Philip Hoffman possessed an entrepreneurial spirit that frightened almost everyone around him. Liquor always aroused the part of the human soul given over to mischief and chicanery, but these properties proved more frightening during the nineteenth century, a time and place when people did things like nearly kill a man with an ear of corn or periodically burn down the home of their enemies. What’s worse is that those activities probably occurred while sober, so just imagine what old-timey Alabamians got into while drunk.
Either way, the state of Alabama eventually retaliated when they found out how much bootleg Philip Hoffman sold out of a shop in Huntsville. His largest buyers consisted of three men; Richard Clemens, Henry Webb, and John Cox – who all purchased illegal whiskey and brandy several times throughout September and October of 1823. He faced two different trials for selling to these men at different times. Which means he got busted on September 2, 1823, accepted the fact that he probably needed to pay a fine or serve some time and then turned right back around and continued slinging that Tennessee Gold until the sheriff showed up again.
However, all of this pails in comparison to the amount of gumption it took to keep selling illegal liquor after his first arrest. For you see, on September 1, 1823, the local law wandered over to Philip Hoffman’s shop and found it packed with “many slaves and negroes of sundry of the good citizens of the county.”*
This is where things get interesting. Although his later arrests explicitly mentioned whiskey and brandy being sold, his first arrest describes the beverages as “spirituous liquors of various kinds and fermented liquor and drinks,” which implies that Hoffman might have known someone with a moonshine still or produced his alcohol at home. All I can imagine is the sheriff and inquisitor showing up, opening a cask, and just staring in horror at the bubbly rotgut in front of them.** His means of production probably got confiscated, but that just meant he’d have to fall back on his higher priced stash of actual liquors with real human names.
Although white people sold illegal liquor to each other all the time, Philip Hoffman made the beautiful mistake of allowing enslaved people to “assemble tipple drink carouse and commit many unlawful tumults,” at his home. This massive breach of the social contract meant that officials paid a lot of attention to his business dealings in the days and weeks ahead. Which got him caught multiple times and ending up costing him about seven dollars in fines between his three separate liquor cases. One can only wonder how he raised the money.
The next time you’re carousing and committing some unlawful tumults with your various compatriots; pause for a moment to look up at the shining moon, gently whisper his name, and then pour out a dram for this archetypal American hero.
The State of Alabama v. Philip Hoffman, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 232-233 (1823).
The State of Alabama v. Philip Hoffman, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 233 (1823).
The State of Alabama v. Philip Hoffman, Madison County Alabama Circuit Court State Cases, 1819-1823. p. 233-234 (1823).
*Philip Hoffman got busted and instead of packing it in he said “trappin’ ain’t dead” then got arrested for the same thing the next day.
**Literally says that the state sent an inquisitor to investigate this case. Nobody expected it.