- Fellow researchers,
- The following articles on Bourbon whiskey gives a wide picture of the
whiskey making profession in Bourbon, Nicholas, Harrison, and etc. counties.
Many of the old family names are represented herein, so it should be of
interest to most of you. This is taken from a series of articles in the
Kentuckian-Citizen, Paris, Kentucky, in February-April, 1957.
- Bob Francis
- EDITOR'S NOTE - We are indebted for the followlowing article to Wayne
Cottingham, a former resident of Paris who is now, we are told, Night Chief
for the Associated Press in New York City. Cottingham, who graduated from
Paris High school in the Class of 1914, was working on the staff of The
Kentuckian-Citizen at the time (1917) he wrote the summary of the distilling
industry here. Later he worked for the Lexington Leader, and for the AP in
Knoxville, Tenn., before assuming his present post with the news service in
New York. His comments on what was once a big local industry are both
informative and amusing:
"Distilleries Once Rated Among Bourbon Industries"
by Wayne Cottingham
- The present agitation in Congress over the manufacture of whiskey during
the period of the war seems to sound the death knell of what was at one time
the most important industry in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Kentucky in the old
days was famous the world over for her pretty girls, fine thoroughbred horses
and old Bourbon whiskey and this county did more than its "bit" in
establishing this reputation for the State.
- But, although she is still noted for her beautiful girls and fine horses,
in the last few years Kentucky has lost her prestige as a whiskey state and
even the picture of the Kentucky Colonel, seated on a riding horse which was
as full of spirit as he was of "spirits" has lost its color.
- Natural facilities made Bourbon county an ideal place for the manufacture
of whiskey. Situated in the heart of the Bluegrass where grain could be grown
easily, possessing a plentiful supply of limestone water which is necessary to
give the characteristic flavor of the product and having excellent means of
transportation, the whiskey industry in this county early became important and
for many years "Old Bourbon" whiskey was renown the world over, having graced
the tables of many European emperors.
- Commercially, the whiskey manufacture and sale was of importance (words
missing) it is from this (illegible) that this industry will be discussed.
- Whiskey Made Early
- From the earliest settlement of Bourbon county, the manufacture of whiskey
was numbered among the important industries--fact for a number of years it was
the most important. When the pioneers first settled here they were chiefly
concerned with the growing of grain, but because of the richness of the soil
they soon found that they could grow more than there was a ready market for,
so in order to keep the grain until it could be sold, they began to convert it
- A number of distilleries with a capacity of only a few barrels a day,
sprang up at almost the same time and it is not known with any degree of
certainty who started the first one. According to the historian Collins the
first plant for the manufacture of whiskey was erected in 1790 by Jacob Spears
and others from Pennsylvania, but the exact location is not known.
- Others claim that Captain John Hamilton, who ran away from Pennsylvania on
account of his participation in the whiskey insurrection, distilled in Bourbon
be fore Spears. To whom the credit belongs for being the first to manufacture
a product which was to make the county noted the country over, is not known,
but the fact remains that the manufacture of whiskey was begun very early and
continued until a few years ago.
- Pioneer Distillers
- Emanuel Wyatt operated a small distillery in a very early day or the land
owned by the late Cassius M. Clay. Benjamin Bedford was also an early
distiller. In 1806 Robert Owen built a small distillery near North Middletown
and several were already in existence in what is now known as Centerville.
- Those were days of "honest whiskey" when a bushel of grain would make two
gallons that would retail for twenty-five cents a gallon. The gentle art of
mixing water with the liquor, which has proved popular in recent times was not
- Uncle Sam was a disinterested partner in the making of whiskey at that
time and everyone had the privilege of openly making and selling as much as he
desired. The sun then served as light to work by and the distiller could se
everything that went into the whiskey was pure, instead of having to take the
chances of getting impurities in because of the pale light furnished by the
waning moon, as is the case at the present time in some parts of Kentucky.
- Whiskey-Powder Combination
- Benjamin Bedford enjoyed the distinction of carrying on an industry of the
most combustible nature ever conducted in Paris, in the form of a distillery
and Powder mill combined. The powder manufactured was used in the War of 1812,
while the whiskey-well, the whiskey was used in camphor bottles. Among the
largest distilleries ever operated in the county were the following: White's
Distillery, at Paris; the Paris Distillery, at Paris; Ford & Bacon, at Ruddles
Mills; and George Pugh and Gus Pugh & Company, in the northern part of the
county. The most famous brands were "Sam Clay," Chicken Cock," and "Peacock."
