once by now, is just another word for poison.

"It was the custom in those early days not to rely for help upon hired labor. In harvesting small grain crops the sickle was mostly used. When a crop was ripe, the neighbors were notified and gathered in to reap and shock up the crops. The manner was for a dozen or more men to cut through the field, then hang their sickles over-their shoulders and bind back. The boys gathered the sheaves together and the old men shocked them up. The corn crops were usually gathered in and thrown in great heaps alongside the cribs. The neighbors were invited and whole days and into the nights were often spent in husking out a single crop. There has been as many as eighty or ninety men at a time around a corn heap. If a house or barn was to be raised the neighbors were on band and the building was soon under roof. Likewise, if a man had a heavy clearing, it was no trouble to have an ample force to handle and put in heaps the heaviest logs. It was no unusual thing for a man to need stones for fencing. All he had to do was to proclaim that he would have a 'fence raising' on a given day, and bright and early the neighbors were on the ground and the stone fences were soon made. This custom of mutual aid, cultivated a feeling of mutual depence and brotherhood, and resulted in the most friendly and neighborly intercourse. Indeed, each man seemed to be on the lookout for his neighbor's comfort and welfare as well as his own. It made a community of broad, liberal minded people, who despite the tongue of gossip and an occasional fisticuff in hot blood, lived in peace and good will one toward another. There was then less selfishness and cold formality than now.... One would admit that there has been improvement along some lines such for instance, as that of education, the building of church-houses, style of dress, etc., but I am sure that there has been none in the sterner traits of character, generosity, manliness, patriotism, integrity, and public spirit."

The stereotype of the outlaw moonshiner is, in my opinion, inaccurate. Some were considered a bit wild, and some were thought of as common criminals. But for the most part, they were simply neighbors doing what they had to to get by. They may have come into conflict with certain social mores, but they did not challenge them. They were products of their society, not rebels against it. That is why so many were well-liked members of the community.

Even though some had no formal education, couldn't write his name, he could count. He managed to acquire land and wealth. In later years, he knew that three hundred cases of moonshine on one truck equaled 1800 gallons and at two dollars a gallon brought in $3600.00 in cold cash in one night!

Customs and rituals of Appalachian People In past times, the rituals of courtship and love were different from those in other parts of America.
1.  The man was the head of the household and earned the money.
2.   The woman raised the children and took care of the home.
3.  The father arranged a marriage for his daughter when she was thirteen or fourteen years old.
4.   Courtships did not last long, only two to three weeks
5.   Most weddings took place in the home or at the courthouse by the Justice of the Peace.
6.     Couples would live with the bride's parents for six months to a year, until the groom had raised enough money for a house of their own.
Point of interest:
The term "shotgun wedding" originated when a young girl became pregnant and her father would make the father of the baby marry the girl, sometimes at gunpoint.
Death Rituals
These rituals have changed over the years in Appalachia, although some are still practiced today.
1.   A bell was tolled when death occurred.  Since the number of times the bell rang was determined by the person's age, you could usually tell whom it was that died.
2.  The family of the person who died would wash and dress the body in preparation for burial.
3.   The Appalachians would put silver coins on the eyes of the deceased.  This was for when the person entered Heaven, his or her eyes would be shut.
4.  The town carpenter handmade caskets from pine, poplar, oak or chestnut wood.
5.  The funeral was usually held at the church and lasted from one hour to several hours, and the cemetery was usually near the church.
6.  The family and friends dug the grave; these people would also lower the body into the grave and then refill it. Sometimes people would plant flowers or trees in honor of the deceased.

Sugar and a changing economy hurt moonshining, but one of its biggest competitors was the drug trade, especially growing marijuana. For many, moonshining was a part-time job. You were a farmer or a sawmill operator first. For a lot of moonshiners, especially those employed with outfits, you did not make that much money. In later years, when drugs came in, you could have a fulltime job with a much higher profit potential. The rural relatively isolated areas were ideal; you could grow pot in the forest and it is doubtful anyone would ever find it. It can also be planted between the rows of the now common Christmas tree farms. This shields it from aerial and most forms of ground observation. With the price of moonshining going up due to sugar and other ingredients, it is harder and harder to compete with the legal distilleries, and the demand for drugs is probably higher.
     Another factor that had an effect on moonshining is the Blue Ridge Parkway, built in the 1930s as a tourist route. The increase in tourist traffic might have provided a larger market for moonshiners. Bottleggers also used the Parkway to haul in cheap whiskey from Washington, D.C. Despite this, some feel the Parkway's overall affect on the industry was negative. First of all, it made the area more accessible to the outside world. This gave various law enforcement agencies more access. It also took large amounts of land that was now patrolled by rangers. If they found stills on this land, they were more likely to bust them up than to turn a blind eye.

Moonshiners may have the most violent history of any group in the country, yet it's a peculiar fact that Americans seem incapable of harboring bad feelings toward them.

