Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Taylor Cobb, U.S. Revenue agent

Part of our past in the mountain regions of North Georgia has been the contraband manufacture of whiskey, better known in these parts as "moonshine" because the "runoff" from the stills was often completed at night time to avoid the smoke from the still being detected by the revenue agents, commissioned by the federal government to find and ferret out the makers of this liquid corn product.

One of the noted U. S. Revenue agents of another century was Taylor Cobb. He not only had a penchant for interacting with the people, but he told many stories of his adventures as an agent, even writing many of them for subsequent generations to enjoy.

This story from Agent Taylor Cobb's repertoire was given to me by Wilson Cobb of Fannin County, who delights in sharing anything historical that was once printed in his family's newspapers, “The Dooly News” or “The Fannin County Times”.

On a Saturday morning, April 1, in the early 1880's Taylor Cobb set out on his horse named Old Steel. His intended purpose was to find a still and make arrests out in the mountains.

He soon came to what he called a very dilapidated log church away back in the mountains. Since services were often held on Saturday afternoon in those days, a group of people had gathered for services. They asked what he was doing in those parts. He said he was a "naturalist," a mineralogist, and produced some sample stones from his saddlebag to substantiate his story.

The gathered congregation waited awhile longer for the preacher to arrive, and the minister didn't come. Then Taylor Cobb asked them if they would accept the comments of one of the "Hardshell Confession of Faith" to speak to them. The people agreed. Cobb took a New Testament from his saddle bag, and in the old log church he began to speak.

He took his text and began to preach passionately on temperance, stating that he considered drunkenness to be a terrible crime, bringing loss and degradation to the perpetrator, but also desolation to the families touched by the drunkard's evil ways. He did add, however, that a "little wine was good for the stomach's sake," according to the Apostle Paul.

In typical fashion, he laid forth his sermon for an hour and a half, all the while keeping the attention of his hearers. They kept him going by well-placed "Amens". He wrote: "My 'God-blessed tone' melted their hearts, and soon tears, sobs, shouting, handshaking, and rejoicing filled the shack. After the service, a deacon took me to his home to spend the night."

At the evening meal, his host deacon told Cobb, still not recognizing him as a U. S. Revenue Agent, that his son was making moonshine whiskey. This fact saddened the deacon. Cobb said that he had always wondered how the liquor was made. The deacon offered to take him to his son's still, since he was doubling off a run that very night.

When the pair got to the still deep within the mountains, the old deacon took off his old cap-and-ball pistol, laid it on a shelf, and went to work at the still himself. After the deacon got well into the process, Agent Cobb grabbed the man's pistol and arrested his son, the supposed owner of the still.

He put the captured moonshiner on Old Steel behind himself, and started for the nearest jail. Since it was late at night, the two agreed to stop at a cabin along the way to get some rest. At the next house, they awoke the owner and the old man gave the two- agent and captive- the best bed in the house. Exhausted from his hard day's journey, the energy exerted to preach the gospel, and the arrest of the moonshiner whose father had been his host, Cobb soon fell asleep.

When Taylor Cobb awoke the next morning, he found his prisoner gone. He had taken Cobb's pants with $25.00 in his pocket. Cobb told the man of the house that he was a "traveling preacher, and had picked up the man the previous evening along his route, and that he had robbed him. The man gave him a garment of his own, which Cobb described as "fitting him like a bolt of loose cloth." After an excellent breakfast at the cabin, Cobb was soon on his way. He put money in the mail and sent it to the man who had loaned him the suit.

The very next year, President Hayes issued a general pardon for moonshiners. Cobb saw this as a way to get the deacon's son off from arrest and a year in prison. He went to the man and offered to get him "off" if he would repay him his stolen $25 and the cost of the suit he had stolen. The two went to Atlanta, and Cobb pleaded the man's case, getting him off without a jail term.

On their way back to the mountains from Atlanta, Cobb told the deacon's son that he would "get others off" if they would surrender. Twenty-eight moonshine makers came to Cobb, confessing their part in the manufacture of mountain spirits. Cobb summarily pleaded their cases in Atlanta and they were pardoned.

"They thought it was my influence that got them released," wrote Cobb. "I soon became the most popular man in that area. Even the old deacon forgave me and sang my praises from the housetops on every occasion."

Taylor Cobb, this man of the mountains and U. S. Revenue Agent, was born June 14, 1846 and died May 31, 1920. He was interred in New Hope Methodist Cemetery in the Ivy Log District of Union County, Georgia. The oldest grave in the cemetery with a legible name is that of Lydia Keys Cobb who was born in 1773 and died in 1848. The church was founded in 1851 and W. A. Cobb was one of the first trustees. How these relate to the notable revenue agent will take some more research.

c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Mar. 22, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment