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Spirits of Just Men

Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World

Charles D. Thompson Jr.

Publication Year: 2011

Spirits of Just Men tells the story of moonshine in 1930s America, as seen through the remarkable location of Franklin County, Virginia, a place that many still refer to as the "moonshine capital of the world." Local characters come alive through this richly colorful chronicle of the Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935, which made national news and exposed the far-reaching and pervasive tendrils of Appalachia's local moonshine economy. Charles D. Thompson Jr., whose ancestors were involved in the area's moonshine trade and trial as well as local law enforcement, uses the event as a stepping-off point to explore Blue Ridge Mountain culture, economy, and political engagement in the 1930s. Drawing from extensive oral histories and local archival material, Thompson's sensitive analysis examines the people and processes involved in turning a basic agricultural commodity into such a sought-after and essentially American spirit.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Cover, Title Page

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pp. 1-4


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pp. 5-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. xi-xii

As I researched and wrote this book, I met scores of people who experienced what I have tried to represent here, and I am indebted to all for entrusting me with their memories and photographs of their ancestors they shared with me. My heartfelt thanks go to all of you...

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pp. xiii-xxix

I steered the pickup to a stop on a gravel road alongside a thicket of dried honeysuckle and blackberry canes near Shively Branch in Endicott, Virginia. “It’s right over yonder,” said my grandfather pointing through the brush. I got out in the crisp October air to search while he and my mother waited in the truck...

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1. Conspiracy Trial in the Moonshine Capital of the World

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pp. 1-27

In 1934, the road up Thompson Ridge was red dirt or mud, depending on the weather. No road grader or state gravel had ever touched it. After a rain or snow, people parked their roadsters or trucks, the few who had them, that is, at the foot of the hill and walked home. Sometimes they used their...

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2. Wettest Section in the U.S.A.

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pp. 29-58

Assistant U.S. attorney general Joseph B. Keenan, one of the prosecutors of the conspiracy, knew right away how formidable his Franklin County opponents would be. On April 12, 1935, ten days before the trial was to begin, Keenan wrote a letter to his boss in Washington, DC, calling to his attention...

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3. Appalachian Spring

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pp. 59-84

The ancestors of those who packed into the Roanoke courthouse had moved into the western Virginia hill country generations before, seeking farms they could settle on and call their own. Finding mountain farms was a godsend for them, a fulfillment of their search for independence and a way to raise their children...

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4. Elder Goode

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pp. 85-119

Reeling from the acquittal of Commonwealth Attorney Carter Lee, Col. Thomas Bailey, now working with coinvestigator C. S. Roth, received permission from the Treasury Department to continue his investigation. He headed into Salem and the rural counties surrounding Roanoke to talk with the jurors who had sat...

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5. Last Old Dollar Is Gone

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pp. 121-144

Elder Goode Hash wrote more about corn in his calendar records than any other crop. He noted the dates he planted it in May or June and the dates when, usually about four weeks later, it had grown high enough for him to begin working it with his horse-drawn, walk-behind cultivator. He planted as much as...

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6. Entrepreneurial Spirits

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pp. 145-175

Three of the hash children were hoeing corn down near the creek with their parents one summer morning in 1929 when a barrage of gunshots rang out on the other side of the hill looming above them. Minutes later, two men running at full speed, one of them carrying copper still parts in his hands...

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7. Her Moonshine Neighbor as Herself

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pp. 177-207

By the time she testified as a character witness for Amos Rakes at the 1936 jury-tampering trial, Ora Harrison had lived in Endicott for twenty-seven years. Always single, Miss Ora, age fifty-two, had devoted her entire adult life to teaching and relief work, serving as an Episcopal missionary and director...

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8. Murder Trial in Franklin County

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pp. 209-228

Standing guard outside the Franklin County courthouse is a tall statue of a Confederate soldier gazing northward, rifle at the ready. The statue commemorates the Franklin County men who fought for the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee’s command. Jubal Early...

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pp. 229-237

Endicott and Franklin county forever changed when the United States entered World War II in 1941. By 1945, 2,309 people from the county— nearly 10 percent of the population—had served in the military. Mountain communities in Franklin and elsewhere gave more than their share. The town...


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pp. 239-249

Works Cited

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pp. 251-258


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pp. 259-269

Back Cover

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p. 306-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780252095269
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035128

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011