Bruce Stewart: West North Carolina historian reveals the truth about moonshiners and prohibitionists


History Buzz

Bruce Stewart‘I was curious why moonshiners were embraced as heroes by many people in Western North Carolina in the 1860s and 1870s; and then condemned in the 1880s and 1890s,” Bruce Stewart, assistant professor of history at Appalachian State University, said in a recent interview with the Citizen-Times.

Stewart has just published a book, “Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia,” that pries the lid off historical truth and stands as a model of research.

In the generation before the Civil War, the temperance movement had been supported by urban leaders such as Asheville’s James Patton and Augustus Merrimon.

When railroads arrived, many people’s affinity for the good old days of uncriminalized whiskey changed to support for prohibition. Even mountain preachers closely associated with the independence feelings of their flocks got on the respectable industry and tourism train.

Those who continued to say, “be hot, my still,” became outlaws and were branded degenerates.

“Local crusaders,” Stewart writes, “responded by demonizing alcohol manufacturers and their rural clientele, much like southern reformers did to African-Americans and northern temperance advocates did to eastern European immigrants.”

Stewart’s study is clearly written and full of instances and deductions.

Discovery moment

Stewart had been an undergraduate living in his parents’ basement in Winston-Salem, commuting to UNC Greensboro, when he’d committed to his career.

“When I was going to college,” Stewart said, “I also worked at UPS. And I did not want to do that, so that got me motivated to really crack down on my studies.”

At UPS, he worked five hours a night, five nights a week.

He went on to Western Carolina University, where he received his master’s degree in history, producing what became Chapter Four of his new book. A doctoral thesis at the University of Georgia yielded the full draft in 2007….READ MORE

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