Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whiskey War

The outdoor drama Tom Dooley, A Wilkes County Legend is whipping into shape with the veteran stars and those of us first timers. Yesterday, Karen Reynolds, the author of the play made a great point to us in a crowd scene that the community in Wilkes county was quite divided about the Civil War and asked us to react that way in the scene by choosing sides - Union or Rebel.

I think that was a bit of a surprise. North Carolina was definately a southern state and a slave state in the 1800s. In the western counties, there were fewer slaves and there were also many folks who supported the Union. However, even as North Carolina had many more casualties in that war then any other southern state, it is also true that Wilkes county supplied the bulk of those men lost. It was brutal.

This two-sided approach was equally noted in the Revolution and caused bitter disputes even between families. Our elementary school principal is a direct descendent of the Goforth family of whom two brothers, one loyal and one patriot, stepped out from behind trees at Kings Mountain and shot each other dead. It's hard to imagine...

So, come see Tom Dooley if you are curious about the effects of war on a community. It is likely to be similar to the Revolution. If you come the week of the Fourth, you can see Moonshine and Thunder about Junior Johnson and the birth of NASCAR on the 3rd and Tom Dooley on the 5th. Junior has been known to attend, so who knows, you might get a glimpse of him at Forest Edge Amphitheater. Junior's car is in the Wilkes Heritage Museum and there's a film to see there.

Most everyone knows that NASCAR the sport evolved from moonshiners engineering their stock cars to outrace the law. Here's a bit from Junior's website written in the 1960s for Esquire magazine by Tom Wolf that explains the NASCAR connection to the revolutionary war...

H'it was just a business, like any other business. Me and my brothers, when we went out on the road at night, h'it was just like a milk run, far as we was concerned. They was certain deliveries to be made and...."

A milk run-yesl Well, it was a business, all right. In fact, it was a regional industry, all up and down the Appalachian slopes. But never mind the Depression. It goes back a long way before that. The Scotch- Irish settled the mountains from Pennsylvania down to Alabama, and they have been making whiskey out there as long as anybody can remember. At first it was a simple matter of economics. The land had a low crop yield, compared to the lowlands, and even after a man struggled to grow his corn, or whatever, the cost of transporting it to the markets from down out of the hills was so great, it wasn't worth it. It was much more profitable to convert the corn into whiskey and sell that. The trouble started with the Federal Government on that score almost the moment the Republic was founded. Alexander Hamilton put a high excise tax on whiskey in 1791, almost as soon as the Constitution was ratified. The "Whiskey Rebellion" broke out in the mountains of western Pennsylvania in 1794. The farmers were mad as hell over the tax. Fifteen thousand Federal troops marched out to the mountains and suppressed them. Almost at once, however, the trouble over the whiskey tax became a symbol of something bigger. This was a general enmity between the western and eastern sections of practically every seaboard state. Part of it was political. The eastern sections tended to control the legislatures, the economy and the law courts, and the western sections felt shortchanged. Part of it was cultural. Life in the western sections was rougher. Religions, codes and styles of life were sterner. Life in the eastern capitals seemed to give off the odor of Europe and decadence. Shays' Rebellion broke out in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts in 1786 in an attempt to shake off the yoke of Boston, which seemed as bad as George III's.

For some of you, I know seeing the story or Junior Johnson or Junior himself is equal to seeing LaFayette in person. So, come on out. He won't bite.

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