• Laurel Contributor

Legends & Folklore

by Donna Rhodes

Like something conjured in Hollywood, the Mocassin War brought moonshine violence to Highlands’ Main Street.

Where Georgia, North and South Carolina joined corners, there was a geographical configuration made to order for moonshiners of the 1800s. If they got in trouble with the law in North Carolina, they’d scatter to Georgia. If Georgia officials came after them, they hightailed it to South Carolina. Each escape was practically a stone’s throw away. Their stills kept percolating while they waited things out, just across a state line, playing ring around the revenuer.

Highlands remained a temperate town in the midst of a sea of ‘shine. But where there were young fellas, there was bound to be temptation.

And those tempted knew where to find a jug. The moonshiners were more than happy to provide sustenance on the roads leading into town. And Georgia ‘shine had a reputation for some of the best, especially the brand from the township of Mocassin.

One day a U.S. Revenuer arrested a Mocassin bootlegger, Avery Henson, and his pal who had tried to spring him. Highlands, a town of only a few dozen residents, had yet to build a jail, so the officer locked the two in what is now Highlands Inn.

The detainees’ pals back in Mocassin heard about the arrest and, no doubt bolstered by a slug or two of moonshine courage, declared all-out war on Highlands. They marched an army of 18 Mocassinians (Billingsley brothers and Anderson boys) into Highlands and set up camp across the street behind Central House (what’s now the site of Old Edwards Inn) where they launched sniper attacks.

Highlands Mayor Bascom declared martial law and gathered his own mini-army to defend the town. For three days and nights the standoff on Main Street continued. Whenever a head would pop up to assess the situation it became a target.

There are several versions of this tale’s conclusion, but we’ll cut to the chase and say that the Highlanders got a rooftop advantage and shot one of the Mocassin boys. That ended the immediate standoff. The Mocassin contingency left to bury its fallen. But that didn’t end the story.

There were many threats, much name-calling (“*&%! Yankees” mostly), changes of heart, road blockades, a call to arms from surrounding towns, a revenuer fatality, and a heroic act by a revered Confederate vet. Read about all in Ran Shaffner’s “Heart of the Blue Ridge,” Chapter 10.

This is the stuff of legend and is now recognized by the North Carolina Folklore Institute with a Legends and Folklore marker posted on the corner of Fourth and Main.

Learn more about Highlands, its Historical Museum hours, and contact info by visiting highlandshistory.com.

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