January 2, 2021
Chocowinity Creek runs from Sidney Creek roughly parallel to the Norfolk-Southern Railroad tracks until it empties into the head of Chocowinity Bay, North Carolina. There are a few houses, a few old piers. Mostly the residents are blue heron, osprey, and wood ducks but in 1819 it was the site of a whiskey distillery.
North Carolina has a history of local liquor distilleries rooted in colonial times. It was one of the few ways a small farmer could earn cash and far more profitable than the corn raised to make corn liquor. There was no stigma attached, even Baptist ministers drank corn whiskey, and it wasn’t generally illegal until the Federal excise tax on liquor was enforced after the Civil War.
On 2 January 1819, William Blackledge advertised in the Newbern [sic] Sentinel the sale of a whiskey distillery on Chocowinity Creek. Two patent copper stills of 130 gallons each, pewter worms (the coiled pipe from the top of the still), and a copper boiler of about 160 gallons. Water was pumped directly from the creek to the still house.
Blackledge was a friend of John Gray Blount, arguably the most influential merchant in eastern North Carolina. He was a state senator and a councilor of state elected by the General Assembly every year from 1814 to 1827. A substantial man, a respectable man, and a whiskey distiller.
Distilling didn’t become moonshining until after the Civil War; even then, only if the Federal excise tax went unpaid. Since the onerous tax was imposed by the Federal government on the defeated Southern states, moonshining became an overtly political act. It was even called blockade liquor at the time, reminiscent of those who ran the blockade of Southern ports by the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.