Kirkus Reviews QR Code
SPIRITS OF JUST MEN by Charles D. Thompson


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

by Charles D. Thompson

Pub Date: May 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-252-07808-8
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois

A scholarly dissection of the 1930s moonshine-based economy of Franklin County, Virginia.

Filmmaker and author Thompson (Cultural Anthropology/Duke Univ.; The Old German Baptist Brethren: Faith, Farming and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge, 2006, etc.) uses his family's history in Franklin County to delve deeper into the subject of moonshining, as well as the federal government's effort to halt its production. While the author focuses on the trial that all but toppled the illegal industry, far more interesting is the local color. Thompson brings the area to life, offering a portrait of a place that the government forgot, a blue-collar town run amok with barefoot children and well-armed men. With an utter lack of resources, county citizens were forced to “invent an economy from scratch”—homemade liquor became the primary cash crop. However, Thompson argues that the guilty parties were not merely the moonshiners, but those who overlooked the crippling poverty that plagued the town. “Without a doubt,” he writes, “some [moonshiners] were honest and hardworking and made whiskey for some cash money for their families. Others were out for profits well beyond a simple leaving.” The author paints an overly sympathetic portrait of a crime-filled town, but he does so for good reason. This is a story as much about a culture wilting away as it is about the crimes that were committed there. As the moonshiners might argue, seeking a way to feed one's family can hardly be considered a crime. The town offered few alternatives, writes Thompson, and the people of Franklin County filled every jug they could for profit.

A meticulous, exhaustive history of moonshining, poverty and Blue Ridge culture.