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Distilleries


 

SO YOUR ANCESTOR OPERATED A DISTILLERY

By Susy Wetz

 

"During the first years of the settlement, [of Newport Township] "whiskey 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 early Marietta, "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.

       What 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

 

Tallow Light Vol. 36, No.2

 


 

OLD DISTILLERIES

            Old Distilleries were very numerous in the early days when it was a breach of hospitality not to pass the bottle when guests were present.  The purity of the liquor made by the honest pioneer distillers was unquestioned, and everybody used it, until they noticed that they were beginning to yield to whiskey the mastery, and then they quit the use and the manufacture and today there is but little spirituous liquor sold, and none made, in this township.  During the first years of the settlement, “Whiskey Mills” were even more numerous than grist-mills. 

            John Greene, Jr., Ebenezer Battelle, Sr., and Richard Greene had a small distillery in the northwest corner of section twenty-eight in 1805.  They had three copper stills in operation and devoted most of their time to the manufacture of apple jack and peach brandy.  They continued at the business for about ten years, and now there is no sign of their place of business. 

            William Dana started a still in about 1815, and continued until 1832 or 1833, when being convinced that he was not doing right, he ceased operations in this line.

            There was once a log distillery on the Little Muskingum, nearly opposite the old Sharp Mill, owned by Reuben Northup.  This was burned in about 1826.  A remnant of the old fixtures was recently found deeply buried in the river bank.

            From 1820 to 1832 Thomas Ferguson had a still-house on his place above Newport, in section twenty-two.

            Reference to the old account book of John Greene, which was in the possession of his son, Christopher, proves that in the early days whiskey was legal tender for all debts, for in those days it was supposed that whiskey was even better than water.  From the same old book it is learned that the consumer of the fiery liquid wanted it to be like water in two respects—pure and free, for they always bought on credit. 

Extracted From "Footprints" by Eileen Thomas