In 1958, The Saturday Evening Post introduced the nation to Percy Flowers: “The state producing the heaviest flow of bootleg booze is North Carolina, where in 1957 Alcohol and Tobacco Tax seizures exceeded 42,000 gallons, almost a fifth of the national total, and for years North Carolina’s number one bootlegger has been J. Percy Flowers, of Wilders Township, in Johnston County, near Raleigh, intimate of politicians, philanthropist, and pillar of the White Oak Baptist Church.”
At the time of the Post profile, it’s estimated that Flowers was earning $1 million every year in untaxed revenue from the sale of white liquor. He had managed to elude 10 federal and 18 state or county indictments variously charging him with bootlegging, income and liquor tax evasion, reckless driving and unlawful purchase of a pistol. Only one federal charge stuck, and that was largely because Flowers threatened a government informant in open court.
As time has passed, his legend has grown, especially around his native Johnston County. While filming a short documentary about Flowers, Mr. Percy’s Run, I heard many a grand tale, including one about a submarine distillery located under a pond near the center of his empire, the crossroads of N.C. Highway 42 and Buffalo Road. Ironically, a state ABC Store that carries his name is located there.
Other than published reports of his many court appearances, there’s little record of his exploits and few people who would dare to share firsthand accounts of Percy’s moonshine operation. However, his domination of the sport of fox hunting is well documented, and many fox hounds today carry his hounds’ bloodline. During his reign over the backcountry version of the sportthere were no red riding jackets or fancy horsesa special rule was created to curtail Percy’s winning streak. It was called cunning running, and it penalized a quick-footed hound for seeing and running ahead of the fox.
You can watch Mr. Percy’s Run, which covers Percy’s pursuits of moonshine and fox hunting to reveal a picture of the man apart from the legend, above and at D.L. Anderson’s website.
Moonshine: a selected bibliography
Kick back and read up on illicit liquor while your hooch boils away in the still.
- Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World by Charles D. Thompson Jr. (University of Illinois Press)
Thompson is a lecturer in cultural anthropology and director of the undergraduate program at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
- “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson” by Tom Wolfe, published in Esquire magazine, March 1965
“Ten o’clock Sunday morning in the hills of North Carolina,” begins the story that launched Wolfe’s career, a piece about convicted whiskey runner Junior Johnson, who later became one of America’s most famous and idolized stock-car drivers.
- Moonshine: A Life in Pursuit of White Liquor by Alec Wilkinson (Knopf)
This is now out-of-print, but look for it in used bookstores, at libraries or online. This book focuses on the true story of a revenue agent, Garland Bunting, who successfully sniffs out moonshiners in Halifax County, N.C.
- “Moonshining as a Fine Art,” published in The Foxfire Book (Anchor/ Random House)
- Find recipes and more information at moonshineheritage.com