Thoughts That Hurt to Think #114 – George Washington Made Moonshine!

A lot of guys have a particular idea in their minds, a somewhat specific image of what it is to be a man. Part of that picture for me is someone who is always growing, and working on being more adaptable to the world around them. That might sound like a moving target, making it less of a goal and more of a constant state of becoming; and I suppose it is. As long as I keep learning more and doing more, I’m okay with that.

I’ve talked before about how I tried to get good at personal vehicle repair, only to turn that whole process over to certified professionals as cars became more complicated; but I haven’t gone much into some of the other things I’ve deliberately learned in my quest to become someone who is always becoming more than before. New items appear on that list every year, along with more check marks next to new or old ones. At some point I realized as long as both those things keep happening, I’ll always have a pretty good indicator of just how happy I am to continually engage life on its own terms.

Several years ago, my lovely wife and I got pretty serious about gardening. Most of the food we ate for a while came from our efforts, and we were able to keep it up year round due to the weather where we lived at the time. Then we moved to a place with less ideal growing conditions, and shifted our collective focus to other things we had never done before; but the knowledge and experience we gained from gardening doesn’t go away in the seasons where we don’t grow anything. It stays with us forever, and remains an interest we can get back into and learn more about in the future.

Some of these interests, like gardening, used to be a normal part of everyday life for just about everyone. Others are almost as new to the world as they are to me, and may seem more important in the context of modern life. People a hundred years ago would have been baffled trying to figure out a mobile device like the ones most of us carry, while nearly everyone back then could patch their clothes and make a decent meal from scratch. Common knowledge used to be a lot more common; when specializing became the modern way, the stuff everyone once knew stopped being so important for everyone to know.

As things get more complicated, it gets harder and harder to define what a well rounded individual should and shouldn’t know. This was not such a big problem when this country was first founded. All you had to do was look at what you needed to live your life the way you wanted, and learn all the skills that would make you mostly independent from the rest of society. The more you knew back then, the more you could do for yourself. Independent people could build their whole lives with little or no help from others, and it was both much more common and much more possible for folks to do what they wanted to on their own.

When you needed a place to live, in early America, you could find a plot of land no one else was inhabiting and stake your claim. Some folks bought property, but a lot of them just found a good spot and started living there. They dug a hole for the outhouse, cut down some nearby trees and started throwing up structures. These were not easy tasks, to be sure; yet in many ways they were much more possible than they are today. You can’t cut down trees on your own property in a lot of places without permission from someone, and you can’t build anywhere without spending a whole lot of time and money getting approval from a whole bunch of people.

And good luck putting up an outhouse legally.

Building codes are all well and good, but part of the reason they became necessary is because the stuff most people used to know is no longer common knowledge. Nowadays a much smaller portion of the population knows how to erect a log cabin; the people doing it are specialists, and they build one home after another for people who can’t do it themselves. This results in some pretty awesome skills, and a whole new level of homes; you really can’t argue with the fact that nearly anyone who does anything over and over will do it better than the person trying it for the first time. However, you also end up with a vast majority of the population who couldn’t throw up a decent shed if they had to; we have definitely gained a lot with specialization, but we’ve lost something along the way as well.

From this perspective, it doesn’t really seem shocking that the first elected president made moonshine. George Washington knew a little something about everything there was to know back then, from building to gardening to hunting. He probably knew how to saddle a horse and repair a wagon wheel, just like a lot of folks did; and at the end of a long day of difficult tasks such as these, he was probably good and ready to get a decent buzz on. It only makes sense that he would figure out how to make his own booze, so he could sit and sip it while eating food from his garden in the house he built with his own two hands.

In all honesty, it wasn’t even called moonshine back then. A lot of people made their own beer and wine and whiskey; like building your own home and feeding your family from your own garden, it was simply another skill many learned to fulfill their needs. This probably resulted in some pretty crappy home brews, and a lot of very shoddy structures; but it was also a period of time where you could not be locked in prison for violating building codes or distilling spirits. 

Nowadays you can lose your freedom real quickly by trying to follow the examples of early pioneers. The benefits of regulation are real, to be certain; yet they come at a hefty price. We imprison more people than any other country in history, and end up with a majority population who are completely lacking basic survival skills because following the rules means not learning or practicing them. Even modern hunters would have trouble in a real catastrophe scenario, as soon as they ran out of bullets or arrows. Nobody hunts like they did back in the day, unless they’re willing to risk imprisonment to do it.

George Washington did a lot of things that would land him in jail nowadays; but they were common practice back in his time. Most of what he did politically was centered around installing failsafes to make sure the government never got too much power; just like the freedom to make our own booze, those things almost all went away a long time ago. His homemade liquor was probably just something he made for himself and the people close to him, and he wasn’t breaking any laws to do it.

Unlike the Kennedy family. They may be political royalty in America, but they got there by amassing a fortune selling moonshine during the period of time all booze was illegal in this country. You might think that kind of thing would rub me the wrong way; it really doesn’t, though. If any family should define what this chunk of land stands for, it only seems appropriate that it should be one that rose to the top by breaking the law. Also, I like the Kennedy family too. I mean, who doesn’t?

Thanks for reading!

All the best,


J.K. Norry
The Secret Society of Deeper Meaning
Twitter: @JayNorry

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