Tag Archives: Prohibition

- Dry Voters, Wet Drinkers: The Anniversary of Virginia’s Prohibition

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the first day of Virginia’s state-wide prohibition. To see more about the build-up to the referendum that dried up Virginia, see yesterday’s blog post.

The drys won out on 22 September 1914. The Temperance cause heralded this as a “mighty victory.” And indeed, state-wide prohibition won out by almost 60% of the vote, with 94,251 votes in favor and 63,086 opposed. Interestingly, the total voter turnout of 158,000 was significantly higher than the total for the 1912 Presidential election, which had a turnout of 136,900. Out of 100 counties, 71 voted dry, as well as every city except for Alexandria, Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Richmond.

State-wide prohibition went into effect on 1 November 1916, heralded by church rallies where parishioners rang bells and shouted out “Hallelujah!” at midnight. Despite the new law, alcohol didn’t completely disappear from the Commonwealth. Of the six major breweries in Virginia at the time, only one—Portner’s of Alexandria—closed down immediately. Brewers and distillers were temporarily allowed to remain in business as long as they sold their products out of state. Several breweries attempted to establish themselves as sellers of soda or other non-alcoholic beverages, with limited success. In contrast, the Garret and Company winery, located near Norfolk since 1903, immediately closed down operations and relocated to New York and California.

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- Settling the Liquor Question: The 1914 Referendum and Prohibition in Virginia

Talk about spooky! Although the 18th Amendment didn’t institute nation-wide prohibition in the U.S. until January 1920, Virginia banned alcohol at the stroke of midnight on Halloween in 1916. Virginia went dry as the result of a 1914 state-wide referendum, setting off a legislative process that culminated in the passage of the Mapp Law, which went into effect on 1 November 1916, forbidding Virginians from producing or selling—but not consuming—alcoholic beverages.

Though alcoholic consumption was commonplace in Virginia during its earliest days—especially since it was often safer than the water!—as the 19th century progressed, more and more segments of the population began to speak out against the evils of alcohol and overindulgence. The rise of the Temperance movement brought men and women alike to advocate personal policies of temperance or abstinence. Organizations like the Sons of Temperance, the Anti-Saloon League, or the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), which opened its first Virginia chapter in 1882, sought to fill their membership rosters.

Early temperance organizations in the South initially had a hard time recruiting due to their association with abolitionist movements and the ‘northern invaders’ of the Civil War. Ongoing fears of African-American voters and their potential political power birthed fears of third parties and single-issue voters who could divide support for the existing parties that propped up white supremacy. In Virginia, the problem … read more »

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- “How Dry I Am!” – The Virginia Prohibition Commission Records

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in The Delimiter,  the Library’s in-house on-line newsletter.  It has been shortened and edited slightly.


Black-and-white photograph of policeman standing alongside wrecked car and cases of moonshine liquor. Courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.

This week Out of the Box would like to spotlight the records of the Virginia Prohibition Commission, 1916-1934 (Accession 42740).  The collection contains 203 boxes of paper and two volumes spanning nearly 20 years.  The records provide valuable insight into enforcement of Prohibition laws in Virginia, as well as a glimpse into significant societal changes occurring at that time.  Yet, this valuable resource was nearly lost to generations of researchers. In 1938, a bill was submitted to the House of Delegates seeking to destroy the records; however, the editors of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and citizens of the community strongly protested that these records should be preserved. A bill was eventually passed transferring custody of the records of the Prohibition Commission to the State Librarian “to preserve such of the records and papers as he may be of the opinion should be preserved for historical or other interest.”   The Library of Virginia processed this collection in 2010.

The Virginia Prohibition Commission was created in 1916 by an act of the General Assembly to enforce the Virginia Prohibition Act, which went into effect on 1 November 1916.  This law did not restrict individuals’ ability to manufacture alcoholic beverages, or “ardent spirits,” for their own … read more »

- Lawless!

On 29 August, the movie Lawless, starring Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, and Jessica Chastain, opens around the country. Based on the bestselling novel The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, the film tells the story of the infamous Bondurant Brothers – bootlegging siblings who made a run for the American Dream in Prohibition-era Franklin County, Virginia, reputed to be the “Moonshine Capital of the World.” Much of the film’s action centers around moonshiners paying “protection money” to corrupt local authorities to guarantee their loads of moonshine would be safe in the county. The Bondurant brothers refused to cooperate and ended up paying the consequences.

Part fiction, part family history, the movie Lawless tells the story of the Franklin County bootleggers, but what about the automobiles used to run their moonshine? Their stories can be found at the Library of Virginia in the Franklin County Determined Papers and Franklin County Common Law Papers. Automobiles used by bootleggers were seized by law officers when bootleggers were arrested and reported to the local Commonwealth’s Attorney who would file a criminal charge in the name of the Commonwealth against the automobile, e.g., “Commonwealth vs. REO Roadster Automobile.” These documents record the date of seizure, type and make of automobile, license number, engine number, and reason for seizure. The automobile would then be condemned and sold … read more »

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