Moonshining in Burke County: The Career of N.C. ABC officer Fred Hennessee
Scope and Contents note
The Moonshine Collection content is either directly connected or related to the career of Fred Hennessee as an ABC officer in Burke County, NC. The majority of the items were assembled by Hennessee. It appears nearly all of the photographs were taken by a Morganton News Herald employee and given to Hennessee. Some of the original photos were stamped as taken by local Morganton photographer, Andy Hern, under his employment with the News Herald. The collection covers the years 1960-1989; the bulk of the material spans 1967-1989. One can get a sense of what Hennessee's career involved and also an idea of what being an ABC officer during this era might have been like.
The collection consists only of reproductions of the originals. The original items were returned to Fred Hennessee's daughter. The collection contains digital scans on CDs and printouts of the scans of the scrapbook photos, loose photographs, publications and ephemera containing moonshine information and warnings. There are also photocopies of newspaper articles and index cards of illegal still and alcohol finds. The hardcopies of the materials are housed in a legal size flip-top Hollinger box and filed in folders and the CDs are housed in separate CD boxes. For the sake of brevity, the list of individual photographs and scrapbook pages is located under Series I: Photographs in this finding aid. Each photograph/scrapbook page title contains a note at the end that indicates where the digital scan is located on the CDs.
These CDs are currently not available for public use. Use of audiovisual materials requires the creation of a user copy, if none exists. The user copy will be maintained as part of the collection. Researchers desiring a user copy for their own use outside of the repository should consult the "http://www.library.appstate.edu/collections/sc/pdf/duplication.pdf">Application for Duplication of Closed Collection Materials on the Special Collections website.
Conditions Governing Access
No Interlibrary Loan.
Authors retain copyright. The copyrights of the photographs and newspaper clippings belong to the Morganton News Herald.
This collection is open for use in the Dougherty Reading Room. An appointment for research is recommended. The Dougherty Reading Room is located on the 4th floor of Belk Library in Special Collections.
Long before the European settlers arrived, the western North Carolina area was inhabited by the Catawba and Cherokee Indians. In 1752 Moravian Bishop August Gottlieb Spangenburg came to North Carolina in search of land for Moravian settlement. His travels led him into the western part of the state where he made the first written description of what later became Burke County.
On June 1, 1777 the North Carolina General Assembly passed an act dividing Rowan County. Lands to the north and west became Burke County, named after Thomas Burke, then a representative in the Continental Congress. In October 1784, in a Newbern session, the General Assembly appointed a commission to lay out the town that would become Morganton. Their work appears to have been completed in the summer of 1806. The town was named in honor of Daniel Morgan who was considered to be a hero in the Revolutionary War.
The origin of illegal moonshining really began in England in 1659 when the first homemade liquor tax was enforced along the border of Scotland and in Ireland. Homemade liquor was often a way of life for these families as well as a source of additional income. When the Scot-Irish began settling in Pennsylvania and piedmont North Carolina, they brought their whiskey making skills with them. New North Carolina tax laws spurred unreported distilling practices and facilitated the career of the revenuer.
Tax laws could not be strictly enforced in the mountains of North Carolina and whiskey became the prime money crop of country farmers. Moreover, the tax was highly resented. The distilling of spirits from corn was the only way farmers in Western areas of Pennsylvania and North Carolina could profitably sell their surplus corn crops. This dislike of liquor taxes led to the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, one of the first challenges to the new Federal government.
Hikes in taxes on spirits were supported by tea-totalers and evangelical abstainers. Hence, liquor taxes were often known as "sin" taxes. The tax on whiskey would come and go through the years, the tax often being more than the retail cost of the product. Revenuers were often unwilling to venture back in the mountains to look for moonshiners due to the fact that it frequently lead to skirmishes.
Fred Hennessee was born in Morganton on March 9, 1926. He attended Morganton High School, but never graduated. He joined the Navy at age 17, and served in the Pacific in WWII. After returning home Hennessee operated a grocery store at Lake James and owned a service station. During this time he married Mary Louise Rose and had two daughters.
