Hometown Tuesday ~ Glassy Mountain, Greenville County, South Carolina

hometown tuesdayGlassy Mountain, located in Greenville County at the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains. It has an elevation of 2760 feet above sea level. It got the name from the water that flows down the large granite face of the mountain that often freezes. The icy rock face reflects the sunlight as if it were made of glass. Glassy Mountain is considered the “heart” of the Dark Corner of Greenville County. The mountainous region, originally populated by Cherokee Indians, was and is home to an independent and hardy collection of people.

Thousands of years ago, this was the domain of the Cherokees. As firstGlassy mtn river white hunters, then traders, and later settlers entered the area, interactions occurred between the two peoples. What began as mutually beneficial trade led to confrontations as the white people wanted more and more land and the Indians were willing to give up less and less of it.

Glassy MountainAs late as 1776, the Cherokees controlled most of the South Carolina Piedmont as a tribal hunting ground. But in the Treaty of DeWitt’s Corner that year, they ceded all but the northernmost parts of Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, and Greenville counties. The whites immediately moved into the newly gained territory and built fortifications. They erected a blockhouse near the modern town of Tryon, N.C., and built forts near the modern towns of Gowensville (Fort Gowens) and Duncan and Landrum (Fort Prince). These fortifications stood on the Cherokee boundary and approximated what is now the dividing line between the two counties.

After the Americans won their independence and established a government, they began to emphasize internal improvements. By 1820, the state of South Carolina had begun construction on a toll road from Charleston, S.C., to Asheville, N.C. The plan included a magnificently designed, stone-arched bridge, called the Poinsett Bridge, in the heart of the Dark Corner. The bridge still stands today, a short distance from Highway 414, although it is no longer used for traffic.
In the early 1830s, however, the attention of the people of South signCarolina was not on scenic parks. The Andrew Jackson administration imposed a higher tariff that was especially harmful to the primarily agricultural South. South Carolinian’s, led by Jackson’s own vice president, John C. Calhoun, led the opposition to the tariff. Despite those efforts, the tariff passed Congress and Jackson signed it into law. But the South Carolina legislature voted to nullify the law, essentially declaring that it did not apply in South Carolina.

Not everyone in South Carolina, however, favored nullification. Opposition to it was strong in the Upstate, especially in northern Greenville County. A government official sought to convince the people of the folly of opposing nullification. Standing in a wagon so that all could see and hear him, he waxed eloquent on the righteousness of standing against the national government on the issue. At some point in his speech, he hit a raw nerve, and some of his listeners overturned the wagon and spilled him unceremoniously in the dirt. Forced to end his speech, he dusted himself off, declaring that “the light of nullification will never come to this dark corner of the state.”

greenville-county-dark-corner-mapThe notoriety of the Dark Corner only increased during the Civil War. The residents of the area were divided over slavery; therefore, a constant struggle raged between Unionists and Confederates. The whole southern Appalachian range, including the Glassy Mountain area, became a haven for deserters and draft dodgers of both the Union and the Confederacy. It also once again became bloody ground as soldiers from both sides sought to capture the deserters, draft the dodgers, and punish their abettors. As enforcement of conscription laws tightened, resistance to them increased proportionally. And gangs of fugitives preyed upon the residents of the land for survival. In many instances, long-standing feuds were settled behind the convenient guise of civil war. In some instances, animosities continued beyond the war itself.

The area was also populated by fiercely independent Irish and Scottish immigrants who took a dim view of authority. Many grumbled about rich men buying their way out of the service. Many men joined the battle not for any political point of view, but because of a desire to defend their homes. One of the common expressions among the common soldiers was ‘rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.’ There was some bitterness in the fact that ordinary people were dragged into this, not because of any feeling about state’s rights or that they were defending anything except … defending their homes.

During the war and the economically sparse times of Reconstruction, stillthe mountain farmers had a hard time making a living. No matter how efficiently they produced corn and other grains, they could not survive on what little cash that crop produced. Corn sold for only about 50 cents a bushel. Farmers discovered, however, that if they used the grains to make alcohol—moonshine—they could make much more cash. A bushel of corn yielded about two and a half gallons of whiskey, and whiskey sold for about a dollar a gallon. A farmer operating a 50-gallon still could make 10 or 11 gallons of whiskey a day. The math was simple.

So moonshining became a common business enterprise in the rugged mountainous expanse. The problem was that the national government wanted to tax liquor. To make alcoholic beverages without paying a tax was illegal. But the mountaineers who ran the stills didn’t want to pay taxes. So a battle of wits and weapons erupted. The mountain people could trust no stranger; he might be a “revenoor.” Friends and family members of the moonshiners refused to help the government agents. If the residents suspected that a government agent was in the area, the moonshiners conveniently disappeared into the surrounding gaps and hollows. If agents discovered a still, they destroyed it. When the competing interests collided, shots were often exchanged. The conflict continued well into the 1960s. Some people say that it is still a problem today.

