Filter by Listing Categories
Accommodations
Bed & Breakfast
Campgrounds
Hotels
Real Estate
Vacation Rentals
Attractions
Family Friendly
Indoors
On the Water
outdoors
Dining
American
Bakery
Barbecue
Breakfast
Brewery
Burger
catering
chinese
Coffee
Delivery
Fast Food
Ice Cream
Indian
Italian
Japanese
Mexican
Pizza
Sandwiches
Seafood
southern
steak
sushi
Takeout
Thai
Vegetarian and Vegan
vineyards
Wine
Local Services
Rentals - Equipment
Spas, Salons, Barbers, and Massages
Specialty Services
Weddings
Regions
Blue Ridge Highlands
Abingdon
Bristol
Christianburg
Floyd
Galax
Meadows of Dan
Pulaski
Radford
Smyth
Wytheville
Central Virginia
Appomattox
Ashland
Blacksburg
Charlottesville
Chester
Chesterfield
Colonial Heights
Farmville
Glen Allen
Halifax
Henrico
Hopewell
Lanexa
Louisa
Lynchburg
Mechanicsville
Midlothian
Petersburg
Richmond
Sandston
Wintergreen
Chesapeake Bay
Colonial Beach
Irvington
Kilmarnock
Tappahannock
Urbanna
White Stone
Coastal Virginia | Hampton Roads
Charles City County
Chesapeake
Franklin
Hampton
Newport News
Norfolk
Portsmouth
Smithfield
Southampton
Virginia Beach
Williamsburg
Yorktown
Eastern Shore
Cape Charles
Chincoteague Island
Onancock
Tangier Island
Heart Of Appalachia
Big Stone Gap
Coeburn
St. Paul
Town Of Tazewell
Northern Virginia
Alexandria
Arlington
Ashburn
Burke
Centreville
Chantilly
Culpeper
Dulles
Dumfries
Fairfax
Falls Church
Fredericksburg
Gainesville
Herndon
Leesburg
Lovettsville
Manassas
McLean
Middleburg
Purcellville
Reston
Spotsylvania
Springfield
Stafford
Sterling
Tysons Corner
Vienna
Warrenton
Woodbridge
Shenandoah Valley
Augusta
Harrisonburg
Lexington
Luray
Natural Bridge
Staunton
Waynesboro
Winchester
Woodstock
Southern Virginia
Clarksville
Danville
Emporia
Martinsville
South Boston
South Hill
Virginia Mountains
Bath County
Roanoke
Salem
Shopping
Antiques and Thrift Shops
Clothes
Gifts & More
Grocery
Sports Gear & Outdoor
Sips
Breweries
Distillery
Spirits
Vineyards
Winery
Filter by Listing Tags
Accommodations
Attractions
Breweries
Brewery
Dining
Distillery
Local Services
Shopping
Sips
Vineyard
Wine
Winery
Filter by Categories
Accommodations
All Categories
All News
Attractions
Cider
Cider News
Cider: Tasting & Reviews
Cider: Web Exclusives
Contests
Best Of
Savor Virginias’ Best
The Remy 1738 Challenge
WIne Classic
Craft Beer
Beer Features
Beer News
Breweries
Craft Beer: People
CRAFT BEER: SPONSORED CONTENT
Craft Beer: Tasting & Reviews
Craft Beer: Web Exclusives
Departments
Editor's Note
Publisher's Note
Dining
Dining Features
Dining: Farm to Table
Dining: Food Finds
Dining: People
Dining: Recipes & Pairings
Dining: Web Exclusives
Distilled Spirits
Distilled Spirits: Features
Distilled Spirits: People
DISTILLED SPIRITS: SPONSORED CONTENT
Distilled Spirits: Tasting & Reviews
Distilled Spirits: Web Exclusives
Distilleries
Distillery News
Distilled Spirits: Cocktail Recipes
Festivals & Events
Getaways
ADVENTURES/ACTIVITIES: SPONSORED CONTENT
Getaways - SavorVA
Getaways: Adventures & Activities
Getaways: Features
GETAWAYS: SPONSORED CONTENT
Getaways: Web Exclusives
Getaways: Weekend Trips
Local Services
Main Editor's Picks
Main Features
large
small
Regions
Blue Ridge Highlands
BLUE RIDGE HIGHLAND: SPONSORED CONTENT
Blue Ridge Highlands: Features
Central Virginia
Central Virginia: Features
CENTRAL VIRGINIA: SPONSORED CONTENT
Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake Bay: Features
CHESAPEAKE BAY: SPONSORED CONTENT
Coastal Virginia-Hampton Roads
Coastal Virginia-Hampton Roads: Features
COASTAL VIRGINIA-HAMPTON ROADS: SPONSORED CONTENT
Eastern Shore
Eastern Shore: Features
EASTERN SHORE: SPONSORED CONTENT
Heart Of Appalachia
Heart of Appalachia: Features
HEART OF APPALACHIA: SPONSORED CONTENT
Northern Virginia
Northern Virginia: Features
NORTHERN VIRGINIA: SPONSORED CONTENT
Shenandoah Valley
Shenandoah Valley: Features
SHENANDOAH VALLEY: SPONSORED CONTENT
Southern Virginia
Southern Virginia: Features
SOUTHERN VIRIGNIA: SPONSORED CONTENT
Virginia Mountains
Virginia Mountains: Features
VIRGINIA MOUNTAINS: SPONSORED CONTENT
Shopping
Shopping: Web Exclusives
Sips
Wine
October Wine Wednesday
Virginia Wine Month
Wine Classic Awards
Wine News
wine trail
211 wine trail
Wine: Features
Wine: People
WINE: SPONSORED CONTENT
Wine: Tasting & Reviews
Wine: Web Exclusives
Wineries
Filter by content type
Custom post types
Taxonomy terms

