There has never been a shortage of moonshine in Clay County, even during Prohibition (1919-1933). It was the one sure source of cash when you had nothing else to sell. Clay had voted to become dry in 1918, and remained so even after Prohibition.
Sheriffs made varying degrees of effort at cleaning up the county. The "Whiskey" book lists these seizures at the beginning of the Great Depression 1928-1933: 58 stills, 4 trucks, 17 cars, 1 mule and wagon, 1 motorboat, 600 gallons of moonshine, and 175 barrels of mash. While most of the pints of whiskey had owner's names next to them, almost all of the stills' owners are "unknown." Even the areas where still were found aren't generally recorded, except in West Tocoi and Highland, coincidentally near the county lines.
Perhaps the County's large number of stills can be partly attributed to the large number of turpentine camps. A turpentine facility is essentially a still, and can be easily converted to making moonshine.
A replica of a still is on display at the Archives, complete with the "worm" -- the winding copper tube through which the liquid is distilled.
The Sheriff's records show that five-gallon jars were a favorite size.
A typical setup with the mash on the right, and the whiskey barrel on the left.
The Murder of Sheriff Cherry
The official story is that the sheriff went out to arrest a black man and the black man shot and killed him. The other story is that two weeks beforehand, he had a fist-fight with a moonshiner who ran a juke joint in Middleburg. The black man who was acused of killing the sheriff was the moonshiner's stable hand.
Two years before he was murdered he had arrested five or six moonshiners. The year before, he had arrested four moonshiners. The month before he died he had arrested 23 moonshiners. On the day he died, he went to Yellow Water, on the Duval border. He was probably driving his Ford, the eighth car registered in Clay county. He got and turned his back on the black man he was going to arrest. He was shot in the back with 00 buckshot and the pattern was clearly visible in his back – and obviously from close range. The black man was shot more than 100 times.
The investigation of the murder was by Sheriff Dowling of Duval, who shortly after the murder served five years in a federal penitentiary for moonshining. Dowling was using the fast boat the Feds had given him to chase blockade runners off the coast, to actually ship his own moonshine. The going rate for a sheriff to turn a blind eye was a dollar a barrel.
The question is, was he really after the black man, or did he go out there to arrest more moonshiners?
Federal Agents weren't effective in Clay County
Claude Bass and Jennings Murhee interviewed the first state revenue agent in Florida, Mr. Eddy, a deputy in St. Johns County. Mr. Eddy said that it was hard to catch the moonshiners in Clay County because they had lookouts watching for the revenue agents. In particular, there was one guy who sat on a mule on the road to Clay Hill who would fire a shot in the air when he saw the revenue agents coming. In fact, the feds didn't ever find a single still in the county. But when the sheriff would find a still, the feds would plant dynamite all around it, invite the press, and then blow it to smithereens for show.