Episode 66 King of the Moonshiners

In 1957 federal authorities seized what was estimated to be a 5th of national supply of moonshine from operators in the state of North Carolina. A majority of that supply was connected to the King of the Moonshiners, Percy Flowers

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The King of the Moonshiners, that was the label the Saturday Evening Post bestowed on Percy Flowers when he was featured in the magazine in August 1958. Now Percy’s not the only moonshiner who has been named king of them all but his particular skill sets lent credence to the title. He operated successful businesses and helped the poor in his hometown in Johnston County North Carolina, and eluded the law for decades. Skills that made him a legend.  

These days, moonshine isn’t illegal to purchase. In fact you’ll see billboards for it and can even buy some in mason jars in department stores. Most moonshine you can buy in the store is not the real stuff. The “white lightning”, “swamp root” and “hillbilly pop” that was produced decades ago. Not the stuff that was run all up and down the east coast by Percy Flowers. 

Percy with one of his famous fox hounds

Johnston county North Carolina considers Flowers one of their two claims to fame. First was Ava Gardner who spent her youth there and would leave for Hollywood in her teens. Second is the man locals still refer to as Mr. Percy.

Flowers was born in the county in 1903, one of nine children who grew up on farmland that was known as the Flowers Plantation. He quit school when he was in seventh grade but his limited education didn’t keep him from earning a living and creating quite a remarkable life for himself, his family and his community. 

The old flowers plantation acreage is now known as a growing and thriving neighborhood in Clayton, North Carolina that features beautiful homes and the Doc Watson Inn

In the mid 1700s a Charleston, South Carolina native John Watson and his wife Elizabeth, purchased thousands of acres known as Pineville Plantation.  John’s son, Dr. Josiah Watson, served as a surgeon in the War of 1812 and became a respected North Carolina statesman in the 1820s. Doc Watson inherited his father’s land and operated the farm and home place until he passed the place on to his nephew. In 1905 the farm was purchased by Joshua and Mamie Flowers.  

At the time their family moved to the property that became the Flowers Plantation, Percy was two years old.  By the time Percy was 16, he had left the family and began to explore different money making ventures in pursuit of that one thing that would make him wealthy enough to begin purchasing land. 

Moonshine bust in North Carolina, 1951. Photo: NC Depart of Archives

Percy began buying farmland in Johnson County in the 1930s. Land where he would grow cotton, tobacco and corn and eventually rented out farmland for additional income. By the 1960s, Percy had purchased more than 4,000 acres in the County. 

Early on, outsiders questioned where that money was coming from. But his family and close friends knew. Percy Flowers was slowly but surely becoming the king of the moonshiners.

Episode Sources

White Liquor and White Lies’ details county’s history of Moonshining. Johnston County North Carolina.
Tar Heel Lightnin’: How Secret Stills and Fast Cars Made North Carolina the …
By Daniel S. Pierce. Google Books.
Moonshine. NCpedia. June 2006
The Sun Don’t Shine On A Moonshine Still. The Airship.
Legendary Percy Flowers. NC Department Natural and Cultural Resources. 2 August 2014.
The Flowers Story. Flowers Plantation
The Man Behind The Legend. Flowers Family


Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Pantherburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use.

Additional Music

“Blue Creek Trail” by Dan Lebowitz; “Angeline the Baker” by Nat Keefe and the Bow Ties; “Drankin Song”, “Relaxing Piano”and “Journey of Hope” by Kevin McLeod; “Wandering” by Lee Rosevere; “Loneliest Road in America” by Jesse Gallager; “I Am A Man Who Will Fight” by Chris Zabriske. All music licensed under Creative Commons

Categories: folklore, history, legends, north carolina, podcasts

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