Library of Virginia Exhibit Explores Virginia’s Prohibition

By:

Library Of Virginia Exhibit Explores Virginia’s Prohibition, Its Long-Lasting Effects On The Commonwealth And How Much Times Have Changed

“I do love this industry,”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe gushed after signing into law a bill earlier this year giving beer producers and wine growers in the commonwealth greater freedom to sell their wares. The governor’s attention to spirits is reflected in the hundreds of wineries, distilleries and craft breweries now scattered across the state.

What a difference 100 years can make.

“When you consider the landscape today, it’s interesting to remember how it used to be,” says Gregg Kimball, the director of Public Services and Outreach at the Library of Virginia.  “Essentially, we were criminalizing people who weren’t really criminals.”

In 1914, when Virginians voted to completely ban alcohol—the law went into effect on Halloween 1916,  three years ahead of national Prohibition—it was the start of an ambitious social experiment that seems worlds away from our experience today. According to Kimball, the curator of the Library’s intoxicating (and, considering the changing times, ironic) exhibit, Teetotalers and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia, Distilled, much of the state was already dry before the question came up for a vote. Seventy one of Virginia’s 100 counties had already rejected hootch by 1909, thanks to laws that gave jurisdictions local options to ban it.

Virginia Prohibition Notice
Notice! (Ballot). 1914. Broadside. Library of Virginia.
Seized Goods, Richmond, Prohibition
Richmond Sheriff and Officials with Seized Goods. Ca. 1930. Photograph. Library of Virginia.

“The temperance movement was built up over time,” Kimball says. “At the end of the 19th century you start to see county after county have much stricter alcohol laws due largely to the work of the movement.” When the referendum happened, four cities—Richmond, Norfolk, Williamsburg and Alexandria—voted to keep things wet. “There was a real rural/urban dynamic going on,” he says. “And Norfolk, because of shipping and its status as a naval base, was the hotbed.” The Coastal Virginia area not only lead the pack in Virginia drunkenness arrests during Prohibition, the exhibit shows, Norfolk ran second to Franklin County in number of illegal stills.

“It’s a fun exhibit on a serious topic,” says Barbara Batson, the library’s exhibition manager. Teetotalers and Moonshiners showcases early anti-saloon propaganda—like the iconic illustrated series, The Bottle, chronicling alcohol’s destructive effects on a family—as well as archival newsreel clips, musical selections and the testimony of ordinary Virginians. Thanks to unseen records, letters and accounts from the files of Virginia’s long-defunct Prohibition Commission, the historical triptych takes us through the 18 years of Virginia’s ban, detailing the human after-effects—such as a bloody shootout over moonshine on the Dickenson County courthouse steps, or the story of a Norfolk rabbi arrested for serving sacramental wine at Passover.

