top of page

Origins of Moonshine

Western North Carolina has been one of the central areas for moonshine throughout history since it was settled.  The art of making moonshine has been passed down for generations as it was in my family.  Many great moonshiner’s come from this area including Lewis Redmond and Hiram Wilson.  Hiram Wilson Was my third cousin.  My family has made moonshine here for generations.  My father, uncle, grandfather, great uncle, and every generation back to my 4th great grandfather that we can document, all made moonshine in these mountains.  The condenser on one of my still’s is from my great great grandfathers still, which had a wooden top and bottom like a wood barrel and had copper for the walls.  It was buried a few inches so the bottom would not burn and the rock furnace was not built all the way to the top so the top would not burn.  Moonshine was the only way of survival for many families and played a big role in the culture of these mountains.

     I want to continue the tradition by making traditional moonshine with family recipes. We use all natural ingredients in every step of the process. The only way to make true moonshine is use fresh and natural ingredients, but it’s not moonshine if its not made in a moonshine still like the one we are using, which was hand crafted not store bought, like everything we make.  Our product is classified as a distilled spirit specialty by the federal government because it does not fall under any other class of product.  We spend a lot of time and money to make the highest quality moonshine you can find in the woods or the store.  We can trace our recipe back over 150 years, when everything was hand made in these mountains with pride.    We are as authentic as it gets.  We use oak barrels, a real moonshine still, local corn stone ground at a local  mill, and we recycle our spent mash by using it as hog feed like moonshiners have done for generations.   If you want to know what moonshine really taste like in these mountains 150 years ago then try Howling Moon.

     Our products are only available in North Carolina. Right now we sell a traditional Mountain Moonshine at 100 proof and an Apple Pie Moonshine and Strawberry Moonshine that is blended at 100 proof with real fruit and NO juice and NO artificial flavors so we can keep the proof higher and the taste authentic.  We plan to grow, but we won’t compromise our quality or our traditional methods, which take longer to produce alcohol, but the quality is better and the moonshine is genuine.   The story of the history of moonshine and the story of my ancestors are the same.  Like many famlies in this area my family has been here over 200 years and has been involved in moonshine since its beginning.  We have made it in the same area of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee every generation.  Some of my ancestors were the most famous outlaws of their time.

     There are a lot of misunderstanding’s and stereotypes about the origin’s and history of moonshine and the men and women moonshiners that made it and in the process made moonshine and themselves legends.  To understand moonshiners you need to understand the reasons their ancestors fled Europe for the American colonies, why they ended up in the Appalachian mountains, the role they played in early American history, and the social, political, and economical issues they faced from the time they settled the Appalachian mountains until today.   Most of what people think they know about moonshine and moonshiner’s is wrong.  Part of the reason they have been so misunderstood is because of stereotypes that still exist today and because they kept their stories secret as much as possible to avoid unwanted attention from Revenue Officers and other law enforcement.  They passed down their craft and stories to family members and many of those stories have been lost, but some families have continued the tradition and passed down the stories for over 200 years.  My family still lives on the land our ancestors settled hundreds of years ago.  We have kept the tradition alive and passed down the stories of our ancestors every generation.  Our community is so secluded and because of the ruggedness of the mountains, lack of development, and thousands of acres of national forest protecting and preserving many of the old buildings are intact fully or partially.  Foundations and rock fireplaces can be found all over these mountains.  Old mines, some dating back to the Mississippians who lived here before the Cherokee over 1000 years ago can be found, parts of old grist mills that ground the grain into mill that was used to make moonshine, and feed the families and animals of the early settlers still exist, and old sled roads and wagon roads still cover these mountains.  In some areas it’s like walking back in time.  It is a quiet, peaceful, and beautiful place, which makes it hard to believe the violence, pain, and suffering that took place here more recent than most people would believe.  There are stories about the Wild West, but the Appalachian Mountains were the first Wild West and many of its stories were lost to time outside of these mountains or have never been told publically until now. 

