Spring 2008 Newsletter, Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc. Surry County Virginia Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
P. O. Box 262, Surry, VA 23883   Phone (757) 294-0404
E-mail address: [email protected].
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The Surrey Side News
The Quarterly Newsletter of
The Surry County Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
Editor: Gordon Bohannan                     Associate Editor: Barbara Hopper

Volume 8 - Number II                     May 2008

new home


President's Report

Progress is being made as we move closer toward getting settled in the new quarters for the Society's operations. On Sunday, March 30, 2008, about sixty persons braved the rain, sleet, and cool temperatures to attend "Open House" at 181 Bank Street in the Town of Surry. Among the attendees were board members, society mem bers, supporters and friends. They traveled from each corner of the county, Tidewater, Southside, Richmond and northern Virginia. The event yielded one new society mem ber and confirmed again the support of others.

Thank you again to all, including members and volunteers who prepared the building and grounds for the festive event, especially the delicious repast. Thanks to Mr. Melvin Blizzard for offering his steam engine model for display.

Volunteers are now available on Tuesdays from 10-4 and ready to assist with limited research while they are shelving and cataloguing books and other resource ma terials. Stop by or call ahead if you are interested in research opportunities or volun teering. We are also receiving many needed gifts for the building, however; there are some lingering needs and liabilities. Consider assisting us with the following:

  1. Paying down our line of credit with the bank--$35,000.00
  2. Contract proposal for completing landscaping--$13,000.00
  3. Cost of railings for front and rear entrances--$2,500.00
  4. Shelving and cabinetry for the gift shop
  5. Installation of a locking and security system
  6. Volunteers to expand Society operation hours
  7. Shrubbery
  8. Sand
  9. Computers
  10. Copy Machine
  11. Tables
  12. Folding Chairs
  13. Archival Storage Boxes
  14. Doormats
  15. Display Cases

Our current cash resources include $24,000 in operations and $47,000 in the Building Fund. The operations are primarily funded by membership renewals, dona tions, and book sales. Will you consider joining me to purchase or contribute to some thing on this list?

Please remember the preservation of our county's history is a most worthy pro ject. You are very important and valuable to this effort, and therefore please help me to accomplish it

Respectfully submitted,

James Harrison, President



What do you think it cost to attend the University of Virginia in 1914? Take a good look at the want ad from a 1914 edition of the Claremont Herald. Also check the price of marl and you might recog nize the name of the man selling the milch cows. Vandalism isn't new as the reward ad proves. Check out the price to place the ads!!!


Moonshine 101, Surry County, Virginia

Several years ago, I wrote an article "Moonshine" Surry County style. It detailed the tales I heard as I grew up in Surry County. One was the tale my father told me of an old farm worker who lived in a shanty next to the Blackwater River in Sussex County at Shingleton Plantation. While hunting late at night he and his friends saw a light on in the shanty. Dad described in detail the small still boiling away on the wood cook stove. This took place around 1916, and it was related to me when we saw the ruins of the shanty around 1947.

Little could I realize that approximately sixty years later, in 2007, I would find an old still exactly like the one he described for sale in a Antique Mall in Richmond, VA. Surprised, I found that it was legal to sell a still. On the internet many were for sale new with details and instructions for their use. Apparently the illegality comes about with the sale of the product, not the machinery. During the days of prohibition owning a still was illegal.

Anyway, I bought the still. It is about 10 gallons in size, copper, and looks like a ham boiler with some very special fittings. It has a domed copper top. Soldered on, with a six-inch screw-on top with a horn on top to receive copper tubing. At the bottom side is a valve for draining the mash/water out of the still. It was made to set on a cook stove and made approximately two quarts of moonshine for personal use per run. I will try to detail how it was used. I have talked to several people who have memories of these activities, pulled many articles from the internet, and read several books on the subject.

A disclaimer: I have never seen a working still. I have seen ones in museums such as the Virginia Historical Society. I have seen many pictures. Member Shirley Cockes has given me pictures taken by Sheriff Cockes during the many years he hunted down illegal stills. At this point I have not found anyone to talk to who will acknowledge that they used a still, although I am still trying. While I am restoring this still, it will be unable to ever make moonshine, as there are holes and plugs which make it inoperable.