- Amazing Number of Distillers
- In 1810, the first public survey of native industries was undertaken
through the census. Kentucky enumerators were very lax in omitting many
manufactures which we know were carried on. However, they reported that in
Bourbon county there were 128 distillers making 146,103 gallons of whiskey
valued at $48,701. Considering the large size of families at that date and the
number of employees or slaves, one might arrive at the conclusion that about
one of every four or five farmers was a distiller. While it rated third place
as a productive industry it certainly had the largest number of individuals
engaged in it. Because of its superior quality Bourbon whiskey became known
all over the world. For this reason we have given some time and space to
recounting the names of those who helped to establish its international
- In 1811, a part of John Rice's estate consisted of a 120 gal. still, one
of 80 gallon capacity, 16 mash kettles, and a supply of tubs.
- At the time of his death at Ruddell's Mills in 1812, Isaac Ruddle owned
two, stills, two flake stands, and a boiler, which sold for $157.50. He had
been the military leader of those who had taken refuge in his unfinished fort
in 1780 and had vainly tried to protect them from the brutality of their
captors. One of his babies was killed, two of his young boys captured and
adopted by the Indians.
- Another Missionary
- When they grew up both of them married squaws and one, Stephen Ruddle,
became an early missionary to the Indians sent by the Cooper's Run Baptist
church of Bourbon county. During the War of 1812 he performed a valuable
patriotic service in acting as interpreter and in enlisting Indian aid against
the British. Isaac's wife, Elizabeth Bowman Ruddle, achieved local fame when
she refused to allow him to sell any of his land for a proposed county seat at
the junction of Stoner and Hinkston. After her bitter experiences and long
captivity she craved peace and quiet. And especially did she wish to save her
peach orchard from the probable raids of juvenile delinquents who might grow
up around a town.
- The Use Of Steam In Distilling
- The Ruddle boiler, mentioned above, is the earliest local reference to the
use of steam in distilling. The process was invented by Dr. Samuel Brown, a
teacher of chemistry and physics at Transylvania College, Lexington, in 1798.
His service in introducing small-pox vaccine into the United States is
probably better known than his agricultural experiments but he taught Kentucky
farmers to use fertilizer, then called "plaister," and devised a method of
clarifying ginseng, a popular export to China.
- In the eastern part of the county John Phelps was both miller and
distiller before his death in 1814. In the Little Rock vicinity Lot Hayden had
two stills, and kettles which sold for more than $200 that spring. John Swiney,
probably near North Middletown, also used two stills.
- Clement Ross owned 7 mash tubs and other equipment in 1814. George
Mountjoy appears to have invested his earnings from two stills in a gig, one
of the first in the county. Richard Smith owned 12 barrels of whiskey in "cags"
and Sandford Gorham's 14 barrels sold for $275.62 at the rate of 35¢ a gallon.
He also had on hand three barrels of cider, sometimes called cyder oil or
- John Miller, the founder of Millersburg, died in 1815 owning two stills
and 15 mash tubs which sold for $142.75. In 1816 Jonathon Musick owned two
- Free Whiskey
- One could go on in this vein at great length. A strange custom of the
times was to serve free whiskey at administrator's sales in the hope, I
presume, of inducing spirited bidding (if you will pardon a poor pun). For
instance at one average sized sale in 1799, those who attended consumed 8
gallons, 3 quarts of liquor. Such items were considered part of the necessary
expense of the occasion and allowed as such by the court.
- References used: Bourbon County Court Records; files of the Kentucky
Gazette, Lexington; Kerr's History; Arts and Manufactures by Tench Coxe, 1814.
- Distilling in the issue of February 8, Mr. Brannon reprinted an excellent
article about the distilling industry, written by Wayne Cottingham, which
mentions a half dozen of the early distillers and eight of the better known
plants of later years. As a footnote to his remarks, I can supply the names of
a few more of the early ones.
- Jacob Spears
- When Clay Sutherland told me last summer that the Chamber of Commerce had
received a request for information on the use of the name Bourbon, I could
only repeat the Collins History story that Jacob Spears was the first
distiller, as far as I knew. His home was the place where Callie Jones lives
on the Clay and Kiser Pike and the little stone storehouse where the barreled
whiskey was stored was in full view across the road. With some additions it is
used as a barn by Herman Kearns. Jacob Spears also had a mill which may have
been near the point where Cooper's Run empties into Stoner. A fragment of the
old dirt road leading from his house to it was until 1925 clearly visible
behind the voting booth for that precinct just north of the Cooper's Run
bridge on the Cynthiana Road. Our farm neighbor, Mr. Joe Florence, and my
husband agreed to divide the space it occupied and turned it into our
respective farms. We used the remnant of rock wall that had bordered it to
patch our other stone fences.
