Please note that the meeting will be at 7:00 P. M. at the Surry County Va. Recreation Center.
Our Speaker will be Reverend Stephen Eric Harris.
While born in Westchester County, New York, his mother was from Surry County and his family moved back
to Surry. He graduated from L. P. Jackson High School, served in the U. S. Navy, received a B. S. degree
from Norfolk State College and then a Master's of Divinity degree from the Samuel Dewitt Procter School
of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va. His topic will be "Colonization to
Reconstruction: The churches and education in Surry County."
As I write this report it is a cold February morning. From my living room, I have a beautiful panorama of the James River from Hog Island to the western part of Jamestown Island. Except for King's Mill and the area around Busch Gardens, the view has a timeless aura about it. It is very easy to picture three ships going westward almost four hundred years ago. On those ships were Englishmen looking for adventure, wealth and more freedom. It was a miracle they safely sailed the Northern Atlantic.
The three ships, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery left England five days before Christmas of 1606. They fought storms, cold, and lack of food as they sailed to the New World. They landed at a sandy point, Cape Henry, in today's Virginia Beach. They entered the Chesapeake Bay and thence the James River. Christopher Newport, the commander of the three ships, wanted a safe place to land and settle.
On May 5 the three ships were passing the same place that I stand today. They sailed by such modern landmarks as Chippokes, Chestnut Farms, Mt. Ivy, Pleasant Point and Scotland Wharf. The ships continued their way past Swans Point, Mt. Pleasant, Four Mile Tree and Eastover. Finally they came to a cove at Claremont. The settlers came ashore and met with some of the local Indians on a bluff overlooking this majestic river. They spent a few days at Claremont.
Christopher Newport and the other leaders decided that Claremont was not a satisfactory site since the river was narrowing and shallow close to land, so the three ships turned around to a wider part of the river. On May 11, 1607 they landed at Jamestown and thus the first permanent English settlement in the New World began nearly 400 years ago. The Jamestown 2007 Committee is planning a reenactment of this voyage from Cape Henry to Claremont to Jamestown.
The Surry County, Virginia Historical Society wants our members and friends to understand the contributions of Surry County, not only during May 1607, but also afterwards. Surry was a part of the Jamestown Colony from 1607 through 1634. From 1634 to 1652, Surry County became a separate county with its southern border reaching the North Carolina line and its western border near today's city of Charlottesville.
We hope to have a 400th Celebration at Claremont on May 5, 2007. The Historical Society, as well as
our local planning group, the Surry County 2007 Council, endorses having all three of the replica
ships at Claremont on this date. The Society will continue to give updates on Surry's involvement
in the Jamestown 2007 Celebration.
Most members living in or close to Surry County are aware of the plans to expand the Courthouse. Plans are to enlarge the courthouse from its present approximately 5,700 sq. feet to approximately 29,000 sq. feet. The planned expansion will call for the moving or demolition of all buildings behind the present courthouse. The present Courthouse would be incorporated into the new much larger building. The Courthouse Square would lose its designation as a State and National Historic District.
This is a highly contentious plan. Many citizens are fighting it for both historic and economic reasons. A majority of the Board of Supervisors have approved the plan. A local group [SCORE] is fighting the move. A petition has been filed to force a referendum on the project. It asks for a smaller courthouse to be built next to the County Administration Building. At present financing of the project, approximately $4,100,000.00 or more, is not in place. To say it is tearing the County asunder would be an understatement.
As a 501-c-3 nonprofit organization, the Historical Society is non-political and must stay out of the
politics of the situation. Most local members expressing a position are against the plan, although a few are
for it. Unquestionable is the fact that improvements are necessary to bring our Courthouse up to acceptable
standards. If the original plan goes forward, The Society is preparing to be ready to save the three historic
buildings behind the Courthouse. They are:
This building was built circa 1840 and used until the Civil War as an Academy for teaching young
boys. During the Civil War it was used as headquarters for the Civil Guard and as a barracks by the Surry
Cavalry. Once used as a residence, it was purchased by the county in 1936. It was the Trial Justice Court
when Charlie Gray Rowell was Judge. Recently it has been used as an office building. It contains 672 sq.
feet in fairly good condition. Most historic. Most worthy of saving. Best use is as a county museum. Of frame
construction, it is not fireproof. It must be saved!
