Documenting Appalachia

Moonshine Collection


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About the Moonshine Collection

Moonshining in Burke County:
The Career of N.C. ABC Officer Fred Hennessee, 1960 - 1989

Fred Hennessee was born in Morganton on March 9, 1926. He attended Morganton High School, but never graduated. He joined the Navy at age 17, and served in the Pacific in WWII. After returning home Hennessee operated a grocery store at Lake James and owned a service station. During this time he married Mary Louise Rose and had two daughters.

In 1961 Hennessee began his law enforcement career as a Morganton city police officer. Later, he joined the Burke County sheriff's department, rising to deputy sheriff. In 1968 he became an officer for the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, where he worked for the next 20 years. During those years as an agent, he spent most of his time hunting, seizing, and destroying illegal stills. It was very involved work, often requiring that he and his fellow officers spend hours looking for stills after a tip off. They would frequently go undercover, lying in wooded areas for long periods of time watching the stills, gathering proof of their operating status and ownership. Hennessee was quite the character, often being greeted at suspects' homes by curious children and referring to himself as "Uncle Fred" so they would not know he was with the ABC. His personal index records indicate 153 seized and destroyed stills during his career.

Some other aspects of Hennessee's career involved doing undercover work for neighboring counties, working with ABC stores to protect bank deposits, and liquor license enforcement on local night clubs. The latter often involved not taking a shower for several days and washing his mouth out with whiskey to be a believable customer.

Towards the end of Hennessee's career, his work as an ABC officer began to change with the growing presence of other controlled substances such as marijuana. The marijuana fields were often full of trip wires and traps to harm officials. Hennessee cited this change as contributing to his decision to retire in 1988. He felt moonshiners were most often the kind of people you could sit down and have dinner with, men just trying to make ends meet. The people involved in the sale of drugs were the true criminals.

After retirement, Hennessee continued to participate in the Burke County Law Enforcement Officers Association. In August 1988 he received the Long Leaf Pine Award. This is the highest civilian honor for service in North Carolina given by the governor.

Hennessee passed away on March 27, 1997. The scrapbook collection was created by Fred and passed on to his daughters after his death. The collection's condition was fair upon its delivery. Much of the biographical information about Hennessee's life and career was provided by his daughters and brothers as well as the Sheriff John McDevitt.

The Moonshine Collection content is either directly connected or related to the career of Fred Hennessee as an ABC officer in Burke County, NC. The majority of the items were assembled by Hennessee. It appears nearly all of the photographs were taken by a Morganton News Herald employee and given to Hennessee. Some of the original photos were stamped as taken by local Morganton photographer, Andy Hern, under his employment with the News Herald.

The collection covers the years 1960-1989; the bulk of the material spans 1967-1989. One can get a sense of what Hennessee's career involved and also an idea of what being an ABC officer during this era might have been like.

The collection consists only of reproductions of the originals. The original items were returned to Fred Hennessee's daughter. The collection contains digital scans on CDs and printouts of the scans of the scrapbook photos, loose photographs, publications and ephemera containing moonshine information and warnings. There are also photocopies of newspaper articles and index cards of illegal still and alcohol finds. The hardcopies of the materials are housed in a legal size flip-top Hollinger box and filed in folders and the CDs are housed in separate CD boxes. For the sake of brevity, the list of individual photographs and scrapbook pages is located under Series I: Photographs in this finding aid. Each photograph/scrapbook page title contains a note at the end that indicates where the digital scan is located on the CDs.