            Virtually all of my ancestors on my father’s side were in America before the 1800’s.  Most of them were in Western North Carolina or what would become Eastern Tennessee by the 1800’s. By the 1830’s, the few that were not in this area already had settled here.  Originally, 90 percent of the people that settled in the Appalachian Mountains were Scots-Irish.  Most of our culture is based on the Scots-Irish ways.  To understand the people of these mountains you first have to understand who the Scots-Irish were.  The Scots-Irish consisted of a group that lived on the border of Scotland and England.  Most people think they were like any other group of people from in Scotland at that time, but that is not true.  The Scots-Irish were predominantly people that lived on the border between Scotland and England.  They were made up of about 80 percent Scots and 20 percent English.  They were known as the Border Reivers people and unlike the Highlanders they did not have clans, but they adopted a similar system of extended families and neighbors that stuck together and protected each other like the clans in the Highlands.  They raised animals to survive instead of growing crops to sell.  They divided their land between all their sons evenly and it became impossible for them to survive after generations of that practice because of the lack of land to graze their cattle and other animals on.  They became raiders and developed a culture of lawlessness because their livelihood was destroyed by the lack of land and the constant wars between Scotland and England.  Neither country had enough power to stop them. At first their raiding across the border was encouraged because of the tensions between the two countries.  They also protected the borders from invading armies, or at least slowed them down and gave more time for the leaders of Scotland or England to prepare, but they got more and more out of hand and attacked farms on either side of the border, only sparing their own kin.  They would steal cattle and take them back to graze on their lands as well as take anything of value they could they could carry on horseback.  They became mercenaries after their skills became famous and fought in Scotland, England, and Ireland in various wars and played important roles in several major battles.  They were not loyal to any country only their clan and fought against each other in some battles depending on which army paid them.  They dominate the borders of England and Scotland from the 13th century to the 17th century.  King James the VI of Scotland and I of England and Ireland was worried about the instability the border families created and also wanted to suppress the native Irish in Ireland.  He forced the Border Reiver families to move to Ulster Ireland, which was land he recently took from Irish nobility in hopes of solving the border problem between Scotland and England and using these highly effective warriors to keep the Irish from taking back control of Ireland.  The first families were moved to Ulster in 1609.  They were under constant threat of war with the Irish.  The Irish tried to push them off their ancestral lands in a series of rebellions.  After the Irish were conquered the Brittish claimed land it had lost in the war, but the English settlers were the ones who benefitted from it, not the Scottish, even though the army that went to Ireland to help protect the Ulster plantations and defeat the Irish were Scottish.  In the 1700’s several laws were passed that took away rights to people that were not part of the Church of Ireland.  Near the end of the 1700’s Scots Irish Presbyterian’s and Gaelic Irish Catholics joined together in a rebellion against the crown.  It was during the 1700’s and because of the religious and ethnic discrimination that Scots-Irish began to migrate to the American colonies. They brought with them a unique culture, a blend of Scottish and Irish whiskey making that would become moonshine, ancient ballads and folk music that would help create country and western music, superstitions and beliefs in magic and witchcraft from their ancient pre-Christian ancestors that became known as Appalachian Voodoo, and hundreds of years of experience as some of the best light Calvary warriors and raiders in Europe.  They later took some of the Native American fighting styles and incorporated it into their approach to warfare.