This building was built in 1907, along with the Courthouse that burned in 1922. Its construction is
unique. There are brick walls 12 inches thick or more. Originally only the small high arched windows were
there. Inside the brick walls are welded steel plate walls to better keep in the previous inhabitants. There
also are steel plates under the roof framing. Many old buildings have holes in the floor inside the door for a
bolt to lock the door. This building has them outside the door to keep the inhabitants in. Recently it served
as a Virginia Tech extension office and now as the Surry County Historical Society's office. This building of
784 sq. feet would continue to serve well as our office, using all of the building's five rooms. It could also
serve as the office for the Surry Tourism Bureau. It is nearly fire proof.
574 sq. feet. Not large enough to serve as our office by itself. Placed close to the Academy it would be excellent for a museum or small meeting house. A single handicap ramp could serve both buildings. Fair condition. It should be saved.
The Surry County Board of Supervisors has voted rather than demolish these three buildings to give them to the Society, and move them to our property if and when the expansion takes place.
The Society's Board of Directors have voted to prepare and work towards accepting and moving these buildings across Church Street to our 4.2 acre lot. Zoning is acceptable and the Town of Surry has given preliminary approval of our site plan. We are in contact with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, trying to move their designation as historical buildings to our site. Budgets are being prepared. Further approval by the Historical Society's Board of Directors will be necessary before any action can be taken on the move.
Consequently, the Society is in a very difficult situation. We are preparing to save these three
historic buildings, should it be necessary. So- we are waiting and planning, not knowing what will happen,
or when. There will be much more on this later. JEA
Web Page Address: http://www.rootsweb.com/~vaschsm/
Some of our members may not realize that The Society has a web site on the Internet. It provides a large audience with information and access to some of The Society's documents. The Society's first web site was put on the World Wide Web in July 1998. There were only a few pages in it then, announcing our existence and providing information about Surry County's early history. How it has grown since then!
Today our web site has over two hundred picture files and nearly two hundred pages, weighing in at a hefty 15.2 Megabytes of information. It is hosted, free of charge, on the servers at Rootsweb.com and is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to people all over the world. We get queries from some of them every week and have had more than 17,000 visitors since 1999, when our counter was installed. We have been able to help many people with their research and we continue to do so.
A surprising number of our members live outside Virginia. Many heard about us through the web site. We now have pages that provide specific guidance for the Surry researcher. They contain bibliographies, printed reference sources, lists of early Surry settlers, and links to Surry resources on the Internet.
The accompanying illustration [not shown in this on line version] shows the opening page of our web site. This is what you see after you type in the web page address given above. Our logo, created by The Society's first Vice President, Ken Holmes, appears in the upper left corner. The composite photo at the upper right side was created from our Lorena Leath slides.
The vertical bar on the left side of the main page contains a row of "buttons". Each of these buttons is a doorway into a group of pages with written information and pictures related to the subject on the button. You may have to scroll down in the bar to see all of the buttons. If you click on a button with your mouse, you will see a new page with information related to the button's name. Web pages can be much larger than paper pages, so remember to scroll down to see all of the information on a page.
The first button is HOME and clicking it brings you back to the starting page from anywhere on the web site. The first group of buttons under The Society take you to information about The Society, including whom to contact, how to search the web site for information, meeting dates and information, all of The Society's newsletters, and how to volunteer. The ABOUT US button, for instance, lists The Society's Officers and Directors, past and present.
The second group of buttons, under Projects, links to information about the Town of Claremont, documents transcribed by Dennis Hudgins, Lorena Leath's exquisite photographs, and the Rogers' Store Project. The Claremont section contains several maps, photographs, and historic documents. Dennis Hudgins's transcribed Surry documents are not available anywhere else. There are many photographs in these sections, including samples of Lorena Leath's award-winning color slides and many photos of Rogers' Store.
Buttons under the Surry group take you to information about Surry's Cemeteries, Churches, Courthouse, History Links, History Notes and native Plants. We have information and photographs representing five county cemeteries and Surry Courthouse. History Links and History Notes provide links to documents and maps. The 1919 U.S. Geological Survey Quadrangle, for example, shows topography, roads and buildings. You will find it on the History Links page under MAPS. There are also many links to other web sites that have Surry research information.
