A play written by Danny Martin and based on the region’s long moonshining history was performed this summer at Fairy Stone State Park’s Amphitheater.
Martin, author and park ranger, said the play was based on a paper he wrote while pursuing a master’s degree.
“I had to take an English class, and the class that I took was called ‘The History of the English Language.’ My professor was a folklore enthusiast, and anything to do with local cultures and things like moonshining, he was very interested in,” he said.
For a class project, Martin said he decided to do a paper and presentation on the words and terms used by moonshiners.
“They did have somewhat of a vocabulary of their own. A lot of the different names for the parts of the process and their equipment and so forth,” he said.
At the time, Martin also was teaching at Patrick County High School and worked as a park ranger.
“I had walked quite a bit of the land on Fairy Stone State (Park) property, and I would see the remnants of these old moonshine stills, and some of them are still actually observable today,” he said.
Over a two-week period, Martin estimated he walked between 50-100 miles looking for old moonshine still sites and photographing them.
While there, Martin said park personnel decided to turn his paper into a play, with park personnel playing the characters in the initial performances of 1975.
“It was based a lot on local culture, a lot of the stories that had been handed down and pretty loosely based on incidents that did occur in the area,” he said.
Martin said his love of history and the large part moonshining played in mountain culture were other reasons he wanted to create the play.
“I wanted to show the evolution of the process and how it was once a necessity to survive, and how it later became more driven by greed in a lot of circumstances,” he said.
Martin said the early moonshiners were primarily of Scotch-Irish descent, who settled much in the Appalachian Mountains.
“They took a lot of pride in their manufacturing process, and they used it like cash. They would barter for things like sugar, gun powder, cloth, and different condiments that they needed for survival that they didn’t grow on their own,” he said.
He said things changed for the moonshiners in 1791 with the adoption of Alexander Hamilton’s “whisky excise tax,” which lowered “the amount of profits the old moonshiners made off of their product. So, as a result they chose to keep making it without paying the tax,” he said.
Martin said the moonshiners chose to primarily make their product at night by the light of the moon, which is where the term “moonshine” comes from. He added those from the government that were tasked with looking for illegal whisky operations were called ‘revenuers.’
Martin said Patrick County has a tremendous moonshining history. Some is documented and some is contained in oral reports, stories that are told and retold as they are passed down through generations, and changed as time went on.
“I kind of wanted to document some of the local things that happened around the Fairy Stone area and use this play to do that and inspire people to do some learning on their own,” he said.
Martin said the play includes a narrative that describes the history and evolution of moonshine activities in the area from the time of the Scotch-Irish settlers up until the present era.
“It’s based on, loosely, on events that did occur back in the early 1930s in the Fairy Stone area,” he said.
The narrative is interrupted four times by short skits – a fictional family, called the Crawly family that is comprised of Pa Crawly, Ma Crawly, daughter Daisey Mae, and brother Billy Bob, Martin said.
In one scene, a boy is going to a still site to buy whisky, Martin said.
“He was refused the whisky and as a result he ended up reporting the still because he was run off from the still site,” he said, adding that scenario somewhat parallels a real-life event.
Between the two plays held this year, Martin estimated about 200 people came out to watch the performances, and there are plans to schedule more shows next year.