Spirits of Just Men (Paperback)

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

By Charles D. Thompson Jr.

University of Illinois Press, 9780252078088, 304pp.

Publication Date: April 20, 2011

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (4/20/2011)

List Price: 23.95*
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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." Charles D. Thompson Jr. chronicles 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. Thompson, 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, he illustrates how the moonshine trade was a rational and savvy choice for struggling farmers and community members during the Great Depression.
Local characters come alive through this richly colorful narrative, including the stories of Miss Ora Harrison, a key witness for the defense and an Episcopalian missionary to the region, and Elder Goode Hash, an itinerant Primitive Baptist preacher and juror in a related murder trial. Considering the complex interactions of religion, economics, local history, Appalachian culture, and immigration, 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.

About the Author

A native son of Franklin County, Virginia, author and filmmaker Charles D. Thompson Jr. is the curriculum and education director at the Center for Documentary Studies and a lecturer of cultural anthropology at Duke University. His other books include "German Baptist Brethren: Faith, Farming, and Change in the Virginia Blue Ridge, " and his latest film is "Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos.""

Praise For Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World

"This informative, engaging work wonderfully reveals the culture and colorful history of a region with intimate ties to the illegal production and distribution of alcohol during 'Prohibition.'"--Booklist

"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. . . . A meticulous, exhaustive history of moonshining, poverty and Blue Ridge culture."--Kirkus Reviews

"A well-researched and well-written study and a thought-provoking portrait of 1930s Appalachia."--Library Journal

"Worthy of the attention of both scholars and an interested public."--The Historian


"An exceptionally passionate, sensitive, and complex analysis of Great Depression-era life in rural Virginia."--The Journal of Southern History

"Spirits of Just Men is an example of microhistory at its best."--H-Net Reviews