French Islands dark past: illegal homebrew during prohibition

Maine’s prohibition history dates between 1851 and 1934 , considerably longer than Federal Prohibition that lasted from 1920-1933. It appears that some ambitious homebrewers played an unsavory role during Maine’s dry years. While browsing through Penobscot Times archives online I found an article written nearly 74 years ago by Stan Eames, published October 17, 1940, six years after alcohol became legal in Maine. The article is about two men, Peter Russell and Alex Taylor who were arraigned on charges of illegal possession of “Domestic Beer” or homebrew; both men pleaded guilty, received their sentence and then appealed the fines which were moved to superior court.

What caught my attention more than anything was the picture that this article paints of Treat-Webster Island, more commonly known as French Island in Old Town, Maine. The Island is described as “rough and tough, with homebrew flowing freely, gutters acting as featherbeds occasionally, and more often than not acts of violence happening so that respectable women stayed at home nights” The two men arraigned on charges of possessing the homebrew must have been well known at the time as they were arrested after a “Complaint” for their arrest was “Signed by residents“. The article continues “Local people will tell you, if you know them well enough, of dark deeds which have been done and never solved on the Island. Murder is included in the lexicon of crimes allegedly committed there years ago, when every home brew joint was a ‘bucket of blood’, when theft and assault were common, and when the Island late at night was probably the most sinful and wicked seat of iniquity this side of the bowery”.

The “dark deeds” committed on the Island were a result of homebrew and the two men at the center of the ordeal received their sentence “$100, cost of court and two months in jail” a seemingly light sentence considering how bad things were. The sentence was drawn from Prohibition days because at the time of the trial alcohol had already become legal.

Prohibition created a situation where alcohol was in demand; homebrewers had the skills to supply and profit from it, turning people’s homes into crime dens and creating hostile neighborhoods. It isn’t surprising to hear that where alcohol was supplied other crimes occurred, that drunks ended up in the streets, being a small area with a visible problem the question of police corruption comes to mind, or else the area was so dangerous they just stayed away. It is also not surprising to read at the end of the article that things had already changed,  after prohibition ended things were better even though homebrew was still available in the area “An era has passed, a new one has come.”

Cheers!

Chaddah Treat-Webster2

 

 

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Chad Lothian

About Chad Lothian

Chad Lothian lives in Old Town, Maine. He is a craft beer enthusiast and homebrewer. Chad has travelled to brewpubs, breweries and brewfests all over New England.