Last, but not least, is a SURRY TODAY button, which will take you to information about the county, its industries and businesses. Make a reservation for lunch or an overnight stay, buy a ham for your cousins, or visit one of the APVA's historic Surry properties.
On the main page, the WHAT'S NEW box gives a preview of new information with a link to the full details.
Just "Click HERE"! Other items on the main page contain links to still more pages.
Those pages contain even more links! The web site is like a large building with many hallways and doors.
Take the time to explore, and remember you can always come back to the main page by clicking the HOME
button. Our web address is given at the beginning of this article. Please visit us any time!
by James E. Atkins
Anyone from Surry County has probably heard the tales of moonshine, corn liquor, white lightning, shine and several other names given this money crop of past generations. All you have to see, to know this was a product made in Surry County over many centuries, is to look at the inventories of settlers' estates. Many detailed inventories of personal assets listed a still. In addition, a large number of plantations had extensive orchards, the fruits which often made brandy and other spirits. Ancient wine bottles are still being found around the oldest settlements of Surry County.
Most of these tales tell of the industry that emerged when prohibition became the law of the land on Sept. 8,1917 and Amendment 18, approved and effective Jan. 16, 1920. The Volstead Act, passed in 1919, completed the laws that stopped any legal sales of liquor, beer or wine. As a result of these laws many private, illegal stills and sales outlets emerged to supply the demand, which could not now be satisfied by legal manufacturers and sales outlets. Naturally, the government responded with Revenue Agents to stop this underground industry.
Finally, on December 5,1933, Amendment 21 repealed prohibition. It did not, however, stop this thriving business. The very fact that they paid no taxes gave them a big advantage over legal distilleries. Having the equipment and having escaped the authorities during prohibition, it had become a way of life.
This story consists of tales repeated, hearsay, and from unproven but believable, reliable sources. No names will be given of those involved or exact locations revealed. Some of the tales were heard during my youth, and others over the years continuing until recently. Some examples occurred outside of Surry County and are noted in the examples given.
I will start with a tale from Shingleton Plantation in Sussex County around 1919. Dad was coon hunting one night around the Blackwater Swamp. An old farm worker who lived there had an oil light on in the kitchen late that night. Dad looked in, and saw a very small copper still at work on the kitchen stove. Making himself known, he went in to observe the operation. The little still would only make a half gallon of moonshine in a run. When he finished, he fed the swill to the few hogs he raised, and disassembled the still and hid it in a hollow tree nearby. Dad now knew why he was asked to buy five or ten pounds of sugar fairly often.
My father worked from his teen years until he was 29 at a farm across the road from where his parents lived at Spring Hill. The owner never drank, but once, with a horrible cough, he asked my dad to get a bottle for medicinal purposes. After using it, he asked dad to put it on a shelf under the stairs. Several decades later, upon his death, Dad was appointed as one to evaluate the estate. Sitting where he had placed it was the jar, its top rusting out and obviously never touched from the time he put it on the shelf many decades past.
There was the tale of a farmer who was known to imbibe, but raids by the revenue agent never produced any evidence. Years later he told neighbors how he escaped being found. He painted the inside of quart jars with marbled paint, making it look like they had marmalade in them. They were stacked in his pantry along with all the other canned food. Let's hope he did not use lead based paint.
My father and I were at our millpond after sundown when I was a youth, and he motioned me to silence. We heard a slow repeated noise from across the pond, whroomp, whroomp, whroomp. Dad had heard the noise before. It was the sound of mash being stirred with a paddle in a wooden trough. Someone was preparing to make moonshine. We left, and Dad sent word to the probable owner that we were going to have to call the sheriff. In a few days we got the word back that there was no still anywhere near our pond. We never heard the noise again.
This neighbor, after a raid, was asked by another neighbor if he was out of business. He said no, he always kept an extra still hidden away. Most times, only under age kids were caught, and nothing happened except the still and inventory was lost. Once, a large amount of inventory was found in a smokehouse and confiscated. No one was caught.
