Moonshining became a way of life in the Western North Carolina Mountains after the arrival of early Americans fleeing new taxes on whiskey. The tax was created to help pay for the American Revolution. Western farmers could get their corn to the market easier by distilling it and transporting it as spirits. The tax made early American Frontier life even harder. Thousands of western Pennsylvania farmers rose to arms in order to fight this new tax in what became the Whiskey Rebellion. The Whiskey Rebellion was stopped when President George Washington sent troops to meet the farmers. Thousands of farmers decided to leave the area and packed up their belongings, including their stills and headed to the secluded mountains of North Carolina and surrounding states.
The tax on whiskey after the American Revolution was repealed in 1802, but by 1813 a similar tax would be created during the war of 1812. By 1817 the tax was repealed, but another major war would require another tax on spirits and this time it was permanent. By 1862 it was clear the Civil War would not be as quick and one-sided as both sides thought it would be. The tax on spirits was created again to help pay for the war. After the end of the Civil War in 1865 the South was devastated economically. Trying to hold onto their land and feed their families became impossible for many.
In the Western North Carolina Mountains an unlikely hero helped many people save their land and survive in the tough decades after the Civil War. Moonshiner Lewis Redmond, (Watch clip from documentry here) started a moonshine ring that stretched from Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Northern Georgia. Redmond helped other moonshiners get their product to market. He used his profits to keep his family alive as well as helping many others. While he was a hero at home, most northern newspapers declared him one of the most wanted outlaws of the time.
In 1919 prohibition became a national law and once again moonshining became big business. Many people in Western North Carolina and other areas were still making moonshine as a means to make ends meet. These small family stills were not enough to supply the amount of alcohol Americans consumed. Moonshine stills popped up across the country, but not all were quality product and some were even deadly.
After Prohibition was repealed most moonshine was not in high demand everywhere, but in Western North Carolina it has been a way of life generation after generation from the time the first moonshiners brought their stills to the backwoods of one of the first American frontiers.
“Perhaps the most famous Smoky Mountain moonshiners was Quill Rose of Eagle Creek…standing before the judge he was asked if he ever aged his moonshine. Quill responded”, “I kept some for a whole week one time and I could not tell that it was one bit better than when it was fresh and new.”
excerpt from: “Corn from a Jar”; moonshine production in the great smoky mountains. Great Smokey Mountains Colloquy. Published by the University of Tennessee Libraries, spring 2009.
Learn more about Moonshiners in the Appalachian Mountains at these web sites. Also watch videos of us at the distillery.