The above being said, I will attempt to describe in generalities how our ances tors made moonshine whiskey. The materials used:

  1. corn meal., fermented to create alcohol
  2. Water, to make a thick mush of the corn meal
  3. Sugar, necessary to ferment the corn meal and create alcohol
  4. Malt, used to help ferment the corn meal.

The process:

  1. Corn meal, water, and sugar, and malt are mixed in a wooden trough to create a slurry.
  2. For several days, it was stirred several times daily with a wooden paddle. The temperature must be high enough for the fermenting process to proceed. I can remember the sound of mash being stirred with a wooden paddle on the other side of our farm when I was a youth. Dad knew what the sound was. He knew who likely owned the portable still. At Rogers Store that evening he told what he had heard, and stated that as soon as he could get to the courthouse, he was going to tell Sheriff Cockes. A couple of days later, a neighbor told dad that he had checked and there was no still any where close to our millpond.
  3. When fermenting, the mash will start to bubble and work. Experience will tell the operator when it is fully fermented.
  4. When fermented, the mash is placed in the still. The still is on a wood (Kitchen) stove and heated to a slow boil.


How do you separate the alcohol from the mash and leave the water in the mash? How do you operate a still? The still must be hidden, close to transportation, water and fuel.

As you know, water boils (vaporizes) at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Alcohol vapor izes at 172 degrees Fahrenheit; therefore, you must bring the mixture up to a temperature above 172 degrees, but well below 212 degrees. This will vaporize the alcohol but leave the water in the mash. If the water gets too hot, you will vaporize a mixture of water and alcohol. You then may have to clean out the still and put the alcohol/water mixture in it and re-distill it. The alcohol vapor then is forced by air pressure through the copper tubing coming out of the top of the still. This copper tubing quickly cools the alcohol vapor below 172 degrees and turns it into a liquid. Its proof depends upon the skill of the operator. It may run from 80 to well over 100 proof. 100 proof spirits is 50% alcohol.

If you did not get most of the alcohol out, your hogs may get a bit tipsy when they eat the slop that is left. I remember vaguely that local farmers bought spent mash from a legal still around Petersburg/Hopewell around World War II for hog feed.

Clean up your still and hide it, perhaps in a hollow tree or under hay or peanut vines, until needed again. Try to hide it where the Feds or sheriff could not prove it was yours if it was found.

Be careful to always buy your sugar, malt, etc. from trusted friends or from different stores who won't tell anyone.

Southern States Cooperative, who had feed mills in most of their stores, had certain customers who brought in their own supplements to mix with their ground corn. All it took was an agreeable mill operator to put the mixture together, ready for water and the still. While it was illegal, the residue was fed to the hogs.

Try to use under-age children to mix and stir the mash. If caught, the law could not do anything to them. Keep your still hidden under fresh bushes and trees. Sheriff Cockes could spot dead branches or bushes from his airplane and go directly to the still. If possible, have your still located close to a public back road with an earthen bank on the side. You could unload your raw materials without leaving any tracks where you went into the woods. Only sell to trusted friends. Let them retail the product. Give away free samples to those who can help you.

Postscript: A similar process was used to make brandy, etc. from the fruits of Surry County, apples and peaches. Many farms near the James River had large or chards. This was how much of the fruits were marketed. My still will end up in the Historical Society-likely Rogers Store. Cheers to our history!

Jim Atkins


Jim's Still


Newton M. Taliaferro

Chairman of the Surry County School Board
"I believe in doing things right as long as it's according to the law and the golden rule. I'm a firm believer in that rule."

Newton M. Taliaferro
January 2, 1903-October 27, 1986

Newton Medshach Taliaferro, the fourteenth of fifteen children, was born to Richard and Harriet Taliaferro in King and Queen County. Newton Taliaferro's family history dates back to the early 1800's to the Hockley Taliaferro Plantation in King and Queen County where his grandparents, Robert and Virginia were slaves. His father, Richard, was born into slavery in 1848. Determined to free himself from slavery, Richard at the age of twelve escaped by running away to West Point where securing a rowboat, he, with is brother and another young man, traveled on the York River rowing nearly all night. He arrived at Yorktown, VA where he joined the Union Army at their Virginia headquarters. Richard and his brother traveled on foot with the Union soldiers to the Confederate camp of Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina.

