Tennessee in a Quart Jar

Eighteenth Amendment

Section 1
After one year from the ratification of this article
the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within,
the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States
and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof
for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

 

My Daugherty ancestors have hovered around me since I was a little girl, wisping this way or that, until they floated down, as gentle as a feather, inside my modern-day quill. They were good people. They were bad people. One can find their more salacious stories printed on the front pages of newspapers. But I reckon every human being has a bad streak brewing inside. And I reckon the potential to act on that wickedness lies in every one of us—especially given the right time or situation.

Sometimes an entire era offers up a smorgasbord plate filled with hot, steaming situations. In this Daugherty series, events take place during turbulent times: from 1910 to 1933. During these years, an information age appeared on a global scale; the Industrial era was in high gear; women’s suffrage bubbled over; the “War to end all wars” befell the world; the influenza epidemic killed millions; Prohibition was enacted (but rarely followed) in the United States; science was questioned; an elephant was hanged; and the Great Depression reared its insolvent head. My people’s stories take place in the decades within this cauldron.

I will make every effort to introduce them properly – and fairly. I have gathered information from newspapers, the U.S. Census, vital statistics, military information, court cases, genealogical sites, family stories and folklore, several historical societies, local libraries, books, and my searches are ongoing.

Before diving into their lives, however, a little framework may be necessary to understand how these turbulent times affected them inside their home state of Tennessee. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Tennessee was a fierce, hot iron ready to flatten immorality – most of which centered on liquor. Let’s you and I look into Tennessee’s temperance and prohibition history.

In the 1800s, the Temperance Movement steadily grew throughout the nation until it became a monstrous anti-liquor crusade that used laws to systematically prohibit any and all alcohol. Teetotalists were against liquor for several reasons: religion, labor, crime, domestic violence, etc. Temperance leagues and groups were formed. Pro-temperance newspapers became the massive bellows that fanned the teetotaling flames.

Tennessee’s temperance movement really lit up in the mid-1820s. The state’s legislature passed a few legless laws at first. For example, the “Quart Law” in the mid-1830s stated liquor could only be sold in “containers of one quart or more.” (I find great irony in the words “or more.”) This law was the temperance and prohibition movements’ foot in the door. Changes were slow, but systematic. In 1846, saloons were restricted to “sell liquor by the drink.”1)Dickinson, W. Calvin. 2018. “Temperance.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. March 1. Accessed July 2022. In 1877, due to the “Four-Mile Law,” liquor couldn’t be sold “within four miles of chartered rural schools.”2)Dickinson, W. Calvin. 2018. “Temperance.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. March 1. Accessed July 2022. By 1887, the law was modified, basically prohibiting liquor sales within four miles of any school. Abstinence societies and Anti-Saloon Leagues organized and fell in line throughout the state like ants. By 1908, liquor was the forefront issue on political tickets. Prohibition supporters were relentless on this single platform issue.

One Edward Carmack was Tennessee’s “Anti-Saloon League” candidate for governor. He3)Carmack was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1896. He became a state senator at one point. He was also a fervent white supremacist. When his political career was dwindling, he hopped on the anti-liquor bandwagon. was defeated by Malcolm Patterson, who had support from political and “liquor interests.”4)Dickinson, W. Calvin. 2018. “Temperance.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. March 1. Accessed July 2022. Carmack was furious after he lost the election, saying it was fraudulent. He used his position as editor for the Nashville Tennessean newspaper to rant about the election and excoriate his political enemies.

Malcolm Patterson’s political advisor was named Colonel Duncan Cooper. This guy was a highly effective part of Patterson’s administrative team. Some sources say Cooper and Carmack were once allies. Well, somewhere along the way, they became red-hot adversaries, each threatening the other’s life. That volatile sentiment grew stronger every day until the situation culminated into murder. W. Calvin Dickinson writes in the Tennessee Encyclopedia:

In 1908 the two [Carmack and Cooper], along with Cooper’s son, Robin, met armed on a Nashville street. Robin Cooper and Carmack fired shots; Carmack was fatally wounded. The Coopers were convicted of murder, but Governor Patterson issued a pardon.

The fateful meeting was purportedly accidental. Colonel Cooper allegedly charged toward Carmack. Carmack shot his gun and hit Robin Cooper twice. Robin shot his weapon and killed Carmack.

Prohibitionists took advantage of Carmack’s death and made him a martyr for the anti-liquor movement. Public sentiment shifted, especially since the shooter was pardoned by the same governor who defeated Carmack. The prohibitionist movement gained steam and chugged right along with political backing. Their efforts drastically changed the state’s political climate – so much so that Tennessee banned liquor a year after Carmack’s murder.

