“MOONSHINING” in NORTH GEORGIA


Long before shopping centers, fast food restaurants, and 4-lane highways, there were the quiet agricultural communities of the North Georgia mountains.  Long before rapid population and economic expansion and before communities with swimming pools and tennis courts there was the business of…MOONSHINE.  The making of moonshine is not limited to the North Georgia mountains.  However, the counties of North Georgia have a rich and somewhat checkered history of distilling and distributing untaxed and unregulated alcohol.  Counties such as Dawson, Lumpkin, Pickens and Gilmer became major suppliers of moonshine during the 1930’s and 40’s.

As far back as the colonial days, farmers in North Georgia discovered an easy way to make much-needed extra money for their families.  Farmers used part of their crops, such as apples, peaches, and corn to make whiskey and brandy, and then sold it locally.  Selling their alcohol in small glass jars was easier to handle and less bulky to transport than hauling crops by wagon over rough roads to local markets or to Atlanta.

Today, the general perception of a moonshiner is a simple person with limited means and little education.  The image of a moonshiner conjures up one who has few teeth, a long un-kept beard, a tattered hat, and someone smoking a corncob pipe.  Actually, back in the 1700’s, a moonshiner was a respected member of the community.

It was not until the late 1700’s that the Federal Government attempted to place a tax on all home-made alcohol.  This tax was repealed shortly after it was implemented.   Then in 1862, President Lincoln had to find a way to pay for the Civil War, otherwise known as “The War of Northern Aggression.”   Congress established the Internal Revenue Service to collect their newly imposed taxes on “luxuries”, which included alcohol.  Needless to say, this did not sit well with the farmers of North Georgia, and many refused to pay the new tax.   These farmers began to make their whiskey out of sight, in home-made stills that located deep in the woods.  They were known as ‘Moonshiners” because they made their product in the moonlight.  Thus, the legendary battles between moonshiners and revenue agents (revenuers) began.

In 1907, the Georgia legislature passed a law prohibiting the manufacture and consumption of alcohol.  For the most part, it had little effect on the moonshiners of North Georgia.  However, the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, along with the Volstead Act  (which defined “intoxicating liquors” excluding those used for religious purposes and sales throughout the United States) established Prohibition in the United States.  Its ratification was certified on January 16, 1919.  It was the only amendment to the Constitution that has been repealed (by the Twenty-first Amendment in 1933).  This changed the business of moonshining  forever.

The  Prohibition Era, as it is known, created an unprecedented demand for whiskey.  The illegal corn alcohol, sometimes called “White Lightning”, was in such high demand that  business changed from local farmers making and selling small quantities of their moonshine to help make ends meet, to big business involving ‘gangsters” of the 1920’s and 30’s.  These so-called “gangsters” created networks of farmers to operate stills just for their own use.

The moonshine could not be transported to Atlanta and other cities by normal means.  Local sheriffs and federal revenue agents scoured the countryside looking for stills and were constantly on the lookout for moonshine shipments.  This prompted a dangerous and sometimes deadly game to evade revenue agents.

During the 1940’s, high-speed cars driven by “trippers” were built to transport the illegally produced alcohol.  The “trippers developed “tanker cars” with secret compartments to hold their cargo of alcohol.  The “tanker cars” were often faster than any car used by the sheriffs or revenurers.  The “trippers” drove at high-speed over country back roads, often busting through blockades to deliver their precious cargo.  Many attribute these ‘trippers” and their powerful cars to the start of the sport of stock car racing, and eventually to NASCAR.

The history of North Georgia moonshine and “trippers” is celebrated every year at the “Moonshine Festival” in Dawsonville.  It is usually held in late October.  Also in Dawsonville, is the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.  On display are some of the early “tanker cars” and stock cars that were raced on dirt tracks throughout the North Georgia mountains.  The “Georgia Moonshine Cruz-In” will be held in Hiwassee on August 12-14.  There you can enjoy mountain music, an incredible car show, and of course, a working moonshine still.

As an architect and custom builder in North Georgia, I love learning about the history and folklore of the mountains and its people.  It is my desire to bring a bit of that mystic to every home I design and build.  Please visit my website http://www.henryzuckerman.com  I can be contacted at henry@henryzuckerman.com; 678-947-1187

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3 Responses to ““MOONSHINING” in NORTH GEORGIA”

  1. Elaine Thomas

    Very interesting history of Moonshine in North Ga.

  2. Heather Elsberry

    Great post Henry…I love history as well and will definately try to make it up to Dawsonville in August for the Cruz In! I have family in Dawsonville, so maybe I can drag them along…I’ll tell them about the moonshine!

  3. Henry Zuckerman

    Thanks Elaine. I sincerely appreciate your comment and your time.

    Henry Zuckerman

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