- I have always been told that his son, Noah Spears, floated the whiskey to
New Orleans, walking home after its sale by way of the robber and Indian
infested Natchez trace. He made this trip as many as thirteen times. Once he
was accompanied by his younger brother, Abraham, who at sixteen, was ready for
adventure. A souvenir which corroborates this incident is a beautiful
miniature of the latter, owned by Mrs. Woodford Spears, which was painted by
either John B. or William E. West, Lexington artists who had gone to Tennessee
and worked in the river towns of the deep south. Their progress downstream was
leisurely enough to allow the painting to be done on the way. The danger
surrounding their return is attested by news stories of the killing of road
crews by the Indians. Despite alert guards who watched while they worked at
marking the trace and clearing the undergrowth, the mortality rate was high on
the stretch of the path in Tennessee.
- Since Noah Spear' wife, born in 1792, was a half-sister of my great-great
grandmother (who once owned the land where the strip of mill road could be
seen) the story has come down fairly directly. It was she who claimed that the
superiority of their whiskey, labelled Bourbon, established the demand for it
under that name.
- By an advertisement of the Kentucky Gazette I can corroborate the story of
Jacob Spears a fine horse to tend, too, but that properly belongs to another
chapter. His liesure time, about which Mr. Cottingham amusingly speculates,
was employed in taking an interest in public affairs. At least, it would seem
so from the meeting at his house to nominate representatives to the
Constitutional convention, advertised for the 14th day of February, 1799.
- Later, Jacob Spears' son, Solomon, carried on the distilling business
using the fine still-flowing spring at "Sunny-side" in its manufacture. He
built his home there, a part of which is incorporated in the rear part of Mr.
R. B. Rendrew's house. When the present owner bought the place a brick granary
which had formerly served as a warehouse still stood. The racks for holding
the barrels were gone but the large timbers which had held them were in place.
A door elevated in the wall was used for unloading directly from wagons onto a
floor built about four feet above the ground. The old rope wind(?)ass employed
in raising the barrels to the wooden loft was usable. The age of the loft was
shown by the rough timbers sixteen or eighteen inches in diameter, hewn only
on two sides.
- Other Early Distillers
- Who were some of the other early distillers? Matthias Lair and Isaac
Keller made whiskey before 796. Lair has bought the part of Captain Isaac
Ruddle's land which included the tract where Ruddles' fort stood in 1780 when
attacked and destroyed by the British and Indians. Readers not familiar with
his dramatic chapter of Kentucky history would enjoy its story, written by a
Lair descendant, Mrs. Maude Ward Lafferty, of Lexington, published in 1957 by
the Kentucky Historical Society in both paper back and cloth bound editions.
Built in 1794, the mansion house, though heavily damaged by fire, stands about
a mile from Lair Station in what is now Harrison County, then Bourbon.
- The Whiskey Tax
- In assuming that there was no tax on whiskey in early times Mr. Cottingham
was in error. In 1793 a meeting was called at Lexington to protest the federal
excise tax on liquor and especially the provision that it must be paid in
specie, which in the west was almost non-existent. Almost all businesses were
conducted by giving notes and when the local merchants made their annual trips
to Philadelphia to buy new stock they posted notices to that effect several
months in advance asking their patrons to come in and settle so they could buy
new goods. Later we shall discuss the kinds of produce accepted in payment of
- The first reference I found in the Bourbon county records to the payment
of this tax was in the accounts of the settlement of George Lail's estate when
it mentioned two pounds sterling, and seven shillings tax, on whiskey in 1800.
George Lail and his wife were other survivors of the siege t of Ruddles' Fort,
at which time two small sons were captured. One was recovered by trading a
blanket for him, the other was adopted by the Indians who tested his stoicism
by rolling him down a bank. The George Lail house in the edge of Harrison
County, formerly Bourbon, is on a farm which belongs to Mr. Logan English.
- References used: Bourbon County Court Records, files of the Kentucky
Gazette, Collins' History of Kentucky and Kerr's History Of Kentucky.
Source: The Kentuckian-Citizen, February 21, 1957
- "Did Bourbon Whiskey Get Its Unique Flavor By Accident?"
- By EDNA TALBOTT WHITLEY
- From some source, not now recalled, Mr. Brannon says that he heard that
the use of charred barrels to add flavor to whiskey came about by an accident,
a fire in which oak casts were burned but not consumed. We are reminded of the
classic story of how primitive man found that cooked pork was edible. His pet
pig was burned alive in a fire that destroyed the house. In attempting to
rescue it he burned his fingers. Automatically he thrust them into his mouth
to ease the pain. When he did this his taste buds were treated to a perfectly
new sensation and ever afterwards he burned down his houses to enjoy roast pig
when hunger overtook him.
