Moonshine in Tazewell County
The term Moonshine comes from the fact that distilling illegal liquor is done underground or “in the moonlight”. The term bootlegger comes from early colonists who hid liquor in their boots in order to smuggle it to the Native Americans. One reason for operating at night, in moonlight, is to hide the smoke from the eyes of informers and tax agents.
Maybe it was the independent nature of Tazewell County residents, or their disdain for government telling them what to do or a way to make a little extra cash on the side. Also many latched onto the concepts of natural rights or God-given, inalienable rights and republicanism of the kind that had sparked many of the protests against British rule, the "no taxation without representation. The government did not care for their roads or schools, but they sure wanted their taxes.
They would mix their moonshine with herbs, spices or fruits and used it to cure ailments. For serious medicinal uses, however, the moonshine was placed in charred oak kegs or barrels and buried for months to age. Aging of the “chartered” whiskey not only gave a better flavor but caused it to mix extremely well with native herbs, such as sassafras, ginseng, blood root, chamomile, tulip tree bark, wild cherry bark and yellow root, or spices, such as ginger, cloves, allspice, cinnamon and lemon or orange peel, to produce potent bitters, spring or fall tonics and internal body cleansings. Three of the favorite recipes were used for sweating out the flu, controlling a nagging cough and settling a queasy stomach.
Black lung from the coal mines would shorten many of the workers life spans. It has been said by some that the ones who lived the longest drank their fair share of moonshine and that it helped to cleanse their body.
Because the roads in the area were poor, transporting the surplus to a market was too expensive. Once the bulky corn was concentrated into liquor, farmers could transport it and still make a profit. Also the moonshine would not spoil like corn would over time. This was big part of their livelihoods for this was an area with little wealth and little opportunity. The main trades were coal mining, timber and farming.
Whiskey manufactured under moonshine rather than by state permission is not taxed, and therefore is dramatically less expensive.
Moonshining began very early in American history. Shortly after the Revolution, the United States found itself struggling to pay for the expense of fighting a long war. The solution was to place a federal tax on liquors and spirits. The American people, who had just fought a war to get out from under oppressive British taxes, were not particularly pleased. So they decided to just keep on making their own whisky, completely ignoring the federal tax.
Federal agents (called "Revenuers") were attacked when they came around to collect the tax, and several were tarred and feathered. Gun fights between moonshiners and revenuers became the stuff of legend.
In the early 1900s, states began passing laws that banned alcohol sales and consumption. In 1920, nationwide Prohibition went into effect. It was the greatest thing the moonshiners could have asked for.
Before prohibition, moonshiners often sold their product relatively locally, relying on lumber and mining camps, textile mill villages and larger towns such as county seats to provide the bulk of their customers. Many of their customers were too poor to drink regularly or heavily.
Sometimes feuds would erupt between moonshiners and they would inform the authorities. This would help rid them of their competition, but only temporarily. Much of this site is based on the Whitaker-Altizer feud and moonshine wars that were intermingled.
Also much of what happened back then can be mirrored today. Some of the laws and taxes the government create will usually cause underlying problems. Then to fix these newly created problems they create bureaucracies and more laws, etc, etc.