     About 200,000 Scots-Irish came to America.  At first they settled in Pennsylvania in the western part of the colony.  They were poor and had to sell everything they had to be able to gain passage to America.  Some that could not afford it still were forced to come over as indentured servants, the unsettled western lands were cheaper, but they came with their challenges.  First, they were once again on a border.  They formed a first line of defense to the Native Americans that were hostile and attacking colonist and their settlements.  Second, the crops and livestock they raised were hard to get to market.  Distilling was something that had been a part of their culture for hundreds of years.  They began growing crops and planting orchards that they could distill and then get to market easier and without pressure to get it to market before it spoiled.  They could also get a better price for their Whiskey and Brandy than they could for their crops.  As more and more Scots-Irish came they filled up the back country in Pennsylvania new settlers began settling in the Appalachian Mountains. Soon the Appalachian Mountain region was full of Scots-Irish settlers.  My ancestors came several different ways.  Some came through the Shandoha Valley and through the Cumberland Gap into Western North Carolina, most of which would become Tennessee after the American Revolution.  Others came down the Great Wagon Road into the Piedmont and Foothills regions of  North Carolina and then moved west into the mountains.  Some came through the port in Charleston, S.C., which was part of North Carolina at one time.  They moved North West into the upstate of South Carolina and then into the mountains of Western North Carolina.  They all brought with them the same fiercely independent spirit, not afraid to move into hostile land and settle it while living in the constant threat of war with the Native American’s and other European Nations.  They helped start the French and Indian War and many of them fought in it.  The outcome of that war made it illegal for settlers to settle west of the continental divide, which many were already living west of that border and most ignored the crown when told to move back east.  They were the only people that were suited to conquer the western frontier at that time without support from the colony or British government.  A large group in what is now Eastern Tennessee worked out a peace with the Cherokee and bought land forming the Republic of Watauga or Watauga Association in 1772, which was considered illegal by the British.  They considered themselves an independent government and were the first European settlers in America to declare their independence from Great Brittan.  When the American Revolution broke out in 1776 they were annexed by North Carolina.  The Cherokee sided with the British and began attacking the frontier settlements, including the Watauga Association, which had become known as the District of Washington by this time. The Scots- Irish fought the Cherokee and soldiers under general Griffith Rutherford were sent to attack the Cherokee’s main towns.  They destroyed them, but most of the Cherokee were in the mountains still fighting the people on the frontier. Besides fighting the Cherokee, which they had no choice but to fight them, the Scots-Irish in the western frontier and Appalachian Mountains were staying out of the American Revolution.  By the time they defeated the Cherokee the war up north had become a stalemate.  Unlike the Scots-Irish, the Scottish Highlanders were mostly loyalist to the English.  Cornwallis was sent to attack the Carolinas to keep them under British control.  He planned to grow their numbers as they marched through South Carolina and North Carolina. The British took Charleston and captured the American Army.  They then launched an invasion of South Carolina. They went through the state without losing a battle.  The militia was untrained farmers that picked up arms and usually ran at the sight of the British Army.  If not they ran after the first shots of the battle.  The British were brutal.  At the Battle of Waxhaw in South Carolina a large number of American forces dropped their weapons and surrendered to Tarlenton, but were all killed on the battlefield even though the British were required to give quarter to troops that surrendered.    Herato Gates lost his Army to the British at the Battle of Camden, then 200 patriot milita attacked Musgrove’s Mill and were defeated and pursued by Patrick Ferguson, a Scottish officer in the British army, and his loyalist militia that he raised in the Carolinas and formed Cornwalliss left flank.  Patrick Ferguson sent word for the settlers over the mountains to stay out of the war or they would come and kill them and burn their houses and towns to the ground.  That was his biggest mistake.  Even though the Overmountain Men militia raised was not well supplied, marched a long distance quickly and almost starved to death because of it, they were still able to defeat Ferguson.  They formed at present day Elizabethton Tennessee and picked up men as they marched, including the militia that just lost at Musgrove Mills.  They numbered around 1000 men, mostly Scots-Irish.  They came from a long line of raiders who practiced guerilla warfare going all the way back to the borders of Scotland and England.  They picked up tactics from the Native Americans that they fought as well.  They also used tomahawks instead of a bayonet and some had pistols as well as muskets that could shoot a musket ball of grapeshot, which is like a modern shotgun using buckshot.  