- The First Bourbon Maker
- Collins' History says that the first Bourbon whiskey was made in Scott
County by Rev. Elijah Craig in 1789. If so, why didn't they call it "Scott" or
"Woodford" for that is where it would have been at that date? If this is true,
how was our busy young friend, Jacob Spears, employing his time after
returning from the Sandusky campaign in 1782? In June, 1786, the Bourbon
County Court set the rates which innkeepers could charge for rum, brandy, wine
and whiskey so it was known and served here at that time. Perrin says, that
Peter Houston built a malt house in 1787 to furnish malt to neighboring
- In February, 1798, the distillers around Lexington held a meeting at
Brent's stone tavern, Whether it was political in Purpose, directed toward
finding a candidate for Congress who would favor repealing the excise tax on
vvhiskey, I do not know. The federal money was all being spent for
improvemerits in the east while the Kentucky farmers had no outlet for their
crops. They had a point in opposing Alexander Hamilton's revenue measures. In
a very modern fashion of merchandising Andrew McCalla's Drug Store advertised
a long list of distillers' supplies, among others aniseed water, orange water,
clove water, and juniper berries (for flavoring gin). In addition they
furnished instructions for making some of these drinks. In other columns
coppersmiths advertised stills.
- Wine Making
- At that time the Kentucky Gazette carried a long article on grape culture
written by John James Du Four, one of a group of enterprising Swiss emigrants
who had settled in a colony in Jessamine county. An organization was formed to
develop wine-making on a commercial scale, but the differences in climate made
the grapes fall off before ripening, in some cases, and the movement failed.
Later the Swiss went to Vevay, Indiana, to repeat their experiment.
- In Kentucky wine-making remained a family industry, usually supervised by
the women of the pioneer home. It would be interesting to discover who in
Bourbon County has the oldest recipes for making dandelion, alderberry (or is
it alderblossom?) wine or any other of the delicacies served to visitors. In
many a household blackberry cordial was a soverign remedy for "virus x,"
carefully set aside for that purpose.
- Other Distillers
- Did the tax have something to do with Laban Shipp's offering his place for
sale, July 4, 1799? In describing it he wrote that his orchard contained 400
to 500 apple trees and 400 bearing peach trees. His stillhouse was equipped
with stills of 96 and 118 gallons capacity and 30 mash tubs. Actually he did
not sell and go to Hopkinsville until much later, but that is another story.
- William Griffith, one of six Bourbon county representatives to the Second
Constitutional Convention in 1799, died the next year. His crop of corn and
all of the stills and vessels necessary for carrying on that part of the
farming operation were bought by his son, Samuel.
- Robert Clarke, the builder of a blockhouse where neighbors could take
refuge in time of Indian attack, owned a small still and vessels which sold
for five pounds sterling and eight shillings in 1801. A part of his fort on
the Hume and Bedford Road is incorporated in the farmhouse still owned by his
descendants, the Misses Clarke of Duncan Ave.
- Tight Money
- How long credit had to be extended is shown in the final paymerit in 1801,
after four years of waiting, for 278 gallons of whiskey sold by the estate of
John Ruddle for 55 pounds 12 shillings.
- At the time of nis death in 1803, Christian Spears had on hand more than a
thousand gallons of cider, five hundred of whiskey, and forty-nine of brandy.
His son-in-law, Peter Smith, bought his equipment. Spears and his wife were in
the group of prisoners taken at Ruddle's Fort and marched to Detroit. Enroute
the Indians killed Mrs. Spears. After her death he became the protector of
young Anna Mary Burger who had been separated from her family. Thus he was
able to save her from mistreatment by the Indians. Later, while still in
captivity, they were married.
- Early Missionary From Bourbon
- At James Alexander's sale in 1805 the still and kegs, appraised at $25,
were knocked off to John Alexander for $43.50. Living at "Cherryvale" near
Gass's spring on the Hancock or Clay farm, this family furnished a son, Wm.
Patterson Alexander, to the Presbyterian ministry. After teaching for a period
at Cooper's Run school house he became a missionary, the first ever to go to
- When Daniel Call died in 1807, his widow, Hannah, bid in the Still, mash
kettles, and tubs for $121, it may have been her main chance to support her
- The Kentuckian-Citizen, March 1, 1957
- "Distillers, Dissenters, & Writers of Odes" by Edna Talbott Whitley
- Some of our discriminating readers have probably noticed the two spellings
of Isaac Ruddell's name in one sentence in our last story. For this we have a
precedent in Collins'
- History which, indexed Ruddell's Mills in contrast to Isaac and rnost of
his kinsmen as
- Ruddle. By the time I could consult that gentleman's will to see how he
signed his own name the paper had gone to press. So, Ruddle's Fort Homemakers
please take note. A third colloquial version of the name used to be Riddle's
Mill perhaps used derisively to indicate a small place where nothing happened,
like Timbuktu, about which Dr. Pittenger is an authority.