Interesting period remnants enhance the tale: a walking stick with a hidden flask compartment, the last bottle of Rye sold in Roanoke before Virginia’s law took effect, a jug of confiscated moonshine, a yellowed copy of Anti-Liquor, a temperance newspaper published by a Danville minister who was later murdered for his views, and a scolding photograph of the disapproving Bishop James Cannon Jr., the father of the Virginia temperance movement. “There was a big religious influence behind prohibition,” Kimball says. “Cannon was a national figure, and not just here in Virginia. Virginius Dabney, the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, called him “the dry messiah.”

As the exhibit shows, the vote to ban alcohol in Virginia wasn’t even close: 94,251 for prohibition to 63,886 against. Kimball says that changes in state politics at the time may offer up clues as to why. “By the time of the 1914 referendum, a lot of people had been disqualified from voting because of [changes in] the 1902 constitution. A lot of lower-class whites were disenfranchised and most African-Americans had been removed from the voter rolls, so a relatively small number of people were voting.”

Many of the well-to-do (as shown via records on display) stockpiled big-time before state and federal Prohibition took hold.”We have the story of an African-American WWI veteran who writes to the governor in jail,” Kimball says. “He’s asking, ‘Is this law only for poor people? Because my boss gets all the booze he wants.’ And you can see from the records that there is clearly a class and race bias as to who was arrested and prosecuted.”

“In the 1910s, it was part of a progressive idea that you could legislate people’s morals and the people would be healthier and happier,” says Batson. “They just didn’t think it through. They created this kind of underground industry in moonshine.”

Moonshine liquor goes all the way back to the earliest days of our Republic—anyone remember the Whisky Rebellion? —but the idea of illegal liquor as an industry didn’t really start until after the Civil War, and after the U.S. Congress passed an onerous whiskey tax.

“Prohibition was enforced nationwide in 1920, and not surprisingly in hindsight, the market for moonshine, which had been growing steadily over the years, exploded,” reports the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College, which has published much research on the historical import of moonshine (it contributed parts of a vintage still to the Library of Virginia exhibit). “These kinds of prohibitions always cause things to go underground,” Kimball echoes. “It becomes more dangerous. In Chicago, we think of mobsters like Al Capone, but here it was mainly moonshine runners having shoot outs with agents or law enforcement.” (All told, there were 131, 930 gallons of Virginia liquor seized, and 2,543 stills destroyed during Prohibition.)

Seized Still, Moonshine
Chap Osborne and Colleagues with Seized Still. 1920s. Photograph. Courtesy of Tazewell County Public LIbrary.
Statewide Virginia Prohibition, Exhibit
Statewide (Alexandria). September 18, 1914. Newspaper. Library of Virginia.

As shown, the roots of today’s NASCAR racing can be traced back to souped-up car modifications made to escape authorities and transport large quantities of bootleg liquor, in places like Franklin County in Southwest Virginia, long known as the Moonshine capital of the world. “Some of the early NASCAR drivers, like Junior Johnson and Wendell Scott, got their start high speed driving while running moonshine,” says Kimball. The NASCAR lineage is a hot topic for debate—the researchers at the Blue Ridge Institute have insisted that it was the mechanics, not the drivers, who were the real links between moonshining and NASCAR’s origins.

The Library of Virginia’s exhibit tells all sides, detailing the cruel fates of bootleggers and the tragic deaths of revenuers. “We hear a lot about the moonshiners, but not so much about the agents.” Batson says. “So we wanted to talk too about the violence behind the moonshining.” One story that stands out is the case of Lump Moore, a farmer and bootlegger from Brunswick County who died in a shootout that also left two injured revenuers.

Because curator Kimball is a musicologist, specializing in old-time, blues and gospel, there are also wonderful examples of contemporaneous songs that comment on Prohibition and its effects. “I couldn’t have done this without including the music, which says so much about the time.” There’s selections like the anti-booze “God Don’t Like It” by sister Rosetta Tharpe, as well as the anti-ban “Prohibition is a Failure” by Lowe Stokes and His Pot Lickers—everyone from Tin Pan alley songsters to gospel singers weighed in on the state of things.

