Glassy 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 first 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.
As 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 Carolina 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.”
The 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, the 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.