At the right distance they could hit more than one solider with the grapeshot, especially the tightly packed together British.   They were almost all sharpshooters.  They were forced to hunt small game like squirrels with their rifles and could not afford to miss because bullets and gunpowder were to expensive and hard to come by.  They were deadly at a distance or in hand to hand combat.  Overmountain Men originated in 1780 and marched to Kings Mountain, gaining soldiers along the way, and completely wiped out Patrick Ferguson in what was more of a brawl than a battle.  The Overmountain Men surrounded the mountain and marched up from all sides.  They would fire on the British and then hide behind trees to reload.  They advanced fast screaming like Indians.  Ferguson and his men did not know how to handle them and he retreated to the top of the hill with all his men.  Sharpshooters climbed trees to get a good view of Ferguson and were able to shoot him from his horse.  He fell and one foot was hung in the sturip and his horse dragged him around the battle field.  Others shot him as he was being dragged.  The mountain men charged engaged in hand to hand combat and in 65 minutes a force of half the size of the British captured or killed the entire left flank of Cornwallis army.  They continued to kill Fergusons men after they surrendered in return for what Tarlington did at Waxhaw.  Their officers stopped them, but they held a quick trial and condemned some of them to death, which they carried out the sentence immediately. It took 150 years before the American government admitted that the Scots-Irish were responsible for the turning point for the Revolution.  They downplayed the importance of the battle for years. Besides giving the Americans a major victory and destroying a large portion of the British army, as well as forcing Cornwallis to stop his invasion of North Carolina and retreat back into South Carolina to regroup.  The Overmountain Men were disbanded after the battle, but many of them stayed and joined the American forces and played an important role in the war.  Nathaniel Greene was commander of the Continental Army in the Southern Campaign and after the battle of Kings Mountain he split his army into two groups.  One smaller force under Daniel Morgan and the larger force under Greene.  Cornwallis split his forces to and chased Greene and sent Tarlinton after Morgan. Cornwallis’s wanted revenge for The Battle of Kings Mountain Tarlington took the right flank of Cornwallis army, which included mounted Dragoons or Calvary and professional British soldiers.  It was a larger, better prepared, better trained, and better supplied army than what Patrick Ferguson had.  They met Daniel Morgan and his Calvary, Continental soldiers, and Militia, most of which were from Kings Mountain.  He created one of the greatest battle plans in the war.  He knew the British wanted blood and nothing less than a total defeat of the American forces would do.  Tarlinton marched his troops to meet Morgan as fast as he could.  They were wore out when they got there, but Tarlington was not about to let them rest for risk of the Americans getting away.  Daniel Morgan used several things to his advantage.  Because of issues with militia retreating he chose a place that had a river close by that made a retreat impossible.  If his plan did not work he would lose his whole army, but he knew if he lost the battle all was lost anyway.  He also chose Cowpens because of the terrain.  There was a large hill that he could hide some troops and Calvery behind that was wooded and he could conseal troops in the woods also.  There was a smaller rolling hill in front of that.  He set his infantry on top of the small hill with their flanks exposed on purpose because there was a ravine on one flank and a creek on the other protecting them.  He put his militia in front of the Infantry troops down the hill some. In front of them he put 150 sharp shooters; half were from the battle of Kings Mountain and the other half of the sharpshooters were from Gerogia.  He asked both militas to fire two volloys then retreat to the next line of Milita and reform.  The British Calvery advanced and the sharp shooters shot fifteen and targated officers.  As they retreated to the next line of militia they kept firing.  The second row of Militia were to make it look as if they were disorganized and in a full blown route after they fired two volleys at the advancing British Infantry then retreated to the left.  Daniel Morgan put over 500 of his best infantry men on top of the hill and asked them to hold until the British charged and then withdraw over the hill so that Tarlington would think it was a full route and he was about to crush the American forces.  Tarlinton saw that most of the forces were militia and that they had no way to retreat.  His men needed rest and food, but he thought he had caught up with the Americans and they chose a bad place for them to fight and could not risk letting them get away.  The planed retreats just added to his sense of victory.  When the British came over the hill they were surprised to see a larger force than they originally saw and because they had not slept much on their long march and were out of food the charge up the hill in full uniform and carrying weapons wore them out even more.  The militia that was in route turned and fired on the British stopping them in their tracks and the Continental soldiers fixed bayonets and charged.  