It’s no secret why prohibition failed in Virginia. As Batson says, “from an enforcement standpoint, it was a total mess.”

“It’s just like Virginia, right?” Kimball laughs. “They pass a law but fail to fund it. There were never more than 15 agents enforcing the new laws across the state at one time.” Included in the exhibit are frustrated accounts from ordinary people trying to make citizen arrests of illegal liquor makers, and having no luck getting agents to investigate. “Prohibition goes bad fairly quickly in Virginia,” he laughs. “The first commissioner [J. Sidney Peters] is despised, the governor, Westmoreland Davis, hates him, and he’s so obnoxious and rule-bound that after they fire him.”

Greased Lightning Movie Poster, Moonshine, Richard Pryor, Bootlegging
Greased Lighting Movie Poster. 1977. Poster. Private Collection.
Raid on Still, Henrico County, Prohibition
Raid on Still, Henrico County. 1920s. Virginia Chamber of Commerce Photographic Collection, Library of Virginia.

Virginia’s method of enforcement was also flawed—it was dependent on the cooperation of local officials. “That’s hard to do when the sheriff himself might be involved with local bootlegging. It was a big industry, for everyone, not least the farmer who depends on selling the grain to make the stuff.” Virginia’s ham-handed ban helped to urge on an illegal liquor industry that (some say) thrives today, certainly as a cultural symbol—included in the exhibit is a movie poster for Greased Lightning, a film about African-American runner Wendell Scott starring Richard Pryor.

“In 1933,” Batson says, “when the feds threw up their hands and ended Prohibition, Virginia thought, if we can’t beat them, we can tax them.”

“There was a public health aspect too,” Kimball adds. “There was bad liquor out there and it was killing people.”

Enter Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage and Control, which, even today, contains aspects of its prohibition past. As Kimball points out, the ABC still has enforcement functions, and that’s not the case elsewhere, “In most other states now, there’s no such thing as an ABC agent.”

The Library has been sponsoring side events that speak to the exhibit’s focus. One will be a Sept. 28 roundtable discussion, “Virginia Vice: Legislating Morality,” with authors and experts on censorship and the Temperance movement. And on Nov. 2, there will be a tasting of Last Call Imperial Brown Ale, a collaborative brew concocted by Three Notch’d Brewing Company to commemorate the exhibit. There will also be a story from the brewers about how the stuff was made.

What lessons can be learned from Prohibition? “Well, the obvious modern example for me would be the fight over the legalization of marijuana,” Kimball says, adding that the most dramatic change over time for Virginia’s ABC is that “it now balances enforcement with promotion.”

In 2017, spirits are a multi-billion dollar concern for Virginia. “The beer industry is a significant economic driver that spans several sectors including manufacturing, agriculture and tourism,” said Governor McAuliffe in a June statement that celebrated the fact that Virginia now has 260 breweries, surpassing neighboring North Carolina. The governor vowed to visit each one and sample their wares before his term is up,  As Teetotalers and Moonshiners reminds, the times sure have changed.

There’s a mock referendum ballot at the Library of Virginia that visitors can fill out that mirrors the question asked 100 years ago: Should Virginia outlaw alcohol? Not surprisingly, early exit polls show that the hooch may just prevail this time in a landslide.

“Teetotalers and Moonshiners: Prohibition in Virginia, Distilled” runs through Dec. 4 at the Library of Virginia, 800 East Broad St., Richmond. The exhibit is free. 804-692-4500. LVA.Virginia.gov.

The roundtable discussion, “Virginia Vice: Legislating Morality,” is on Sept. 28 at the Library of Virginia at 5:30 p.m. (free), and “Last Call,” an Imperial Brown Ale Re-Release and Storytelling Event, will occur at Three Notch’d Brewing Company, 2940 West Broad St., Richmond at 6 p.m. ($5 donation). 

Learn more here about the last of Virginia’s old-time moonshiners.

Don Harrison
Author: Don Harrison

View Digital Magazine

Festivals & Events

Sponsored Content:

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT

SPONSORED CONTENT