The Rum-running Queen

1921 photo of confiscated barrels and bottles.                                       (Photo source: Library of Congress)

I was just nerding-out to a show about American history on Netflix when something captivated all my attention: The mention of a woman by the name of Willie Carter Sharpe who was an outlaw in 1928 during prohibition. At 26 years old, she ran bootleg-liquor across the border of Virginia, to other states, often with police chasing her, shooting at her tires. They called her the Rum-running Queen.

“It was the excitement that got me… Cars skattering, dashing along the streets.” -Willie Carter Sharpe.

Wouldn’t that be an awesome premise for a movie? “The Rum-Running Queen”

When you look her up on Google, there is very little information about her: Just a few blurbs here and there including this brief mention from the Franklin News Post.

“Some of those witnesses [from a trial], called rumrunners, said they had moved more than a million gallons of whiskey out of the county during the period covered in the indictment, traveling in caravans at high speed with ‘pilot’ cars running interference to ‘ward off any officers that tried to stop them.’ (One of those rumrunners was a woman, Mrs. Willie Carter Sharpe, who said she moved more than 220,000 gallons between 1926 and 1931.” 

I would love to know more about this interesting historical figure.

Here is the brief clip about her from the history show. For whatever reason, I could only find it in French. But it gives you the idea. (Fast forward to :39 to see Ms. Willie Carter Sharpe)


Franklin News Post. “Moonshining built on long history” 2015. Web. 2015. 

“America: The Story of Us” Season 1 Episode 8. Directors, Marion Milne, Jenny Ash, Clare Beavan, Andrew Chater, Nick Green, and Renny Bartlett. Netflix. April 2010. Web. April 2015.

9 thoughts on “The Rum-running Queen

  1. hey julia – i did the same thing! geeking out on the netflix series and willie’s story (or lack thereof) stopped me in my tracks. why don’t we know more about her? who knows her story? why isn’t there a movie or even a biography? have you found anything?

    • I haven’t found anything either unfortunately, not more than the links I provided. I think the reason we don’t know more about her and the information isn’t out there is because women’s stories, throughout history, have been swept under the rug and not regarded as worthy 😦 so I think thats why there is little amount of info available about fascinating figures like her. But let’s change that! Let’s all write our own histories so that there will be a paper trail of badass bitches for the future! thank you for the comment 🙂

      • Thought you might enjoy this.
        A Few of the Many Women Bootleggers
        Maggie Bailey of Clovertown in Harlan County, Kentucky, was called the “Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers.” She began bootlegging during Prohibition at age 17. She lived simply and often gave food and other help to families in need. Maggie Bailey was so beloved that juries often refused to find her guilty. A U.S. District judge described her as an expert on search and seizure laws.

        Stella Beloumant was the leading bootlegger in Elko, Nevada. Her case warranted an entire task force. It included the U.S. Attorney General, the Prohibition Bureau‘s second in command plus two of its agents, and the district attorney. The sheriff’s office put her under 24-hour stakeout. Her arrest netted an enormous quantity of illegal alcohol.

        Bertie (Birdie) Brown was an African American woman who homesteaded in Fergus County, Montana. She made moonshine that was described as the “best in the country.” Bertie Brown died from burns when her still exploded in 1933.

        Esther Clark was a bootlegger in rural Kansas. She stored moonshine in her chicken coop. For this reason, she was called the Henhouse Bootlegger.

        Gloria de Casares was a bootlegger married to a wealthy Argentinean. In 1925, her five-masted ship was preparing to depart from London to the U.S. It was seized with 10,000 cases of Scotch. After that, she and her ships were constantly under suspicion of further bootlegging.

        Josephine Doody was a former dance-hall worker known as “The Bootleg Lady of Glacier Park.” Railway workers were her best customers. A train would stop at Doody siding. Each toot of the horn indicated an order for one gallon of moonshine.

        Nora Gallagher was a widow in Butte, Montana. She brewed in her kitchen. Her explanation was that she needed the money. And for what purpose did she need money? She said it was to buy Easter outfits for her five children.

        Edna Giard married a man she knew was a bootlegger. They moved alcohol for Al Capone from Chicago to states in the upper Mid-West. She loved the money, excitement and glamor. Once she spent the afternoon with Capone’s wife in Florida playing tennis and having a “great time.”

        Lavinia Gilman was eighty-year-old woman who was caught running a three-hundred-gallon still. The judge who heard her case didn’t think she was the “real culprit.” Perhaps he was sexist. He preferred to believe that it was really her son.

        Mary Ann Moriarity washed clothes for residents living in a boardinghouse. She had her teenage daughter deliver the moonshine hidden among the clean clothe. She charged fifty cents for a pint and two dollars for a gallon.

        Willie Carter Sharpe was a bootlegger in Franklin County, Virginia. She hauled more than 220,000 gallons of moonshine between 1926 and 1931. At her trial, spectators were intrigued with the diamonds in her teeth.

        Mary Wazeniak was a Polish immigrant in La Grange Park, Illinois. She made and served moonshine out of her home. At the end of a night, one of her customers was staggering home. He fell into a bog and died from the toxic brew. At her trial, the press called her “Moonshine Mary.”

  2. Hi Julia! I was watching the show moonshiners, when a brief mention of Willie Carter Sharp came up. I’m a biography nut, and I was sure there was info, or a book about this woman. But I found nothing. Other then a movie called “Lawless”, and the book which the movie is based off of, “the wettest county in the world”. It says there is a mention of her there. Very disappointed there isn’t more about her. Just thought I’d share my thoughts, and was happy to come across your site and see I’m not the only one. 🙂

  3. The book “The Wettest County in the World” (a really great read) has a man named Sherwood Anderson that searches for her, & when he finds out she has been looked up in the Franklin County jail he attempts to interview her but the Common Wealths Attorney (Carter Lee) would not allow it.
    ” The May 24, 1935, Roanoke Times headline read : Woman Pilot of Whiskey Cars Is Placed On Stand. Willie Carter Sharpe testified on May 23 for a half hour.” page 296 of the book.
    There are a few more little trinkets about her sprinkled through out the book, like her ex-husband’s name.
    I too would love to find out more information, or a photo of her, the descriptions I have found are conflicting (eye of the beholder).

  4. Keester Greer wrote a tome (The Great Moonshine Conspiracy) which mentions Willie several times. I am from Franklin County, VA and there is a fine oral history of “Mia Sharpe,” some of which has been written down in the records held at The Historical Society of Franklin County where my Mom serves as head researcher. W. Lee Eames Jr.

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