Once, they caught the owner of the still, and there was a court case. His attorney, a prominent one from Surry County, asked two neighbors to testify as character witnesses. He told them he would ask them if they had ever bought any liquor from him. The truthful answer was no. He would ask if the defendant took good care of his family. The answer was yes. They were asked if he seemed a good citizen, the answer again was yes. The attorney said if the prosecuting attorney asked them if they had heard that he made or sold liqueur he would object, as it was hearsay. This was exactly the way the case went. Their testimony lasted less than five minutes. He was fined and released.
After leaving the court one witness said he was really relieved to be out of there. When asked why, he said he sure was glad they had not asked him if the defendant had ever given him any liquor.
Sheriff Elbert O. Cockes was one of Surry County's law officers who searched for stills. He was
known as the flying Sheriff. He owned a small Piper Cub airplane. He also had a complete set of 1948
aerial photographs of Surry County. Occasionally we would see his airplane, flying slowly, making circles
over and over in the neighborhood. Most likely he was trying to locate a still. He said that he could see the difference between growing bushes and those cut and put over a still to hide it. His set of aerial maps are
difference between growing bushes and those cut and put over a still to hide it. His set of aerial maps are
now owned by The Historical Society.
A former revenue agent told me that tracking the movement of grain was one method they used to find many stills. They would walk the roads and try to determine where the vehicles had left the road. In one case he knew they were making moonshine, but could not find where they took the grain. Years later he learned that the truck never left the road, only stopped and tossed the small bags of grain behind a bank of earth, to be picked up later and hand carried to the still. He also said that anyone who bought a lot of Mason Jars was suspect. They regularly checked retailers and wholesalers to see who were buying jars.
A certain unnamed relative liked moonshine. He bragged about his supplier. Said he only made small runs of the highest quality. He never sold to anyone except trusted friends. After making his arrangements he never met the supplier again when sales were made. At a certain place beside a dirt road there was a stump. When he wanted to make a purchase he would put rocks on the stump to indicate the number of quarts of moonshine he wanted. He would put the money in a bottle, hidden nearby. When the rocks and money were removed from the stump he knew where to look and get his moonshine. He said the arrangement was used for many years.
Once at a rural church one member, a revenue agent, accused members of another family of using and selling liquor. That caused every member from the large extended family to leave the church. Only the oldest member of the family, many years later, rejoined the church several years before his death. Looking through membership records of Surry churches, I suspect this happened more than once.
One family who was suspected of making moonshine, years later said that though suspected, they were never caught. He explained that the logical place for a still was in adjacent deep woods around a swamp Their still was across the road on a friendly neighbor's land in a small thicket nearly surrounded by , fields. They made sure there were always tracks in the deep woods, but none going to the still. The small still was hidden underneath branches covered with dead leaves and brush to match the ground cover. Apparently Sheriff Cockes never found it from the air.
Perhaps the best cover for a still was found in Waverly, Va. They finally found, apparently after years of use, a small still in an abandoned building in the edge of the town. They were using town water and the town sewer system to get rid of the swill. The smell was covered by hogs raised behind the warehouse. One Surry country store obviously sold liquor in the past. In the wall between the store and the storage room in back were three 6 inch holes in the wall about 18 inches above the floor. In my youth there was a rack in the storage room under the holes. Obviously the rack was designed to hold kegs of whisky, with the bung [spigot] being in the store. Lore tells us that when prohibition became effective, the kegs were hidden in the barn under the floor for special occasions.
I have the ledger book from another country store in Surry from 1880. Speaking to a local group some years ago, I stated that I knew which of their ancestors bought liqueur, and how much. It was sold by the gill, pint, quart, gallon and 5 gallon. After the meeting, the ledger book was very popular as attendees searched out their ancestors' purchases.
One citizen of Surry told me how he made some money in his youth. He delivered the Sunday Richmond Times Dispatch. Monday through Saturday they were delivered by the rural Post Office mailman. He also had a sideline. Certain customers would put money in the mailbox. He would take the money and leave as many quarts of whiskey under the newspaper as paid for.
There was a farmer in Surry who was known as liking his moonshine. His wife hated it and gave the temperance lessons at their local church. She controlled all the money, she thought. If she gave him a dollar to buy five pounds of sugar, she wanted the change. After his death, my father was one of three appointed to evaluate his estate. In a paper bag under the seat of his pickup were numerous bank books. He would obviously take an "extra hog" or "extra bag of peanuts" in his pickup to market and run it through the sale separately. Over the years he had accrued several accounts in different banks, totaling over a thousand dollars. He had never lacked money or moonshine to do whatever he wanted to do.