The relationship moonshiners had with the law could be as different as moonshine and white lightning --which, according to folklore, was the difference between night and day. (Moonshine, according to Smoky Mountain folklore, was made at night; white lightning was made in the day; and white mule was the stuff that was made so far back in the hills it took a mule to haul it out.) Moonshiners were usually on friendly terms with the sheriff, most would agree. Even those who got caught never held a grudge. It was kind of like playing poker. They'd say, 'I lost this hand.'" But to the federal agents, moonshine was not a game. Your average moonshiner, in their judgment, is not a nice guy back in the hills,but somebody who wants to evade the law.

The dark side of the mountains was continuing poverty and unemployment, and a stubborn resentment of outside authority. This is where federal revenuers chased moonshine -- that homegrown corn whiskey said to put hair on the chest and cure ills from lumbago to bad breath. But the high price of sugar has discouraged most distillers. The new moonshine is marijuana, the fourth leading cash crop in Tennessee, behind soybeans, tobacco and corn. Each plant of the high-quality sinsemilla variety can mean thousands in street sales; a patch can mean prosperity for discreet backwoodsmen.

Possession of moonshine is only a misdemeanor in Tennessee, whether it involves a gallon in the backseat or a thousand gallons in the home, (You might be better checking with your local authorities to make sure) lol, and although making moonshine is a felony, most first offenders get off with a small fine. "They'll play that romantic, Depression-era thing to death," some now say, "You'll see him one day all slicked up, driving a $30,000 vehicle to pick up his girl for steak and lobster. The next day he's a hillbilly without a pot to pee in."

Today`s moonshiner may have broke certain social mores, but he often is a product of his community. He strongly adheres to the values of his society, albeit in what some would deem an unconventional manner. He is friendly and will converse easily with passersby. He is the "pull up a chair" model of southern hospitality. He lives in the Bible Belt and is deeply religious. Every so often in casual conversation he might quote scripture. He necessarily does not attend church regularly, but while driving by one, he will always slow down as a sign of respect. This is noticed by others and appreciated.
A man can be wealthy and law abiding, yet utterly "worthless" due to his personal value. Some may be wild, and many people may not have liked what their doing, but due to his personal value, he is still a "worthy" person in some circles. He often is a born-again Christian and a member of a local Baptist church. He still keeps moonshine in the house for medicinal value. Unlike many other local Baptists, he does not seem adverse to drinking. He may let you sample his moonshine and even give you some to take home.
He is very friendly and a genuinely nice guy. This seems to be a common trait among well-regarded moonshiners. He is also a member of the most common local religious denomination. He is hard working and dependable. All of these traits endear him to his community.

His grandfather took him in when he was about one year old. His father was a moonshiner too. Moonshining seems to be a family tradition that is passed down.
Most people work in factories, and if you are going to do something illegal, the drug trade is far more profitable. Moonshining still exists but it has been marginalized.

These are not old hippies," said Maxey Gilleland, a former coordinator of North Carolinas Governor's Task Force on Marijuana Eradication. "They're farmers, country people. But we're working on people now making $100,000 a month.

The old tradition of moonshining has been replaced by factories, marijuana, and prescription pain killers, but its legacy lingers on.

Cosby, TN, is known as the "Moonshine Capitol of the World." In the 1960's, it is claimed that there were over 200 stills operating in Cocke County, each averaging 20 gallons a day. Liquor was run into Atlanta, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Asheville, as well as some northern cities.  A typical mountain still uses a stone furnace for heat, a metal still for fermenting and heating the mash, and barrels for collecting steam and condensing the alcohol. It was located near a mountain stream where cold water could be piped in to condense the steam from the liquor.
50 lbs. cornmeal
10 lbs. bran (optional)
200 lbs. sugar
12 oz. yeast
200 gal. water
Makes 36 gallons.
To boiled corn meal add the yeast and sugar (lots of sugar! -- that's how the sneaky "revenuers" would identify moonshiners for prosecution) to ferment the mash. When the mash quits bubbling, it is cooked in the still and the steam is captured in a barrel filled with water (the "thump"). From the thump, the steam is allowed to cool and condense by running it through a long copper coil (the "worm") submerged in another barrel (the "flakestand") that is constantly cooled with water troughed in from a nearby stream. Condensed, the clear liquor drips from the bottom of the flakestand into a catch can or 1/2 gallon glass jars. The liquor is tested for alcohol content, or "proof," by adding gunpowder to it and igniting the mixture. If it burns, its "proof" is established at somewhere between 100 and 200 proof or 50% to 100% pure alcohol.

Located in the Greenbrier section of the Smokies between Gatlinburg and Cosby, this hike provides historic sites from a pre-park farm community, spring wildflowers and an old growth forest while following along one of the prettier streams in the park. There you will visit the site of an old moonshine still, a relic of an early mountaineer industry.

*Excerpts and burps from around the web.