They overtook the British and even were able to get to the British cannons and turn them on the British.  William Washington, a cousin of George Washington came out from behind the large hill and hit the British right flank and rear.  Part of the American militia went behind the hill and came out from the other side and hit the British left flank and rear and the other part of the militia charged the British from the front.  The shock caused some of the British to collapse, others surrendered.  When Tarlitons army was destroyed he went to his reserves of light calvery and ordered them to attack, but the refused.  Tarliton tried to save his cannons, but couldn’t and with only a few men on the battlefield still fighting Tarlinton retreated to, but was stopped by Washington who engaged in a sword fight with him.  He was almost killed by one of Tarlintons men, but his orderly shot him, saving Washington.  Tarlinton shot Washingtons horse out from under him and the battle was over and Cornwallis lost his other flank.  He now had only his main army.  The Battle of Kings Mountain raised the spirits of the backcountry people, but was disregarded by most other Americans.  The battle of Cowpens raised the spirits of the Americans in the eastern part of the new country.  It just shows how the two groups saw themselves as different even while fighting for the same side in a war for their independence.   The two victories cost the British around 2,000 men, several cannons and other weapons and supplies.  It also put Cornwallis in a position that he had to do something or he was going to lose the war.  He decided to drop all his unnecessary gear and chase Morgan, living off the land and moving fast.  Greene and Morgan met back up and planed their next move.  They decided to split their forces and send a smaller group to distract the British while Greene crossed the Dan River.  Cornwaliss decided he could not go any farther from his supplies and went to Hillsborough NC.  Greene came back and led Cornwallis on a wild goose chase while waiting on reinforcements, which he got soon from Virginia and North Carolina, which doubled the size of his forces to around 4,000 men.  He choose his battlefield and led his army to Guilford Courthouse NC.  He began to prepare for an attack and used a similar plan to what Morgan used at Cowpens.  Both sides took heavy casualties, but the British took far heavier casulities. In a desperate act Cornwallis used grapeshot in his cannons and fired on his on men that were in close combat with the Americans.  He hit men on both sides.  After this Greene retreated, but because of the large number of causalities the battle was largely considered a success.  Soon it would become clear those three battles would win the war for America.  Cornwallis had to retreat to Yorktown.  Greene decided not to chase Cornwallis because his militia had gone home.  He went to fight the small British forces that controlled South Carolina and Georgia.  His next few battles ended in failure without the help of the backwoods men and Overmountain Men Militia’s.  He was able to keep what was left of his army together and because of the causalities he inflicted on the British forces left they retreated back to Charlestown giving control of the two states back to the Americans except for a few forts, which they soon abandoned, leaving the British with a small strip of coastline near Charleston and Yorktown as their only control in the South.   George Washington came and laid siege to Yorktown and the French showed up in time to block their retreat by sea.  After the war America was in Debt and had little money.  It was not able to pay the soldiers and officers that fought the American Revolution and offered them land in newly acquired land in the west.  Several high ranking officers got land in Yancey County NC and some of my English Heritage comes from them.  After the militia left Greene’s army and returned home.  For the Overmountain Men and surrounding areas the war was not over and actually went on until 1795 as a series of Indian wars against the Cherokee, Chickamauga, Creek, and Shawnee.  There were 35 battles and they were fought by militia mostly from the State of Franklin and led by John Sevier.  North Carolina gave its new western lands to the government to help get NC out of debt, then they changed their minds and the area was in a state of limbo for 4 years until NC decided to give the lands to the US government for good.  During this time the State of Franklin was formed to help protect the people and govern the people.  The US was not able to send troops to protect the people in the western lands and the states were not able to either.  It was up to the citizens to protect themselves.  The last major battle in this area took place in what is now Rocky Fork TN near the NC state line and Burnsville, NC.  The battle of Flint Creek took place in 1789 and was a complete victory for the militia, which was made up of men from Burnsville, NC and Jonesborough TN.  A band of Native American warriors who had been attacking all up and down the western frontier had decided to camp there for winter.  It is said that they got a lot of their flint to make arrowhead and spear points from that area and it was a naturally well-fortified place with only one way in and one way out.  They had planned to raid surrounding areas for the winter to survive and make new weapons they needed to continue fighting before they went back to attacking forts and raiding farms on the frontier in the spring.  145 warriors were killed and only a few got away.  