Richard and Robert traveled with the Union Army from South Carolina to Boston, Massachusetts and then to West Virginia. Richard was too young to be as signed as a fighting soldier, but he could be a drummer where he had the responsibility of sounding the drums of freedom.

After three years of soldiering, Richard returned to Virginia where he married Harriet Braxton of Middlesex County. From this union were born fifteen children with Newton being the fourteenth.

Newton Taliaferro received his primary and secondary education in the King and Queen County Public Schools. He attended and graduated from Hampton Institute where he met Mozelle Crawford of Surry County who in 1938 became his wife. To this union Harriett Ann was born.

The Taliaferro's moved to Philadelphia in 1948 where Newton made his living by papering and painting houses. In 1968, the Taliaferros decided to return to Surry County where they resided in a two-story white frame house off State Rt. 638.

Surry County was unique in 1968 as its school system was predominately made up of Black students with no Black representation on the school board. Taliaferro was approached by J. H. James, chairman of the County School Trustee Electoral Board who asked him if he would be willing to serve on the school board. He was quoted as saying that he would accept the job "to do the best I can." Newton Taliaferro made history by being the first of his race to be named to a key policy-making board in Surry. Newton Taliaferro served as the Chairman of the School Board from 1973 until his death in 1986.

Mr. Newton Taliaferro did his best to represent and serve all the students of Surry County Public Schools, not one group or one race. I observed this as I taught in the Surry School System from 1981 until his death in 1986.

By: Barbara Hopper


Surry County Historical Society Nominating Committee Report

April 7, 2008

Committee Members: Deborah Dawson, Chair, Martha Rollings, Phyllis Wacker, Bill Richardson, Norma Roach

The following members have been nominated to fill the following offices of the Society. Election of these officers will be held at the May Open Meeting. The membership-at-large can nominate members for any office from the floor at this meeting.

President 2008-10 James Harrison (unchanged)
Vice President 2008-10Eve Gregory
Secretary/Membership 2008-10 Barbara Hopper (unchanged)
Treasurer Eliza Drew (unchanged)
Building Committee 2008-2011 Claude Reeson
Director 2008-2011 Tarika Blizzard Green
Director 2008-2011 T. C. Lane, Jr.
Director 2008-2011 Kent Harrell

All other board members will be up for re-election or replacement in 2009 or 2010.

Thanks to the committee for a job well done!!!

Important Dates & Times to Remember

Open Meeting at the Surry County Recreation Center
12 May 2008 at 7 p.m.

Speaker for the evening will be Chief Allston of the Nottoway Tribe

Museum's Hours
Tuesdays - 10 a.m. to 4 p. m.

From the Editor

The Surry County Historical Society opened for the first time April 1 and is cur rently open each Tuesday from 10 A. M. until 4 P. M. Currently the volunteers who have been opening the society each Tuesday are Bess Richardson, Fay Savedge, Shirley Cockes, and Hannah Bohannan. They are organizing the files that we had stored in our former home, "the old jail." Gradually furniture is being moved into the new rooms.

We had an Open House on March 30th. Over sixty people attended despite the rain and sleet. Kent Harrell provided delicious punch, and several local members provided refreshments for the occasion. Even though the rooms are not furnished yet, we did show our visitors all our space on both floors. Everyone was highly complimentary. We especially thank Mr. Melvin Blizzard for coming and displaying his scale model of the steam engine that once powered the lumber company at Dendron, VA.

There are several projects underway that will be available to the membership when completed. Jim Atkins and Bess Richardson are finalizing a time-line of Surry's history from pre-colonial times to the present day. Jim began that project over five years ago. Jim is also finishing a biography of Adam Boykins who was born in Surry County and fought for the Union Army during the American Civil War. He retired and spent the rest of his life as a respected citizen of the county.

