A Georgia blockader (moonshiner) told former attorney general Amos Akerman “he’d like to know what his grandfather ‘fit’ in the Revolution for if he was not to be allowed to make a little corn whiskey.” – Revenuers & Moonshiners, Wilbur R. Miller1
At the end of the Civil War, one of the many problems facing Congress was deciding how to pay for the war. It is no surprise that they turned to levying taxes: and equally unsurprising, the taxes were not popular.
Federal excise taxes were levied on a range of commodities and personal property. In 1865 and 1866 Mary Poole (second great grandmother), Elihu Poole (first cousin three times removed), Martin B. Poole (great granduncle), and Berry P. Poole (putative first cousin three times removed) were assessed tax on their buggies. In addition, Martin B. was taxed for a watch. And in 1865, great grandfather G. B. Poole, occupation “distiller”, was assessed $9.34 tax. 2
Alcohol production had been a family activity for a time. The 1837 Probate accounts for George B.’s grandfather, Seth Petty Pool, itemized one still and casks. The brandy they contained was valued at 75¢ per gallon, the lot valued at $10.3 And a cask of beer was part of his father Berry Pool’s estate.4 But George B. Pool was involved with alcohol perhaps more than any family member before or since.
George was a member of the Upper Duncan’s Creek Baptist church (now Langston Baptist church) and distilling was not compatible with church discipline. The minutes of the 7 July 1866 church meeting includes the following:
“… 3rd Took up the case of Bro George Pool. Being accused of being implicated in a dishonest matter of dealing. [And] of running a still to Spartanburg and exchanging it for another, said still belonging to Mrs. Pitts. It was resolved. Whereas George Pool being accused of the above stated charge and being duly cited to the church to give satisfaction and refused to do so, that his fellowship be put to the church which was done, and was excluded from our church by unanimous voice. “ 5
George’s troubles with distilling continued. In 1877, a Federal Indictment was bought against him for “Carrying on the Business of a retail Liquor Dealer without having paid the special tax”. However, the indictment was later annotated: “Offer of compromise accepted & complied with & so … Aug21/77 Discontinued”.6
The September 23, 1885 issue of the Laurens Advertiser reported:
Last week while Mr. George B. Pool was sealing a keg of whiskey, on the premises of Martin B. Pool., in this County, the burning wax caused it to explode and injured him severely. He was blown some ten or twelve feet and also severely burned, but is now out of danger and will probably be up in a short time.
In February 1887, at the Laurens Court of General Sessions, the case of “The State vs. Geo. B. Pool Selling Liquor without a License” was heard.7 The Laurens Advertiser reported on March 2, 1887 that the session was “long and tedious and resulted in sending a strong delegation to the penitentiary”, and among the cases reported was “George Pool- Selling liquor without a license, Guilty.”
George seemed to make his peace with the authorities after the court case. On September 1, 1887, Laurens of 1887, A Review of Our Business Firms included the listing:
“Geo. B. Pool who is engaged in selling wines, liquors, cigars, tobacco, etc. He opened out in January ’87.”
And apparently the business prospered. The Laurens Advertiser of November 30, 1887 reported that:
Mr. George B. Pool has purchased the site of his old saloon and erected a new building. The old house was pulled down on Monday and on Saturday he was conveniently quartered in his new saloon.
The excise taxes on buggies and watches eventually went away, but the liquor and tobacco taxes persisted, surviving the demise of Reconstruction. Both Democrats and Republicans decried the taxes when the other party controlled Congress, but conveniently forgot their criticism when power shifted, and this legacy of the Civil War survives to this day.
An excellent reference on the subject is Revenuers & Moonshiners Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865- 1900, Wilbur R. Miller, The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
1. Revenuers & Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865- 1900, Wilbur R. Miller, The University of North Carolina Press, 1991; p. 41.
2. Duplicate film: Ancestry.com. U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original film is: Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for South Carolina, 1864-1866; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M789, 2 rolls); Records of the Internal Revenue Service, Record Group 58; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
3. Laurens County Probate Court, “Laurens County Ordinary/Probate Judge Index to Estate Papers 1800-1939” Box 58 Pkg 4.
4. Box 104, Pkg. 19 Laurens County Probate Court, 1848. Allen Pool Executor.
5. Langston Baptist Church Record Book, privately held; my transcription.
6. US District Court of South Carolina, Greenville Court, Case 1732, 10 August 1876.
7. Laurens County Clerk of Court (General Sessions) General Sessions Journal 1800-1810 1810-1824 1825-1840; February term, 1887. Microfilm at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.