Local Prohibition-era Prince ‘was no hillbilly moonshiner’
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)
JERSEY SHORE — He was called “the prince” by some and, according to several accounts, he would entertain and hold court like true royalty. He was a simple man who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina but made his way to central Pennsylvania.
It was here in Lycoming and Clinton counties that he brought his family business — moonshine.
Of course, it was all illegal.
But Prince David Farrington had admirers in state government.
“In Harrisburg, they knew something of the product of the Farrington still,” said John M. Cummings, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, in the April 6, 1951, edition. “Statesmen smacked their lips in appreciation of the illegal nectar. Farrington’s whiskey was well known in Pittsburgh and, to a lesser degree, in Philadelphia.”
Cummings quoted Farrington as saying: “My neighbors up in central Pennsylvania always said I could turn out the best moonshine they ever tasted.”
“Prince David Farrington was no hillbilly, moonshiner,” said Guy Graybill in his book, “Prohibition’s Prince: The Bizarre Life of America’s Millionaire Moonshiner.”
“Farrington was a flamboyant rascal who planned and executed a vast illegal distilling operation,” Graybill said.
Graybill told the Sun-Gazette that Farrington, who was born in Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1889, moved to Loganton and bought a farm.
“I believe he could have been financially successful as a farmer, but preferred doing this,” said Graybill. “When someone wants to be a lawyer or a teacher, they have a resume. It explains where they went to college and what they’ve done.”
He added with a laugh, “Farrington had a very unique resume. He served time at the Atlanta Penitentiary, the Florida Penitentiary, prison in Springfield, Missouri, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and a half dozen other places.”
When asked how Farrington got into moonshining, Graybill said it was simple.
“It was almost born into him,” he said, explaining Farrington’s father was a moonshiner, and a neighbor reported the older Farrington’s stills to the authorities.
“When his dad was arrested, Prince set fire to the neighbor’s barn,” said Graybill.
By the 1920s, he had settled in Loganton.
With the Prohibition of alcohol beginning in 1920, Farrington’s name began appearing in the newspapers about 1922. He was raided and the FBI and local authorities were looking for his still.
According to the July 19, 1922, edition of The Evening News in Harrisburg, “enforcement agents from Williamsport raided” Farrington’s farm and found “two 200-gallon stills and 52 barrels of moonshine, coloring and other materials.”
However, he disappeared and skipped town before he could be arrested.
On Aug. 26, 1925, The Scranton Republican reported that 38 barrels of hard cider and “other booze-making apparatus” were destroyed by members from the U.S. Marshals Office in Williamsport.
“The stuff was seized on the ‘Fruit Farm’ in Lycoming County. The place at which it was seized is said to be owned by [Prince Farrington],” the article said.
In May 1926, he was raided again.
“Farrington is believed by the police officers to be the largest illicit liquor distiller in the state,” reported The Indiana, Pennsylvania, Gazette on May 26, 1926.
For the next several years, Farrington’s name would appear periodically in newspapers for trouble with the law.
In 1936, the Gazette and Bulletin reported that Farrington once again was arrested for operating illegal distilleries. He pleaded guilty in November 1937. Even so, that did not stop his illegal activities here and in North Carolina and Florida. By the late 1940s, he was dealing with financial troubles and trying to avoid the Internal Revenue Service.
A Lock Haven Express columnist said in the Nov. 28, 1948, edition that Farrington’s bootlegged moonshine was “illegally purchased and consumed by U.S. senators, governors, big wheels of banking, judges and ditch-diggers.”
“One thing that made Prince famous throughout much of the Middle Atlantic States was the fact he not only made ‘moon’ but he made the best moon,” the columnist continued. “Prince gave a good product for good money and no one was cheated.”
He had hit hard times in 1951, when he was arrested for operating an illegal still.
“Farrington was nabbed in a tent near Apopka in Central Florida last month, suffering from arthritis and diabetes, both feet ravaged by gangrene and living from hand to mouth on odd jobs,” the Gazette reported on April 4, 1951.
He was fined $1,300 and sentenced to three years in jail. He was paroled from the Medical Center of the Federal Prison in Springfield, Missouri, in 1952.
By 1956, he returned to the Lycoming County area. He died June 15 of that year in the Williamsport Hospital.
Graybill said Farrington died of cirrhosis of the liver.