Moonshiner’s Daughter


The first read of 2012 was Moonshiner’s Daughter by Mary Judith Messer.

I first heard about this book from an article in my hometown newspaper. Ms. Messer was doing a book signing in Marshall, NC and my mom went and got me an autographed copy for Christmas.

This is a story of horrific abuse and survival. It’s powerfully disturbing and hard to put down.

This is the blurb from Amazon: Moonshiner’s Daughter is the early life story of a young girl raised in some of the most remote, backwoods parts of Haywood County, North Carolina, deep in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains of Appalachia. Her father, a hard-drinking, ardent moonshiner when he wasn’t in prison, and her mother, often showing mental illness from an earlier brain injury, raised their four children in some of the grimmest circumstances that you will ever read about. Both parents were extremely abusive during Mary’s childhood and she also reveals the trauma she and her siblings suffered at the hands of teachers, principals and members of the community as a “dirt” poor child. When Mary’s father was not able to moonshine by himself because of age, he took on an apprentice, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, as a teenager. “Popcorn” Sutton eventually made a name for himself using the skills he learned from Mary’s father. Mary Judith Messer finally escaped her extreme living conditions by going to live with the Queen family as their mother’s helper outside of Washington, DC in Alexandria, Virginia. She then moved to New York City to live with her older sister who had run away from a forced marriage to one of her father’s drinking buddies. In New York, she was exposed to dingy, bed-bug infested apartments as well as the glamour of Radio City Music Hall and Broadway shows. She scrambled to earn a living as an underage teenager and discovered that not all the cruel people had been left behind in the North Carolina mountains.The memoir Moonshiner’s Daughter is told through the eyes and with the words of a barely educated child and teenager yet their meaning and descriptions are clear as a mountain stream. She changed the names of most people and places she wrote about to protect her still living family members. The moonshiner’s daughter did survive and ultimately thrive. This is her story.



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