Delaware author speaks easy about Prohibition

Dee Emeigh
Posted 8/15/21

EASTERN SUSSEX — When Michael Morgan moved to Delaware 35 years ago, he quickly became interested in the area’s history.

The former Baltimore teacher inherited a love of the past from …

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Delaware author speaks easy about Prohibition

Posted

EASTERN SUSSEX — When Michael Morgan moved to Delaware 35 years ago, he quickly became interested in the area’s history.

The former Baltimore teacher inherited a love of the past from his dad, who took him on visits to places like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and the Smithsonian Institution in his youth.

“The Delaware coast has vibrant history that began with the Native Americans and continued through the colonization by Europeans,” Mr. Morgan said. “It includes significant events during the American Revolution, War of 1812, Civil War and the two World Wars in the 20th century.”

Those bygone events also include rumrunning on the First State’s coast, which is the subject of Mr. Morgan’s latest book, “Delaware Prohibition.” Published by The History Press, it details some of the escapades that took place during the alcohol-free 1920s.

According to the publisher’s website, while the government had anticipated public resistance during Prohibition, it was not prepared to deal with the antics of bootleggers willing to go to any length to produce and provide alcohol to Americans.

Prohibition in Delaware was “a time of change,” Mr. Morgan explained. “During the period between 1920 and 1933, when Prohibition was in effect, many technological advances had an impact on Delaware society.”

He said he finds the effects of those changes on citizens fascinating.

“We sometimes think that the computer and the internet have had a great impact on society, but a similar thing was occurring during the 1920s, when Prohibition was the law of the land,” he said. “Cars, radios, airplanes, talking pictures, electric lights, household appliances — such as toasters, vacuum cleaners, washing machines — and a host of other advances changed life on the coast.”

With bootleggers able to speed up and down Delaware’s new Dupont Boulevard — completed in 1923 — law enforcement agents like “Three Gun” Wilson didn’t stand a chance. Three Gun arrived in the state in 1930, promising “to save Delaware from the skullduggery of corrupt officials, from the evils of speakeasies and the eternal damnation of booze,” Mr. Morgan said.

Despite his three-pronged approach of relentlessness, forceful communications and leadership skills, Mr. Wilson was unsuccessful and was reassigned to Nebraska a mere 15 months later.

Delawareans fought hard to keep John Barleycorn — described by the publisher as “the personification of intoxicating drinks” — alive because he had been part of their history and tradition from the beginning.

“Whether it was brewed locally or distilled overseas, John Barleycorn was deeply engrained in Delaware society in the nineteenth century,” Mr. Morgan writes in Chapter 1 of his 176-page narrative.

To illustrate, “Delaware Prohibition” is enhanced with images, such as an advertisement from the Hartman & Fehrenbach Brewing Co. of Wilmington, which states, “Our Beer is Called ‘Liquid Bread.’” Nevertheless, Prohibition dealt a fatal blow to the company, Mr. Morgan said.

The author brings history to life in his book, with spirited stories like these and many others. His 10 books on coastal history are marked by a style that has made his writing and lectures popular. Those efforts as a teacher, writer and speaker on Delaware maritime history were honored in May, when he was inducted into the Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame.

From his interpretive guide experience at Fort McHenry in Baltimore to his “Lore of Delmarva” radio broadcasts on WGMD radio to his newspaper column, “Delaware Diary,” Mr. Morgan has woven a network of tales about Delmarva in the hope that he inspires people to think about those who lived in the past and what they have done.

“As long as my wife, Madelyn, continues to serve as my in-house editor and supreme judge of all things grammatical, I will continue to research the past to find new and interesting things that I can share with my readers,” Mr. Morgan said.

“I hope people who read my articles and books find something new about the history of the coast.”