As the reader might guess, more than a substantial number of people opposed the liquor ban. Many mayors and attorneys general and community officials and leaders refused to acknowledge or abide by any law enforcing prohibition. As a result, an “Ouster Law” was used to “oust” any elected officials who refused to implement the liquor ban.

Other groups of people besides public servants and community leaders opposed prohibition: those who partook of the drink and those who benefitted from selling it. Saloons, distributors, and manufacturers were, at first, furious and devastated. Mountaineers were particularly heated. Moonshine had been in Appalachia since the mid-1700s, when the Irish and Scottish “brought with them . . . their knowledge of moonshining.”5)1972. “Moonshining as a Fine Art.” In The Foxfire Book, edited by Eliot Wiggington, 301-345. Garden City: Anchor Books. Further, Appalachians had previously been in a scuffle with the government over liquor in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

Shine was used to treat illnesses in a time before aspirin, ibuprofen, antibiotics, or pain medication. The concoction was also used as a bartering tool:

Jack makes moonshine. He looks at briars and brush that need hacking. He needs a sickle. John has a sickle. His arthritis dogs him day after day. He reckons a bit of moonshine might help. The men make a trade. That was that.

Mountain people used moonshine as a remedy for all kinds of ailments, even after the development of “modern” medicine. Some didn’t trust the latest practice. Others didn’t have the money. I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t point out that moonshine was also consumed for a good time.

What prohibitionists and temperance leagues did not calculate was that people are going to do what people are going to do. Tell a man he can’t partake of something and he’ll find a way – come hell or high water – to do so. The law gave birth to a criminal underbelly whose long arm stretched from the hollers of Appalachia to cities like Detroit and Chicago. Liquor would be manufactured one way or another; the law be damned. Rumrunners with souped up cars (which, incidentally, is how NASCAR began) outran and left law enforcement eating dust time after time. Speakeasies popped up in apartments, warehouses, basements, caves, etc., and not just in big cities. Money was fanned underneath the nose of law enforcement, from higher-ups to patrolmen to footmen, who were all-too-eager to grab it and look the other way.

In the mountains, moonshine was extremely profitable. Horace Kephart writes in Our Southern Highlanders (Macmillan, 1941):

A man working with a still so small that he can pick it up bodily and run away with it, at the first alarm, can make a thousand dollars profit with it in a few weeks . . . Farmers and others, who never before had been able to make more than the barest subsistence, now saw a chance to get rich in a few months. Thus among a poverty-stricken class of mountaineers the temptation to run secret stills inflamed and spread.(p. 188-189)

Some farmers (listed occupation) made $2000 a week from moonshine. In today’s money, that’s about $30,000. In one week. In 1925, a Tennessee farmer brought home about $620 a year from his crop. So, it’s understandable that they wanted to hold onto the lucrative business of liquid gold.

So, that’s where we are. Not only did the Prohibition era create monied mountain men, it divided friends and family. Some were anti-liquor. Some were moonshiners. Join me for the next Daugherty installment where we’ll be smackdab in the middle of it all, along with lawman Byrd Daugherty.

**Featured image: “Moonshine” by Cindy Shebley on flickr

 

Sources for this article:

Tennessee 4 Me

Tennessee Encyclopedia

Temperance Movement in Tennessee

From Prohibition to Suffrage, The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Played a Role

Tennessee Electronic Library

Library of Congress “Chronicling America” Newspapers

1972. “Moonshining as a Fine Art.” In The Foxfire Book, edited by Eliot Wiggington, 301-345. Garden City: Anchor Books.

Paths of the Past by Paul H. Bergeron. Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press.1979.

References

References
1, 2, 4 Dickinson, W. Calvin. 2018. “Temperance.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. March 1. Accessed July 2022.
3 Carmack was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1896. He became a state senator at one point. He was also a fervent white supremacist. When his political career was dwindling, he hopped on the anti-liquor bandwagon.
5 1972. “Moonshining as a Fine Art.” In The Foxfire Book, edited by Eliot Wiggington, 301-345. Garden City: Anchor Books.

1 Comment

  1. Interesting piece. I wasn’t aware of Tennessee’s early start on prohibition and its consequences. I’m looking forward to the Daugherty-involved sequel. Someone once gifted me a mason jar of moonshine. I accidentally spilled some on my clock radio, and the radio refused to turn-off—just kept on playing. Strong stuff. Unfortunately, the lessons learned during the prohibition era seemed to have been lost on our modern day prohibitionists.

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