From the Wettest County to the Dry Campus

Famous Author Matt Bondurant Speaks at Bridgewater College

Dean Barker, Staff Writer

Bridgewater, VA – Bridgewater College is known to be a dry campus. So it would come as a surprise to many that in the Carter Center on Wednesday night, guest speaker Matt Bondurant spent a good portion of his lecture talking about alcohol. But that’s exactly what happened, as Bondurant spoke about growing up in a “wet” county in front of a large crowd, mainly consisting of community residents with few students.

Bondurant came to talk about his book, The Wettest County in the World, in which he tells the story of his grandfather, known as “Grandpa Jack” or “Moonshine King of the County.” The lecture followed last night’s screening of the movie “Lawless,” which was based off of Grandpa Jack’s story. In the lecture, Bondurant told the story of how his grandfather met his future wife while drunk in a church, how he survived having 600 lbs of lumber being dropped on him, how he survived a gunshot, and how he grew up in Franklin County, Va. 

Earlier in the day on campus, Bondurant attended Dr. Scott Suter’s class. He told the story of how Uncle Jack had met Bertha, his future wife. Suter, a professor of English and American Studies, is an author himself and wrote a book on folklife that students read for one of his classes.

Franklin County is known as the moonshine capital of the world. According to legal records, 99 out of 100 people in Franklin County either make, or are somehow connected to illicit liquor. The New York Times reported that the county produces roughly half a million gallons of moonshine every year. The town produced more during the era of prohibition, but since then production has dwindled, despite still producing large quantities.

A graduate of nearby James Madison University, Bondurant talked about his experience with alcohol growing up. Grandpa Jack would take him out behind the trucks and drink, and sometimes his uncles would drink too. Once, he got to take a sip of liquor. He did not enjoy it, and responded, “Why would anyone drink this?” However, during a Q & A session, someone asked if he felt weird that he was so exposed to alcohol growing up. Bondurant was quick to clarify what he really meant.

“The exposure was usually us kids sneaking in and catching a glimpse of things,” Bondurant explained. “The adults usually didn’t let us see it,”said Bondurant. He later said that he’s usually the only one at family reunions who drinks.

In addition to speaking his book, Bondurant also mentioned something else: his family’s alcoholic beverage. His cousins started Bondurant Brothers Moonshine, headed in Chase City, Va. Inspired by Grandpa Jack’s legacy, they continued the moonshine tradition that they learned in Franklin County. Their slogan is, “Some moonshine is legendary, others made by legends, ours is both.”

Considering how Bondurant has written a best selling book, told a story that would later turn into a motion picture, and has his last name in a moonshine company’s brand, some could say that he is a legend in his own right.

Recording of evening’s presentation with permission of the author