- Steam Distilling and Inventors
- When referring to distilling with steam as the invention of Dr. Samuel
Brown I should have said it was based in part on Edward West's invention of a
steamboat model which ran on Town Fork, Lexington, in 1794. Rather belatedly a
patent for it was issued in 1802. Distillers using steam were warned in
October, 1811, not to infringe on the patent right of Edward West, Samuel
Brown and Thomas West. Edward West was a talented silver and gunsmith who
patented three other very useful inventions that same year, a gunlock, a nail
cutting machine, and one which would cut and head nails at the same time.
Earlier than this most building had to be ne with wooden pegs. Another
invention of West's was advertised the Kentucky Gazette of December 11, 1799,
metallic rings to cure rheumatism. Nine long testionials as to their efficacy
were included, among them one from Jesse Williams of Bourbon county. The
credulity of the public is ever present but it was a time when medical
knowledge was in a primiwe state of development and when herb doctors and
Indian remedies flourished.
- Thomas West who had a part, perhaps a financial interest, in the
distilling patent had moved to Paris before 1788 where he conducted a tavern
opposite the courthouse. Serving Bourbon to his customers and chatting with
the makers had convinced him, no doubt, of the usefulness of the invention. To
a mere housewife the distilling process sounds very complicated. Usually
stillhouses were built below a hill so that a gravity feed could bring the
water down from the spring. The coldness of the water was important in helping
to condense the vapor from the still. The grains used were corn (51 to 75 per
cent), rye, and barley malt. Probably the proportions were then a carefully
guarded secret as they are now. Do you not suppose that farmers who got
together at sales, elections, and other public occasions debated the merits of
relative proportions of grain and compared recipes much as their wives traded
- Eighteen to twenty gallons of hot water was poured over each bushel of
ground cornmeal. It was boiled and cooled. Rye meal was added, brought to a
high temperature, and cooled again. Then malt made from barley (by spouting it
in cold water) was added at a specified temperature for twenty minutes to
change the starch to sugar. No other sweetening was used. This mixture went
through a fermenting process for three or four days and was called "beer".
- After being heated to near the boiling point it was put into the still.
Finally it was stored in charred white oak barrels to age. The kegs or barrels
were elevated on racks to provide an even flow of air at all times. Our
changing climate is supposed to add something to the flavor.
- Published List of Distillers
- Under the history of different precincts Perrin mentions the following
distillers: John Miller, Robt. McClelland, and Wm. Turner in the Millersburg
precinct; one on the Ellison land at Flat Rock; Robert Owen and John Lander
near North Middletown. Near Clintonville were Wm. Tillet, Henry Sagester, one
of the Dennisons, someone on the Jake Epperson land; and Daniel Thatchel
(before 1817). Around Jacktonville were (Christian?) Bowman,Ben and John
Shropshire and S. B. Clarkson on Silas Creek, all from 1815-1818. He quotes
someone who said every house on Townsend Creek had its distillery and mill. At
Ruddell's Mill, Ruddell and Mulharen, (son-in-law of Isaac Ruddell) made
- The Liquor Tax and The Whiskey Rebellion
- At the time Kentucky became a state Congress had just passed the excise
tax in an effort to meet Alexander Hamilton's budget for getting a system of
government under way. When the Pennsylvanians rioted as a demonstration of
their unwillingness to conform several thousand federal troops led by Hamilton
invaded that state to quiet the turmoil. Kentuckians were terribly excited and
rather expected the same thing to happen here. Owners had to pay a tax of 54
cents per gallon on the capacity of the still and a 7 cent per gallon
production tax. The flow of oratory and the fountain of print was terrific.
Some hid their stills out, that is, did not report them, others met the
payments. Some had to be sued.