The Native Americans moved south to Georgia and west and no major Native American battle ever took place again in East Tennessee or Western North Carolina until the Civil War.  The next year a small band of warriors came back to get revenge for the massacre and attacked a homestead on Granny Lewis Creek while the husband and oldest son were away hunting.  They killed his wife and small children, except one 12 year old girl, who they traded a rifle for her release a few years later.  I am kin to the Lewis’ who were attacked at Granny Lewis Creek.  They say the young girl was raped and came back with several half Native American children.  The Scots-Irish Mountaineers settled the rugged Appalachian Mountains and made roads and trails for people to use to cross the mountains and cleared the area of all hostile Indians that sided with the British and fought on the frontier for years after the Revolution and made further westward expansion possible, safer, and much easier for the people that came after them.   They also turned the tide of war in the favor of America with their total defeat of one of Cornwallis armies at Kings Mountain and many stayed and played an important role in Daniel Morgan’s plan at Cowpens.  Unlike militia that had fought the British earlier and ran at the sight of a battle, these men stood their ground and set the trap that and wiped out another one of Cornwallis’ armies as well as turned and regrouped as planned and rejoined the attack against superior numbers, artillery, and Calvary.  They were needed at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse as well.  Nathaniel Greene needed to double his forces before he could turn and face Cornwallis and still had to retreat, but was able to inflict enough damage to force Cornwallis to retreat and regroup that ended up in Yorktown and made it possible for Greene to free the South from British control and George Washington to trap Cornwallis and finish the war with an American victory.  It’s hard to imagine an American victory without the Scots-Irish.  The American government was so broke by the time of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse that Greene had to borrow money in his own name to clothe and supply his troops for the last couple years of the war.  The British could afford to drag the war out and the Americans could not win a war that would have been drug out longer than it already was.  If the Overmountain Men didn’t step in when they did and turn the war around and at the same time protect the western front so that Native Americans were not able attack the American army from the West while the British attacked from the East America may never have gained independence.  They did not receive land like the English officers who fought for America; they did not receive credit for 150 years.  The only thanks they got was a new tax.  The first tax in American history was the Whiskey Tax and even worse it was not fair to the Scots-Irish specifically.  It taxed you based on the size of your still.  In the east most people that distilled did it as a full time job so it didn’t hurt them.  They also didn’t need to distill for survival.  In the west the mountain people had to distill to survive.  It cost on average 2 bushels of corn to pay to get one bushel to market.  If it was distilled the could transport it cheaper, store it longer, and get a higher price than they could for just grain.  The problem was they only distilled when their crops were in and they needed to.  They didn’t distill year round so to tax them on the size of their still was unfair.  To add insult to injury they claimed they needed the tax to help pay for the war and to protect the western frontier.  Most felt like they contributed plenty to the war, they defended the frontier themselves without any support from the American or state governments and they raised the grain and didn’t feel like the government could tell them what to do with it.  This led to the first Rebellion in American History led by David Bradford in Pennsylvania.  They attacked the tax collectors and George Washington called up 10,000 Militia and led them to put down the Rebellion.  The Scots-Irish farmers headed for the mountains with their stills when Washington arrived.  Several leaders were arrested and convicted, but were pardoned.  Washington knew if he hung them he could have a larger Rebellion on his hands.  He had proved that the federal government had power, but in reality no on in the entire Appalachian Mountain region was paying the whiskey tax and many assaults were made on Tax collectors.  North Carolina was considered the hotbed of activity some of Washington’s advisors wanted to put Western North Carolina under martial law, but Washington refused to do that knowing he could not hold the country together if there was a civil war, which came closer than most people realize in the 1790’S.  By not enforcing the tax law in the west Washington kept starting a large rebellion that would have led to civil war.  By not changing the law and putting down the rebellion in Pennsylvania he proved that the new government had power.  Thomas Jefferson would repeal the law when he took office.  It came back briefly after the war of 1812.  It wasn’t until after the American Civil War that the federal excise tax on spirits became a law and has been ever since except for period of prohibition.  My family has made moonshine legally and illegally since the first whiskey tax was put into place after the American Revolution.  

     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.  

bottom of page