My 4th great-aunt, Celia Divine was born 1784, in South Carolina. She was the 2nd of 7 children born to Thomas Divine Jr. (1748-1840) and Jemima Dill (1755-1748). In 1813 she married John A. Butler (1773-1839) and they moved to Glassy Mountian, South Carolina. They had 6 sons and  6 daughters. John was a farmer but it is not known if he was one of local moonshiners. Celia died on  July 4, 1857, at her home in Glassy Mountain at the age of 73.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday’s Substitute ~ James Holland “Hol” Howard ~ Bootlegging

dark-corner-moonshiners-1My 3rd cousin 2 times removed, James Holland Howard was born on September 18, 1872, in Glassy Mountain, Greenville County, South Carolina. He was the last of 8 children born to Wade D. Howard (1839-1905) and Narcissa Center (1842-1905). Their ancestors had lived in this part of the Blue Ridge Mountain range for over 150 years.

James became a farmer at 18-years-old when his father gave him a large piece of land. He married Margaret Elizabeth Moon (1876-1957) in January 1894. Over the next 24 years, they had 12 children, 8 sons, and 4 daughters. His family had a history of involvement in moonshining and had several confrontations with the law. Hatred of the “law” was greatest in Dark Corner (the name given this moonshining area) after 1892 when the South Carolina Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Benjamin R. Tillman passed a law creating the State Dispensary. Many individuals and even entire towns openly defied the law. This was an era known as the “Prohibition Years”, when an amendment had been added to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and transportation or consumption of alcoholic beverages, except in the exercise of religious rites.

James, or “Hol” as he was called, was  a representative of the “new State Constable Badgeorder” and he was opposed to the moonshining activity of the “old order.” He was so convinced that moonshining was the “curse of the mountains” that he became a State Constable “serving without pay” (the Greenville News described him as a Special State Constable.) Hol worked for some time as a Deputized Constable and was well known and highly regarded by the law enforcement authorities in Greenville. However, he was hated as a traitor by the moonshiners.

greenville-county-dark-corner-mapOn January 31, 1924, Hol participated in a raid on an illicit whiskey distillery beside the headwaters of the South Pacolet River at the base of Hogback Mountain. The site, five miles from the nearest homestead, has been described as a cove between Hogback Mountain and Chestnut Ridge. It is said to be one of the loneliest spots in Dark Corner. As the raiding party walked up the cove toward the suspected still site, they met two brothers, W. P. and Alexander Plumley, both around 20 years old, coming from the direction of the still. The experienced officers could tell by the condition of the brothers’ clothing they had been working at a still. They searched the two and found a .32 caliber pistol on one of them. The two Plumley’s were placed under arrest and incarcerated in a small log corn crib about a half-mile below the still site. After securing the two prisoners, Constable Hol proceeded toward the still site along with Reuben Gosnell who was a Governor’s Constable with 19 years experience.

When Gosnell and Constable Hol came very close to the still, Gosnell crept stealthily around to the head of the cove to cut off any escape in that direction while Howard prepared to run into the still area and flush the moonshiners out into the open. After Hol made his dash, Gosnell heard cursing and several shots fired. He then saw two men run from the still, one going west and one going east. He ran after the man going west and after a 400-yard chase, caught Holland Pittman, who tried to draw a loaded .45 caliber gun. Gosnell returned to the distillery and found Hol dead, his pistol lying within two feet of him. He was found in a kneeling position, shot through the stomach by five bullets. One bullet entered in the front and the others from the rear. Holland Pittman was placed in Greenville County jail, and Alexander Pittman, the father of Holland Pittman, learned he was wanted by the law, surrendered himself in Greenville. Both father and son were charged with murder.

The murder of Constable Hol Howard had a great impact on the law-abiding residents of the Dark Corner. On February 13, 1930, men from the Pleasant Hill, Highland, and Mt. Lebanon communities organized the Pleasant Hill Law and Order League “to aid State and County Officers in a general cleanup of lawlessness said to be prevalent” in the Dark Corner. Rev. R. L. Barton, principal of Pleasant Hill School was elected President of the organization.

The killing of Constable Howard was said to be largely responsible forJames Holland Howard newspaper clipping the new spirit of the local law enforcement. This new spirit was expressed at a meeting by speeches given by J. A. Howard, a son of the slain Hol, who was a Ministerial student at Furman University, Deputy Sheriff F. L. Ballenger and P. H. Jones, Holton Morrow, J. L. Hawkins, J. Farnham, and T. W. Forrester. In the speeches at the organization meeting, the prevalence of lawlessness and the necessity of quelling it was duly emphasized and the citizens called upon Juries to be less lenient with law-breakers. They asked the Judges to impose sentences on chain gangs and in the penitentiary instead of just giving out fines. The communities in which each leader lived should gather and place evidence of lawlessness in the hands of the President of the League, who would see that warrants were issued for alleged law-breakers. Gov. McLeod would be petitioned by the League to place at least two special State Constables on duty in the Highland and Glassy Mountain Townships sector of the County for a period of at least three months while the League members pledged themselves to act as special Deputies at all times. They also pledged to aid State and County Officers in the two Townships. James Holland Howard’s death was the catalyst that started the clean-up of moonshining in the Glassy Mountain community.

James Holland Howard’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Monument at Judiciary Square, on E. Street (between 4th and 5th Streets, N. W.) in Washington, D.C.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.