- Except for the 1937 flood which destroyed the whiskey tax records in the
basement of the Revenue building at Louisville we would have a complete list
of early distillers. But a few are recovered from a list of one hundred and
seventy seven Kentuckians who were sued in Federal Court. Judge Harry Innes
was an intelligent person far better informed of the actual conditions under
which Kentuckians suffered than the law makers in the east. Almost invariably
he let the distillers of half of their tax and gave them thirty to ninety days
in which to raise the money. Twenty-three were from Bourbon, County:
- John Shawhan 1794, Thomas Jones Sr. 1797, James Rule 1794, James Henry
1799, James Ingalls 1799, Thomas Hinkston 1798, Alexander Robinson, 1799, John
Shaw 1798, Hugh Duffin 1799, John McCrackin 1798, David Hanaway 1798, Israel
Gilpin 1798, Alexander Caldwell 1798, Samuel Lyon 1798, Daniel Ronderbush
1798, Thomas Rule 1796, Joshua Harlan 1799, Elijah Fishback 1795, James
Hutcheson 1795, John Gregory 1798, Robert and James Caldwell, dates missing.
Another name which might be added to the list is that of Edward Ragland, 1790,
who lived in the part of Bourbon which became Clark County. Some had to be
hauled to court more than once, for they considered the whiskey tax a
sectional discrimination and an invasion of their freedom. These names are
taken from W. R. Jillson's "Early Kentucky Distillers, 1783-1800."
- In East Paris on the road going towards Millersburg and Maysville was an
old frame building called the "Blue House" used by Mr. Ellerbeck as a brewery
in 1805, says McCann in his recollections of Paris of that date. (Keller &
McCann's "Sketches of Paris," 1876.)
- More Distillers in County Court Records
- Richard B. Smith had three stills of 60, 106 and 130 gallons capacity and
33 tubs in addition of 12 barrels of whiskey in "Cags" when he died in 1816.
- Two years later when Thomas Chaney's two stills were sold, John Esham
bought both the little and big flake stands for $56 land $122 respectively.
Jesse Hildreth, Josiah Swearingen, Elisha McCelland and Jonas Weatherford each
bought four tubs. They appear to be from the vicinity of Cane Ridge or
- Rudolph Mock, a pioneer of German descent, had turned his still and
vessels over to his son, Rudolph, Jr., before his death in 1817 but they were
not entirely paid for. His still had a capacity of 64 gallons.
- A 75 gallon still with cap and worm, appraised at $50, brought $75 at the
sale of Samuel Call near North Middletown in 1818. The successful bidder was
John Stewart. His 125 gallon still brought $71.25. Tom Parrish and Thomas
Carter bought his mash tubs and Samuel Rash bought the "boyler."
- Melikiah Crouchman, another early German settler, had stilling equipment.
Lloyd Ralls bought tubs and Andrew House his apple mill in January 1810.
Apparently he lived in the south end of the county, toward Fayette.
- Moses Thomas, a Revolutionary soldier and early settler, owned three mash
tubs and nine barrels indicating some activity along this line before his
death in 1818, but his main crop was tobacco.
- A Few Dissenters
- After reading all these names of persons engaged to some extent in
distilling one might suppose it had the unanimous endorsement of all farmers,
but such was not the case. There were some who weighed its disadvantages
against its so-called benefits. One whose name is not recorded for posterity,
expressed himself in an ODE to WHISKEY. After starting off with "Great Spirit
hail!" and a little pro and conning he gives us these lines:
- "We owe, great Dram; the
- trembling hand to thee,
- The headstrong purpose, and the
- feeble knee
- The loss of honor, and the cause
- of wrong;
- The brain enchanted, and the
- faltering tongue;
- Whilst fancy flies before there,
- Thou leavest disabled prudence
- far behind.
- In thy pursuit our fields are
- left forlorn;
- Whilst giant weeds oppress the
- pigmy corn.
- Thou throwest a mist beforetbe
- planters eyes;
- The plow grows idle, and
- the harvest dies . . . "
- References used: Bourbon County Court Records; files of the Kentucky
Gazette and the Kentucky Reporter; Perrin; Kellar and McCann; and W. R. Jilson
as mentioned in narrative.
- A report of manufacturing in 1810 is our only reliable source of
information about the quantity of early whiskey made in Bourbon county. Since
there were fifty-four counties in the commonwealth at that date, we appear to
have made more than our share, one sixteenth of the total output of the state.
The War of 1812 brought a number of new excise taxes and increased the rate of
the whisky tax from 7 to 20 cents a gallon. How long it remained at this level
I do not know. Once raised, it seems difficult to get any tax down again, for
we constantly demand new services which absorb the revenue from it.
- As time went on and markets for other agricultural products fewer farms
engaged in distilling. It may be that the smaller plants were gradually
absorbed by the sale of equipment to larger ones. Though there was an embargo
on importing a number of foreign manufactures one Lexington firm, Trotter and
Tilford, offered suitable for making stills in 1808 and recommended its
- When Mrs. Margaret Rannells, widow of Rev. Samuel Rannells, died soon
after her husband, her two still tubs were bought in 1821 by Hezekiah Martin
and her son, William Rannells, bought six barrels of cider. Anthony Thornton's
estate sold, in 1822, two stills of 120 and 65 gallons capacity each, a boiler
holding 150 gallons, and 20 mash tubs. In addition there were 5 barrels of
whiskey on hand.
