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Moonshiners & Rum Runners

Florida played a major role in the illegal import of alcoholic beverages during Prohibition.

Revenuers surround a captured moonshine still in Saint Johns County.

Revenuers surround a captured moonshine still in Saint Johns County.

The era of Prohibition created interesting times for Florida and Indian River County. Passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919 made the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal. Before that the temperance movement, which dates back to Revolutionary times, discouraged the consumption of alcohol; and by the turn of the 20th century, religious folk in the South grasped the movement as, well, gospel. 

Of course, not everyone felt that temperance was a virtue worth pursuing; and when Prohibition became the law of the land, many were still determined to enjoy a cocktail no matter what. So a new industry exploded to supply the demand for illegal liquor. It included moonshiners, who made whiskey, often of dubious quality; and rum runners, who brought liquor of much better quality across a border or ashore along with ruthless gangs and organized crime.

Florida played a major role in the illicit liquor trade. The state’s 1,400 miles of coastline made it easy to not only import liquor from the Bahamas, the best of which originated in England, but also to import the core ingredients – most notably sugar – from the Caribbean to make moonshine. 

Rum runners anchored their boats within the three-mile limit from Florida’s shore to avoid the patrolling Coast Guard. There they waited for smaller, faster boats to retrieve the booty. Later the U.S. Government instituted a 12-mile limit in the attempt to stymie the action. But they could not halt it.