In 1961 Hennessee began his law enforcement career as a Morganton city police officer. Later, he joined the Burke County sheriff's department, rising to deputy sheriff. In 1968 he became an officer for the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, where he worked for the next 20 years. During those years as an agent, he spent most of his time hunting, seizing, and destroying illegal stills. It was very involved work, often requiring that he and his fellow officers spend hours looking for stills after a tip off. They would frequently go undercover, lying in wooded areas for long periods of time watching the stills, gathering proof of their operating status and ownership. Hennessee was quite the character, often being greeted at suspects' homes by curious children and referring to himself as "Uncle Fred" so they would not know he was with the ABC. His personal index records indicate 153 seized and destroyed stills during his career.
Some other aspects of Hennessee's career involved doing undercover work for neighboring counties, working with ABC stores to protect bank deposits, and liquor license enforcement on local night clubs. The latter often involved not taking a shower for several days and washing his mouth out with whiskey to be a believable customer.
Towards the end of Hennessee's career, his work as an ABC officer began to change with the growing presence of other controlled substances such as marijuana. The marijuana fields were often full of trip wires and traps to harm officials. Hennessee cited this change as contributing to his decision to retire in 1988. He felt moonshiners were most often the kind of people you could sit down and have dinner with, men just trying to make ends meet. The people involved in the sale of drugs were the true criminals.
After retirement, Hennessee continued to participate in the Burke County Law Enforcement Officers Association. In August 1988 he received the Long Leaf Pine Award. This is the highest civilian honor for service in North Carolina given by the governor.
Hennessee passed away on March 27, 1997. The scrapbook collection was created by Fred and passed on to his daughters after his death. The collection's condition was fair upon its delivery. Much of the biographical information about Hennessee's life and career was provided by his daughters and brothers as well as the Sheriff John McDevitt.
The Burke County Historical Society. Burke County Heritage - North Carolina. Winston Salem: 1981, pp. 1-9.
The News Herald. "Moonshining: Family Tradition for 304 Years". Morganton: October 25, 1963, pp. 1,3.
The News Herald. "Retired ABC Officer helps revamp cave". Morganton: June 1, 1989, pp. 1C.
Hennessee family: Sharon, Margaret, Carl, Ervin - friend: Sheriff McDevitt
- 9 March 1926
- Born in Morganton, North Carolina
- ca. 1940-43
- Attended Morganton High School
- ca. 1943
- Left school to join the Navy during WWII, serving in the Pacific
- ca. 1945-59
- Operated a grocery store at Lake James. Owned a service station in Morganton.
- Married Mary Louise Rose
- ca. 1960-64
- Entered law enforcement, beginning as a Morganton city police officer and then becoming a Burke County deputy sheriff
- Became a ABC officer in Burke County, still discovery near Icard, NC
- September 19, 1967
- Liquor still destroyed near Valdese, Mountain Springs Rd.
- January 3, 1968
- Still discovery near Linville River
- January 9, 1969
- Still under construction discovery off Linville Church section
- February 2, 1970
- Liquor raids in Burke County
- April 9, 1970
- Still discovered and destroyed in the Sunnyside section off old Highway 18 south.
- 13 October 1970
- 1964 Pontiac car seizure (liquor in trunk) belonging to Harry Conley
- Still discovery in Hildebran, North Carolina
- 21 February 1972
- Glen Alpine still discovery
- 17 January 1973
- Still discovery on Warlick Chapel Road, Burke County, North Carolina
- 26 October 1981
- Discovery of a still in barn off U.S. 64 South
- Retires; receives Long Leaf Pine Award in August of that year
- June 1989
- Helps restore a former moonshine cave as a tourist attraction
- 27 March 1997
- Died in Morganton, NC at the age of 71.
1 Linear Feet (1 box, 2 CD boxes)
Language of Materials
This collection represents Fred Hennessee's career as a North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control officer in Burke County. For nearly twenty years, Hennessee spent most of his time staking out, investigating, and gathering evidence on possible illegal still operations. His records indicate the discovery and destruction of 153 illegal stills during his career. The collection consists entirely of reproductions as the original items were scanned or photocopied and returned to Fred Hennessee's family. Included are digital scans stored on CDs and printouts of the scans of the scrapbook photos, loose photographs, publications and ephemera related to Hennessee's specific career activities. There are also photocopies of newspaper articles and index cards of illegal still and alcohol finds.