- Amounts for the sale of Jacob Custer (Custard) were not settled until 1822
some seven years after it was held. George Custer, who may have grown up in
this interval to manage this branch of the family business, bought the still
and worm for $126. At Larkin Field's auction in September 1823, tkirty-six
gallons of whiskey was sold. Mrs. Winny Webb had four barrels of cider, a keg
of wine, a two and a half gallon bottle of current shrub, a keg of cherry
bounce, and "two bottles containing something" when her personalty was sold
that year. (Can't you see they sniffin hopefully?)
- Mrs. Webb's array of homemade company refreshments reminds us of the
little four year old boy who was included in a spend-the-day party which his
family attended in honor of visitors long ago. When homemade wine was passed
at the conclusion of the meal a minute portion was served to him. Attention
was drawn to him when he closed his eyes tight while sipping with evident
relish. "Why Edward", they said "why are you drinking with your eyes shut"? "Soloman
says look not upon the wine when it is red" was his lisped explanation.
- In November 1823 Joseph Cummins' sale found a new owner in George
Standiford for his small still, worm, and flakestand. Gus Pugh bought a "cag"
and barrel and Joseph Shawhan two copper funnels. George Baylor bid in the
large still, worm, flake stand and 21 tubs sold that year at William
Hutchison's sale. Abraham Spears gave $9 for the lot of wood stacked at the
still house and Robert Trabuc bought six barrels.
- Chas. Menary's still sold to John Caul (Call?) and four of his tubs went
to James Bryan, two to Joel Bates, six to John Maginnis, one to Charles Menary
(Jr.?) and two to Leonard Dunivin. Ralph Jacoby's personalty included fourteen
barrels when his estate was appraised in 1823.
- About half way to North Middletown lived William Thomas whose estate was
appraised in December 1823. At his sale in the following February Kizziah and
Henry Thomas got twenty of the cider barrels, Wm. Duncan eight of them, and
neighbor, Hicklin bought the double barrels (Hogsheads?). In September 1823,
Wm. Tillet bought John Reed's still and cap.
- In the Jackstown vicinity Thomas Neal's estate listed both large and small
stills with worms and caps (one worm). Near Jacksonville A. C. Respass bought
Thomas Respass's three mash tubs, two barrels of whiskev and an empty barrel
in March 1824. Toward Flat Rock Charles Soper's estate had 6 still tubs, of
which two went to Themas Soper, three to Levin F. Hall, and one to John Letton.
His twelve barrels of whiskey went to Thomas and Lawrence Soper, who also got
some of the kegs and empty barrels.
- George Standiford had sixty barrels of whiskey holding 34 gallons each
when he died in 1824. He had a shop in Paris and may have taken some of this
in trade expecting to ship it scuth. John and N. Standiford paid $469 for it
at the sale in October.
- Originally it was our plan not to resort to printed history until the
lesser known scurces of information (court records and early newspapers) were
exhausted. But I trust your patience be exhausted, too, in the process of
recording our rather statistical treatment of the topic, here is one
explanation of who made the first Bourbon whiskey.