The end of this story took place over 20 years later. The son in law of this same farmer was tearing down an old abandoned barn. As he tore it down, he found on the floor sills, under the floor, a row of approximately 15 quart jars of moonshine. On most the top had rotted away, and the bottles were empty. He also had found several bottles in an old hollow tree that had fallen, close to his usual route to hunt or fish around the Blackwater Swamp. Although he never argued with his wife, he never was very far from plenty of money or corn liquor.
An ex-Surry man built a new home with a basement in Richmond sometime around 1938. He decided to brew beer in his basement. The first time he did not quite have the process right. He made the beer and put it in quart jars. The problem was that he capped the jars too soon, before the fermenting process was complete. After a time he heard an explosion. For several days he could not go in his basement. Just when he thought all had exploded, another one would blow. Years later, he took me in the basement and showed me the remaining shards of glass embedded in the ceiling and walls of the basement.
This same man told me of his WW I experiences in France. There they hauled wine to market in large wooden casks on small railroad cars. The soldiers would trim a small plug, shoot a hole in the bottom of the cask with their 45 Colt automatic, fill their helmet with wine and drive in the wooden plug. After all, they might want to come back another night. He said some of the casks had dozens of plugs in them.
He brought back to the USA a sixteen year old French wife. Her family lived close to the German border, and any excess money was sent to help her family recover from the war. This was repeated after WW II. During WW II, I remember visiting them. In the place of honor in their dining room was a bottle of French wine, supposedly the best. It was to be opened only when the Bosch had been driven out of France. For the rest of her life, if you said a kind word about the Germans, she would revert to the French tongue and I can only imagine the words she spit out. She did enjoy the wine.
My First Sargent in the Air Force related how he joined the Army Air Force in World War II. Living in northeastern North Carolina, his family had a wholesale business, supplying moonshine to customers in Portsmouth. His father had been caught, and further arrest could lead to jail time, so as a teenager he took over the delivery, hauling the inventory through the Dismal Swamp. Unfortunately, the law started chasing him one night, and he ran the car into the swamp. The law did not see him and he escaped, and after thumbing a ride ended up in Portsmouth Va. He found the military recruitment station. The Army Air Force would take him that day. He called his parents and told them where he had left the car and joined the Air Force.
Many decades ago I worked in Frederick, Maryland, for several months. We had a customer who lived in West Virginia and worked in the shipyard in Baltimore. He went home every weekend, and returned to work every Monday morning, filling up with gas both ways. He apparently had done this for years. He drove an old Pontiac.
I learned later that his second job was delivering moonshine to Baltimore. The car's gas tank really was filled with moonshine. A small hidden section held just a few gallons of gas. Every weekend he would take the car to a local gas station in West Virginia and they would fill both tanks. When he got to Baltimore he would take his car to a shop and leave it. They would drain the moonshine and fill the tank with water. He supposedly paid for his farm in West Virginia with his sideline.
This concludes my stories, all second or third handed I assure you, on moonshine. I am sure many
readers have similar stories on this Surry County industry. If our members and friends will supply me with
more stories, I will gladly write a sequel to this story. Pictures were supplied by Shirley Cockes. JEA
by James E. Atkins
I recently found a 1956 Economic Data report on Surry County. It includes data from various sources from 1950 to 1956. It may be of interest to see where we have come in the last half century. Population was 6220, down from 7,096 in 1930. 36.2 % were white, 63.8% were black. 99.2 percent were native to the county. Total school enrollment was 1,514 -- 1134 black and 380 white. There were 1,822 dwellings in Surry County in 1950. 20.2 percent had hot water and private toilet and bath. 4.1 percent had central heating. 49.8 percent had mechanical refrigeration. 58% owned their own home. Only .7 percent were vacant or for sale.
