SO YOUR ANCESTOR
OPERATED A DISTILLERY
By Susy Wetz
"During the first years of the
settlement, [of Newport
mills" were even more numerous than grist mills." From 1805 to 1815 John Greene Jr., Ebenezer
Battelle Sr., and Richard Greene manufactured apple jack and peach brandy.
William Dana operated a distillery from 1815 to about 1832. A log distillery
was once on the Little Muskingum which was owned by Reuben Northup. This was in
operation until 1826, when it burned. Thomas Ferguson had a still house on his
property from 1820 to 1832. (1)
The prevailing opinion of Whiskey and
"spirits" differed greatly than that of today or even later in the
19th century. Hildreth put it best: "At this point whiskey was considered
as much an article of necessity, for the support of man and especially for
those in any way exposed to the vicissitudes of weather, or engaged in any
laborious employment, and [needed by the body as much as] meat or bread.
Temperance Societies were then unknown; and a person who did not offer his
neighbor or friend a dram, even if casually calling at his home, was thought a
stingy fellow, and as much despised as he would now be who should make an offer
and call it hospitality.(2) President George Washington owned a distillery and President
John Adams had a tankard of hard cider every morning for breakfast.(3) Whiskey
was used as legal tender. "Spirits" were shipped down the river as a
profitable enterprise to the farmer of that period.
Many of these men are on record as
being moral, religious men. Ebenezer Battelle Sr. was "Religious
Instructor" at the early settlement at Belpre. John Greene Jr. was listed
as being a constituent member of the Presbyterian Church which met for a time
in early Newport.
William Dana, likewise, was one of the earliest members of the Baptist Church. Drink was considered a necessity
of life; however, public drunkenness was not to be tolerated. In the records of
"drunkenness was punished by fine, but in failure of payment the offender
was to sit in the stocks for the space of one hour.(4)
In the very early onset of the 1800's,
a long lasting revival began in the churches. Circuit riding preachers and tent
revivals, once despised and ridiculed, changed the face of organized religion.
Temperance Societies were organized; and the evils of the "demon rum"
soon permeated the thinking of the 19th century man and woman. Instead of a
necessity of life, whiskey was now thought a poison.
was judged an honorable way to provide for a family in the late 1700' s and
early 1800's, operating a distillery was afterward thought of as a dishonor to
any Christian man who continued in the trade.
1 History of Washington County,
H. Z. Williams & Bros. 1881
2 American Pioneer, Samuel Prescott
Hildreth, 1783-1863, Cincinnati, J. S. Williams 1844 from the Special
Collection Research Center, University of Chicago Library
3 The Alcoholic Republic, W. J. Rorabaugh, Oxford University Press, Inc.
4 Washington County and the early settlement of Ohio; being the Centennial Historical
address before the citizens of Washington County, Cincinnati, P.G. Thomas, 1877
Light Vol. 36, No.2