- The Claim of John Hamilton From Pages 657 and 658 Perrin's History of
Bourbon, Scott, Harrison and Nicholas Counties:
- "CAPTAIN JOHN HAMILTON, farmer; P. 0. Cynthiana. Capt. Hamilton was born
near Gettysburg, in York County, Penn., in 1766, and died in 1863. His
father, Wm. Hamilton, was born in County Tyrone Ireland, and emigrated to
America several years prior to the Revolution, and setted at the place now
called Ginger Hill, in Washington County, Penn. It was then called a
frontier settlement. He married Mollie Bitener, also of County Tyrone,
Ireland. She died about the year 1814. The fruits of this marriage were
eight ehildren, but one of which died under eighty years of age. His
educational advantages were very limited, only having an opportunity to
attend school about three months. He afterward learned to write his name on
the head of a whisky barrel while distilling. His first business was in
clearing up the forest and watching the Indians. Capt. H. was married in
Bourbon County, in 1795, to Rachel Cook, who was born in Virginia about
1770, and died in 1813. Her parents were John and Peggy (Blair) Cook, both
of Virginia birth. Subject was a Captain in the war of 1812. Commanded a
company of volunteers, mounted riflemen, under Gen. Hopkins. His first march
was to Fort Harrison, commanded by Maj. Zachary Taylor. Being but ten years
of age when Independence was declared, be was too young to take any part in
the Revolution, except, toward the close, he carried dispatches. He had born
to him two sons, (Septimus, born 1805, and John in 1808 ), and five
daughters (Peggy, born 1796; Polly, 1798; Sally, 1800; Nancy, 1803; and
Caroline, in 1810). Capt. H. came to Kentucky in 1785, then in his
nineteenth year. He and a few companions took a large canoe and came down
the Ohio River to the mouth of Limestone Creek, now Maysville; from that
they went to Ruddel's Station by way of the Buffalo trace. He remained in
Kentucky till the whisky insurrection broke out in Western Pennsylvania, at
which time he returned there by the wilderness route, and, arriving, found
an army camped on his brother's farm, to put down the insurrection. His
brother refused to pay the tax on his still, and hid to prevent being
arrested, and had made up his mind to allow his still to be confiscated. At
this juncture our subject went after dark, took the still out of the furnace
and carried it to the Monongahela, which was some three miles distant,
concealed it there, returned and secured the cap and worm, which he took to
the same place, until he was ready to start. A few days later our subject,
in company with a Mr. McCoons, procured a large canoe, loaded their
distilling apparatus and brought the same down the Ohio to Limestone; they
again hid it, and made their way to Ruddel's Station, where they got an
auger and axe and made a rough log sled, to which they hitched a horse, and
returned to Limestone and hauled their still, etc., to the Station. The
following year they raised some corn and rye and manufactured the same into
whisky, which was perhaps the first of that article ever made in the county,
although the credit has been claimed by other parties. He only doubled once
a week, and the men would come in every Saturday from the neighboring
stations and drink as much as they could, and carry the balance home with
them to supply their wants till the next Saturday. His yield was from six to
eight gallons per week. He voted for George Washington at his second
election to the Presidency of the United States, and voted at every
Presidential election afterwards to the time of Abraham Lincoln's election.
He also voted for a delegate to represent Kentucky in Virginia."
- Perrin's History, published in 1882, was one of many which came out in
that decade on the subscription plan. Each person whose name headed a sketch
furnished the material for publication. Obviously one of Capt. John Hamilton's
children or grandchildren, then living in Cynthiana, wrote the sketch.
Unfortunately, he or she did not state where John Hamilton settled and had his
distillery, but another page of Perrin, (449) gives the clue in the Bedford
sketch, when it says that Benjamin Coleman Bedford moved a short time after
his marriage to a place near Paris on Houston, which was settled by Johnnie
Hamilton. Benj. Coleman Bedford's first marriage occurred in September 1829,
so Hamilton had given up possession of his home quite early. Mrs. William
Ardery, whose researches are a valuable contribution to Kentucky history, has
traced the title to the old stone house which formerly stood on the Ford's
Mill Road and which was recently razed when the site became part of the
Detroit Harvester property. A cornerstone or keystone, inscribed "J. H. 1803,"
was carefully preserved and presented to Mrs, Ardery who had it incorporated
in the stone wall of the terrace back of the Anne Duncan House,
- One bit of corraboration, to the theory that it is the same John Hamilton
in the above sketch comes in a newspaper advertisement May 15, 1817, in our
own Western Citizen when Miles Gallagher, coppersmith, announced he was moving
to John Hamilton's on the Ford Mill Road and would continue to make stills and
kettles. He asked also to buy old copper, brass and pewter.
- One or two inconsistencies should be pointed out in the Hamilton
narrative. Ruddell Station was burned in 1780 and not rebuilt. Matthias Lair
who bought its site made whiskey there before his death in 1796. A descendant
says he recorded in the Bible that "he sold it at Maisville for 12 1/2 cts a
gallon." The whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania occurred in 1794 which did
not leave much leeway for raising a crop and converting it. Collins' History
says Jacob Spears built his distillery in 1790 (Vol 2 p 67). The late Joseph
H. Ewalt, born in 1866, told his wife, who grew up in the Jacob Spears house
on an adjoining farm to the place which his family settled in 1788, that the
first whiskey in Bourbon County was made there where her grandfather, George
Thomas, later lived and distilled in the Jacob Spears distillery. In addition
to being close neighbors Mrs. Jacob Spears and Mrs, Henry Ewalt were
sisters-in-law, the latter being a widow of Jacob Keller, who died in 1761,
before her marriage to Henry Ewalt. Without the revenue records an argument as
to who was first is rather futile. But Captain Hamilton's difficulties in
bringing his still to Kentucky make a vivid and colorful record of an early
era and attest to his ingenuity.
- References used as stated in text; Bourbon County Court Records.
See: Bob Francis & Shawhan Website