Real estate taxes were $2.00 per $100.00 of valuation. However, valuation was 28% of actual sales value, giving an actual tax rate of $0.56 per $100.00. All real estate in Surry County was valued at $3,568,770.00. Everything in Surry County was valued at $6,615,785.00. There were 678 farms covering 98,580 acres, 34,208 acres which was farmland. Over one half of the farms were under 100 acres, including woodland. Seven farms were over 1,000 acres in size. The value of all farm products sold in 1954 was $3,198,444.00
Per capita Income in 1953 was $905.00. Median income in 1949 was $1,250 with 70.8% making less than $2,000.00. The state average was 46.5 % making less than $2,000.00. 82.9 percent of males over 14 years old were employed, 13.7 percent of females over 14 were employed. [This does not mean females were not working] There were 1,086 employed persons, 59.6 % worked in Agriculture, Forestry or Fishery. 76 worked in professional services [including teachers]. 56 worked in all public administration [government]. Someone  worked in mining, probably marl clay.
There were no planning commissions in Surry County, and no zoning ordinances or subdivision regulations had been enacted. Build whatever and wherever you want. Incorporated towns were Claremont, population 374, Dendron, population 476 and Surry, population 248.
So...there have been monumental changes in 50 years, mostly for the good. More people make more
money, have better homes and more education. Still, Surry County remains as rural as it was 50 years ago.
Let's keep the best and improve the rest. JEA
The following petition was sent from Surry County to the State Of Virginia in 1850. To give some background on this petition, the following is just a synopsis of events. Jacob Faulcon, Clerk of Court in Surry County, owned Gray's Creek Plantation [Smiths Fort], 345 acres at his death in 1801. He died leaving no will, so this land went to his son Jacob Faulcon, who was incompetent, and administered by his brothers, Walter, then John and lastly William.
In 1835-36 it was sold through a Commissioners' sale, 354 acres to Nathaniel Land. In December 1839
he conveyed this land to his son, John N. Land, for love and affection and $1.00. DB 11, p. 82.
It appears that this land included The Tavern at Surry Courthouse. Please note the acreage has now dropped
to 485 acres. Did it include other land at the Courthouse? Much more research is needed.
To the General Assembly of Virginia
Your petitioners James A Temple Guardian of Mary E. Land and Jno. Robert Land infant Children of John N Land, James W Temple admon of John N Land decd. and C A Land Widow of said John N Land decd. Respectfully represent that the said John N Land departed this life sometime since intestate, your petitioner Temple has taken admon. on his Estate and has also qualified as the guardian of his infant children, aged seven and five years, your petitioners State that the said Land died seized and possessed of 485 acres of Land at Surry Co. He. including the Tavern and other buildings worth about the sum of $6000 and that many of the buildings attached to said property and which constitute its principal value will soon require thorough repair, that this intestate J N Land was possessed of fourteen slaves and other Chattel Estate worth about the sum of $5000, and that he the said Land is in debt on account of the purchase of said Tavern and furniture, about the sum of $4000. Your petitioner Gdn. as aforesaid &c further states that the debts of the said John N Land cannot be paid off and discharged without a sale of the slaves, and that the interest of his wards will be greatly benefited by a sale of the Real Estate of said J N Land decd, saving thereby to your petitioners, his infant children and widow the slaves of said intestate.
To that end your petitioners pray the passage of an Act of the General Assembly authorizing and
permitting the said James A Temple admon of John N Land to Sell the Tavern property at Surry Co He and
the lands thereto Attached to pay the debts due by his intestate of w[h]ich such restrictions as to the General
Assembly maybe [meet] and proper &c &c
Much publicity is being given the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1805-1806. These explorers, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson as the Corps of Discovery, were the first to explore the far west and finally arrived at the Pacific Ocean in November, 1805. The official kick off of the celebration of their travels was held at Monticello on Jan. 18, 2003.
Of interest is the fact that Nicholas Meriwether I purchased land in Surry County [Indian Springs] in 1666. Following his death in 1678 his widow married Lt. Col. Wm Brown of Four Mile Tree in Surry County. Col. Brown would rear the small children. The Meriwether Society toured Four Mile Tree several years ago with the assistance of the Surry County Historical Society, in their search for their past.
Descendants of Nicholas Meriwether I include Meriwether Lewis, who along with William Clark
led this 1805 - 1806 expedition to the Pacific Ocean. Once again, Surry roots spread afar.
The Society is pleased to offer two new books of Surry County History. Both have just been published.
Keep your membership up to date. Check the renewal date on your Newsletter mailing label. For example, 3-03 means you are paid up through March 2003.