The Great Moonshine Conspiracy

Dec 6, 2012

During prohibition in the early 20th century, Franklin County, Virginia was dubbed the moonshine capital of the world. In the most mountainous parts of the county, nearly every farming family was involved in the making and selling of illegal whiskey. The 1920s and 30s were difficult for small scale farmers. Producing moonshine offered extra cash and a path out of poverty.

Confiscated moonshine liquor still, circa 1920s.
Confiscated moonshine liquor still photographed by the Internal Revenue Bureau at the Treasury Department, Washington, D.C., circa 1920s.
Credit Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When prohibition ended, those formerly illegal moonshiners were expected to start paying taxes. Yet they continued to operate illegally in Franklin County. The moonshine trade was an opportunity for the most powerful men in the county to get richer on the backs of poor farmers. The men overseeing the operations would charge large protection fees in exchange for looking the other way.

But in 1935, it all came to a crashing halt. Over 200 farmers testified about their role in the massive racket resulting in Virginia’s Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial. With the help of a retired World War I spy, the federal government indicted many of the racket's powerful leaders, including the state’s attorney, the sheriff, a federal agent and several deputies. Jesse Dukes of Big Shed Media brings us the story of The Great Moonshine Conspiracy, as told by writer Charlie Thompson.

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