Series I: Moonshine Photographs
Located in this series are copies of digitally scanned original loose and scrapbook bound photographs covering a large span of Fred Hennessee's career as a Burke County ABC officer. Many of the dates of the photographs are unknown, however they cover roughly 1964-1988. The photos depict mostly still discoveries and destructions as well as the officials and suspects involved in those events. There are also some photographs depicting marijuana finds later in Hennessee's career.
Subseries: Loose Photographs
These photographs were loosely placed within the scrapbook. Some of them correspond with scrapbook bound photographs. Digital copies of them are located on the Moonshine 469 CDs 1-9.
Subseries: Scrapbook Photographs
These photographs are bound in the scrapbook and have digital copies on the Moonshine Scrapbook 469 CDs 1-19.
Series II: Newspaper Clippings
This series contains copies of newspaper articles and clippings related to moonshine still and marijuana finds. All but a few of the articles have to do directly with Hennessee's career, but several have to do with either moonshining history or activities Hennessee participated in after retirement. The time span for the articles and clippings covers 1963-1989.
Series III: Index Card Files
The series contains copies of items found in a filing or index box belonging to Fred Hennessee. There are 153 index cards pertaining to still busts. These cards contain dates and times for the bust, locations, the individual(s) arrested, and the contents found at the bust. Also in the index card box are notes of vehicles seized along with the owners name (it is unclear if all of these seizures have to do with moonshine), miscellaneous documentation having to do with moonshining, and 13 cards with suspects names, addresses, and other crime related information.
Series IV: Publications Related to Moonshine
This series includes copies of digitally scanned original pamphlets, and a small report. The pamphlets present warnings about the dangers of moonshine and are directed towards teenagers and the general public. The report contains information about the "war" against moonshine production and distribution. It provides information on still seizures and law enforcement activity for the years 1950-65.
Series V: Ephemera Related to Illegal Substances
Included in this series are copies of digitally scanned original flyers, a fan, and a post card. The flyers and fan contain warning messages about the dangers of moonshine. The postcard illustrates the moonshine cave, a tourist attraction that Hennessee helped develop after his retirement.
Series VI: CDs Containing Digital Scans of Collection
The images in this series are copies of the actual photographs, ephemera, and publications found in the collection. The corresponding CD that contains the images can be found in the series' box and folder lists. CDs are currently not available for public use. Use of audiovisual materials requires the creation of a user copy, if none exists. The user copy will be maintained as part of the collection. Researchers desiring a user copy for their own use outside of the repository should consult the "http://www.library.appstate.edu/collections/sc/pdf/duplication.pdf">Application for Duplication of Closed Collection Materials on the Special Collections website.
- Alcohol -- Law and legislation
- Burke County (N.C.)
- Distilling, Illicit
- Distilling, Illicit--North Carolina
- Hennessee, Fred, 1926-1997
- Law enforcement
- Liquor laws
- Morganton (N.C.)
- Morganton (N.C.)--History
- N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission
- N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Division
- Whisky Rebellion, Pa., 1794
- Whiskey--Southern States--History
The Moonshining in Burke County: The Career of N.C. ABC officer Fred Hennessee collection material was loaned by Sharon Hennessee Williamson and Margaret Hennessee Stump, the daughters of Fred Hennessee. The collection was loaned in March 2008. The original items were returned to Fred Hennessee's daughter. The accession number for the collection is 469. The collection will be open to the public by May 1, 2009.
Inventoried by Rachel Westrom, 2009
Processed by Rachel Westrom, April, 2009
Digitized by Rachel Westrom, February & March, 2009
Encoded by Rachel Westrom, April, 2009
- AC.469: Moonshining in Burke County: The Career of N.C. ABC officer Fred Hennessee, 1960-1989
- Processed by: Rachel Westrom; machine-readable finding aid created by: Rachel Westrom
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- Description is in English