I hope to organize A. W. Bobannan's many papers, poems, letters, pictures, and speeches that have been stored in boxes and donate them to the society. He really loved our county and spent his life glorifying the "Surry Side" of the James River.

I have also been working for the last ten years on a detailed scrapbook of popular culture during the 20th century, which includes over 10,000 pages of pictures and information. Through these volumes I hope to show another way of reporting history during the last century. I hope to display these from time to time showing a different year each month beginning in June with the year 1900, July with 1940, August with 1960 and September with 1920. Also included will be volumes depicting hundreds of advertising icons from the last century such as Mr. Peanut and the Quaker Oats Man.

We hope to expand our opening days as soon as we are fully operational. Now our summer will be filled with trying to finish moving furniture and machines into our building. In the fall we hope to begin planting trees and shrubbery as well as other landscaping. We do plan to have a dedication ceremony in the fall. The date for this activity will be in our next issue.

Also in our next issue, we should have news about the restoration project of the cabin of the ferry, Captain John Smith. Bill Fox, a member from Williamsburg, is working diligently to make this project a reality. When and if it is restored, it should be a popular tourist attraction for the county.

Our society building is not the only new construction changing the landscape in the town of Surry. Our beautiful courthouse is still undergoing expansion. It will keep its historical entrance and will have a large addition in the back. Also the government center expansion is nearly complete with enlarged sheriff's quarters and more courtroom space, which should meet the county's needs for the foreseeable future. A new restaurant has been added on the road to Smithfield.

I want to thank Jonathan Judkins for providing a map to help visitors locate our new site.


Our Editor: Bo Bohannan, his wife, Hannah and Peggy Atkins


Surry Area


In March of 2006 the congregation of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Surry Courthouse, the only active church of Southwark Parish, cleaned up the monument site after a number of years of being abandoned. The group decided a sign was needed to better identify the site to those driving by on the road. Last fall, a fence and sign were installed, and on Sunday, November 25, 2007, an Evening Prayer Service was held to unveil the new sign and rededicate the site to its restored condition. Members of St. Paul's, with others in the community and descendents of A. W. Bohannan were present for the service. The Southwark Monument site is located on Southwark Road between the town of Surry and Chanco on the James.

Jonathan Judkins

Note: Southwark Parish was established in 1647, and it stretched from what is now Surry Court House to Cabin Point in the northwest corner and southward to what is now Brunswick County.
Books2 We have many Surry BOOKS for sale. Most of them cannot be gotten anywhere else! We also have the beautiful Surry Courthouse medallian and the new 1607-2007 ship pin/pendant.
Take a look at them and order with the BOOKS!

Watch for new listings in our upcoming issues of The Surrey Side News.



Please keep your dues up to date. We need your support now to be able to afford our new offices. Please make sure your dues are current for 2008. Note the expiration date on your mailing lable. Send your dues payment along with th emembership form to the Surry County Virginia Historical Society and Museums, P. O. Box 262, Surry, VA 23883.

Membership information and Application Form

Please share old photographs and/or stories about your ancestors or places in the county that are very memorable to you. We are always looking for new material for the newsletter, or if you have a suggestion for a story you would like to see us write, please let me know. You can e-mail them to Barbara Hopper at [email protected].

Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc.

New Building
Architectural Design by C & K Homes, Inc.

The Home of Surry County History

Gift Response Form for the Historical Society Building Fund

Date _______________

Yes, I/ We would like to support the construction of the Historical Society Building with a tax deductible gift of


__________ My/ Our check for this amount is enclosed.

__________ I/ We would like to make this gift over three years. My/ Our check for 1/3 of the gift is enclosed. The second payment will be made in _____________, 2009. The final payment will be made in _____________, 2010.

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__________ I/ We would like this gift to be anonymous.

__________ I/ We would like to discuss the naming opportunities available with a Society representative. Please call me at ____________________ or email me at __________________

Checks should be made payable to The Surry Historical Society.

Please note on the memo line of the check "Building Fund" and send to:

The Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
P.O. Box 262
Surry, VA, 23883
Atten: Treasurer

Name _________________________
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