Monday, January 11, 2016

James Moore: An Irish Whiskey Man in the Deep South

“It is very true…that men of similar views and tastes usually harmonize most rapidly, but neither religion nor politics is bar to any man’s good standing in the community…Some allowance must be made for difference in social customs, which are not the same in all parts of the United States, it need scarcely be said.”    “Welcome to Strangers” in a Vicksburg, Mississippi, guide book, 1895.

As will be seen, opinion is divided on how Irish and particularly Catholic Irish were welcomed and treated in the Deep South after the Civil War.   James C. Moore, an Irish Catholic and proprietor of J.C. Moore’s Jug House, a Vicksburg saloon and liquor dealership, seems to have thrived in Mississippi — until the state went dry — described in the local press as a “prominent businessman here, esteemed and respected by all who know him.”
Born in Westmeath, Ireland, in 1842,  and a Roman Catholic, Moore emigrated to the United States in 1869 when he was 29 years old.  One reason he might have been attracted to Vicksburg was its location on the Mississippi River,  perhaps reminding him of the benefits of water transportation.  His native Westmeath owed much of its prosperity on having both Ireland’s Grand Canal and Royal Canal flow through it as well as the River Shannon, all of them avenues of commerce.   Moreover, beginning in 1757 Westmeath had been the scene of a famous whiskey-making enterprise, known today as Kilbeggan Distillery.  Whether Moore had an earlier association with the distillery in unknown, but within several years after his arrival in the states he had established his whiskey business on Vicksburg’s Main Street, shown above as it looked in 1905.

Opinions differ on what kind of attitudes Moore might have found in Vicksburg.  One author has declared that: “Class mattered so much that wealthier white Vicksburgers did not consider the Irish as fully white…Slaveowners called the Irish ‘niggers turned inside out,’  and blacks ‘smoked Irish.’  No wonder white Vicksburgers feared insurrection by both groups.”  A second author insists that many Irish immigrants, both Catholic and Protestant, “brought valued skills to Mississippi, became quite prosperous and…mixed freely in society and in business….”  

Moore called his place a "jug house." In Mississippi that was a saloon that also sold whiskey at retail to take home.   Moore’s company decanted liquor into ceramic jugs from barrels transported from Kentucky and other sites on the Mississippi River.  From the number and variety of such jugs to be found, it appears that Moore did a brisk trade.  Two Moore containers, shown here, are “scratch jugs,”  that is, the label is etched by hand into the surface of a Albany slip brown glaze with a sharp instrument.  This leads to considerable variably in the labeling.  Note that the jug at left gives the name of Moore’s establishment as “Jug House,” while the one at left, in script, renders it as a single word.

The variety carries over to the second grouping of jugs shown here, both with applied underglaze labels.  The jug with the two “ears” known as a bail jug and probably holding a gallon of whiskey is labeled simply “J.C Moore…Fine Liquors…Vicksburg, Miss.”  It is paired with a underglaze labeled jug that bears the most common label:  J. C. Moore’s Jug House Co., Fine Wines , Liquors, Etc.  

A final evolution of Moore’s jugs and their labeling appears here on two Bristol Glaze white containers.  Although the format differs slightly, the emphasis has become the “wholesale” nature of the the Jug House Co.  This indicates that Moore, in addition to his retail trade in drinks across the bar and take-away booze, was furnishing whiskey to other saloons in Vicksburg and its environs.

Meanwhile James Moore was having a personal life.  The 1900 U.S. Census found him living in a house in Vickburg’s First Ward, his occupation given as “wine merchant.”   He was forty-five years old and still a bachelor — but not for long.  The November 22, 1900, issue of the Vicksburg newspaper reported his marriage to Miss Margaret F. Shean of Boston at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Vicksburg.  The couple apparently had met when Margaret came to Vicksburg to visit her sister who was living there.  Twelve years younger than her husband,  she had been born in Ireland and brought to the U.S. as a child.  As was common in that day the press account was far from objective, opining:  “Miss Sheehan is a refined and educated woman, who will prove an ideal ‘queen of the household’ in her new home.”
Accepted as he apparently was as a respected businessman, Moore appears to have had a sly Irish sense of humor.  Shown above is the photograph of a elderly black man seated on the back of a blinkered mule.  Where it was taken, when and by whom is lost in the mists of time, but Moore used it as the basis of an illustration that graced his ad in the 1895 Vicksburg guide book referenced earlier.  Here the elderly gent is looking out and intoning:  “I lived 108 years, drank  78 barrels of Whiskey, never got sick until I died, and bought my liquors at J.C. Moore’s Jug House, Vicksburg, Mississippi.”  It is the only humorous ad in the entire publication.
Things changed for J. C. Moore in 1908 when Mississippi voted a statewide ban on sales of alcohol.  The brisk trade in whiskey up and down the Mississippi River had made Vicksburg a center of for liquor dealers.  Like some of his colleagues,  Moore simply moved his operation ten miles away, across the river in Louisiana.  He chose the tiny hamlet of Delta, Madison County, Louisiana as the site of his transplanted operation.  A mini-jug bearing “Compliments of J. C. Moore Jug House Company” cites the Delta address.  His retail clientele could still access Moore’s whiskey by crossing the river from Vicksburg and stocking up.

Although Louisiana stayed “wet” until the imposition of National Prohibition in 1920,  Moore was not alive to see it.  He died in February 1918 at the age of 74.  He was interred in Vicksburg’s Cedar Hill Cemetery (Division D, Lot 5, Square 96).  His widow installed a large granite monument on the site, with the notation,May his soul rest in peace.”  With no children to take over the management of Moore’s Louisiana business, my surmise is that it closed its doors.  By bringing valued business skills from Ireland to Mississippi, it is apparent that the Irish Catholic James Moore had achieved "good standing" in Vicksburg, earning him the local press accolade of “esteemed and respected” local businessman.

Note:  The publication quoted at the outset of this post is from an 1895 illustrated booklet entitled “Picturesque Vicksburg and the Yazoo Delta,” celebrating the glories of the city, the State of Mississippi, and the American South. 

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