Sunday, April 23, 2017

Wheeling and Dealing with the Stolls in Kentucky

From their base in Lexington, members of the Stoll family at various times owned part or all of five Kentucky distilleries, bought and sold them frequently, and played cozy with the Whiskey Trust.  Their gambits in the liquor trade did not bring them lasting fame but in their own time earned them grudging respect as canny businessmen.

The Stoll family was established in the United States as early as 1818 when Gallus Stoll, a native of Wurtemburg, Germany, brought his family here.  After a brief flirtation with Pennsylvania, Gallus headed west, settling in Lexington.  There his son, George, was educated, found a wife in a Kentucky native, Mary Scrugham, began a family, and sold furniture and later insurance.

From that union emerged a band of brothers whose names would be among the most noted in distilling circles of the time.  The eldest, born in 1851, was Richard Pindall Stoll, shown right, whose jutting chin and stern demeanor give some hint of his determination to succeed.  Educated in public schools and at the University of Kentucky, he first learned the liquor business as a federal revenue agent, collecting taxes on distilled products.  In time his brother, James Scrugham Stoll, born in 1855, would join him in the whiskey trade.

In 1880 the brothers, operating as Stoll & Co., established their first distillery, one they called “Commonwealth.”  Known in Federal parlance as Registered Distillery #12 in Kentucky’s 7th District, the whiskey-making was accomplished within the brick shell of a old cotton warehouse.  This distillery was capable of producing 45 barrels a day or 5,000 barrels per year, made possible by twelve 9.000 gallon fermentation vats in the cellar.  Three small warehouses could accommodate 13,000 barrels of aging stock.

After five years Stoll & Co., in a likely shrewd business move, dissolved and its assets were auctioned publicly.  A third brother, George J. Stoll, bought the distillery and Richard Stoll acquired several hundred gallons of the stored and aging whiskey.  Out of this transaction the Commonwealth Distillery Co. was born, incorporated in 1883.  Richard became president and his board included James and a fourth brother, Charles H. Stoll.   Members of a Cincinnati liquor wholesaling family, the Pritzes, also came on board. [See my post on Pritz, October 2011.]

Meanwhile a second firm was formed by Richard Stoll with a partner, Robert B. Hamilton, to merchandise the products from the Commonwealth plant.  To a great extent using large ceramic jugs for their wholesale customers, they sold under their own names and “Old Elk.”  Their symbol for the latter was a large elk head peering from a horseshoe and bearing the motto, “Always Pure.”
Meanwhile Richard also was becoming involved with William Tarr in the Ashland Distillery (RD #1, 7th District), the facility shown below, located in Fayette County.  In a series of business moves this distillery had come into the possession of Tarr, a prominent Kentucky land speculator [See my post on Tarr, February 2015.]  In time James Stoll, shown right, also became a major partner.  The Ashland distillery issued $50,000 in bonds secured by company assets.  The aftereffects of a financial panic and depression in the whiskey industry, as well as some bad personal loans by Tarr, however, soon caused the company to go into bankruptcy.

In May 1897 all Ashland Distillery assets were assigned to James and Richard Stoll, as receivers.  The major asset was 10,000 bottles of  “Old Tarr" whiskey in bond.  Two years later the distillery was sold at auction for $61,000 to a “straw bidder” for the Kentucky Distillery & Warehouse Company, better known as the “Whiskey Trust.”  The cartel was now a major force in Kentucky distilling and Charles H. Stoll was its attorney who engineered the deal.

Meanwhile the brothers continued to be busy on other fronts.  In 1891 James Stoll, shown here, teamed with Sanford K. Vannatta, a whiskey broker from Bloomington, Illinois, in a effort to make “Old Elk” a recognized brand across America.  As the Stolls' relationship with the Trust ripened they deeded the Commonwealth Distillery to the Trust and it promptly expanded production.  James Stoll eventually severed the relationship with Vannatta but continued to wholesale Commonwealth whiskey under the name “Stoll & Company.”  James’ son, George J. Stoll III, was made a vice president of this entity.

Returning the several favors the Stolls had bestowed on it, the Trust reciprocated in 1902 by ceding the family the Bond & Lilliard Distillery (RD #274, 8th District), located in Anderson County, on Bailey’ Run near the town of Lawrenceburg Courthouse.  In March 1905, once more with Trust assistance, the Stolls acquired the Belle of Nelson (RD #271, 5th District) and the E. L. Miles (RD #146, 5th District) distilleries both located in New Hope.  With these acquisitions the Stolls now were running the largest whiskey-making operation in Kentucky.  
In addition to Old Elk the Stolls controlled a number of whiskey brands including “Bond & Lilliard,”  “Old Buckhorn Rye,”  “The Acme,” and “Belle of Nelson.”  For the last label the Stolls issued a series of saloon signs that depicted Western card-playing scenes.  My favorite is one in which a cowboy is reaching for his gun against a gambler while a Union soldier sits nearby in a drunken stupor.

In March 1903 as the Stolls were at the apogee of their power in Kentucky distilling, Richard died at his residence, only 52 years old.  Several months earlier a local newspaper had commented on his vigor and youthful appearance. The cause of death given was a sudden heart attack. He was buried in the Lexington Cemetery.   Through his lifetime Richard Stoll had been prominent not only in business but in the civic and political affairs of his community and state.  He was elected to represent Fayette County in the Kentucky legislature twice and  had run unsuccessfully on the Republican ticket for state treasurer and the U.S. Congress.

In 1907 the Stoll liquor empire underwent a further change as distillery operations were merged with the whiskey marketing arm.  This new unified corporation featured James S. Stoll as the president and George J. Stoll III and Richard’s son, John G. Stoll, as vice presidents.  Suggesting the Stolls continued relationship with the Whiskey Trust, the cartel’s man, Samuel Stofer, was secretary and treasurer.   That arrangement was in place only one year when James Stoll died in May, 1908, during a visit to Oxford, Ohio.  He was 53 years old.  He too was buried in Lexington Cemetery where the gravestones of the brothers lie not far apart.
With James’ death the liquor empire rapidly came to an end.  The days of Stoll wheeling and dealing in Kentucky whiskey were over.  Family distilling interests were ceded in their entirety to the Trust, who had controlled much of the Stolls’ output.  At that point the Ashland Distillery, one that had helped launch the family into state prominence, was razed.  The family, however, continued to be involved importantly in Lexington.  Richard P.’s son, Richard C. Stoll, became an attorney and was a leader in local business, including guiding family ownership of the city’s transit system.  He also was a power in Republican party circles.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Joshua Low Was The Whiskey Man As Inventor

There is an old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention.”  My thought, rather, is that Ohio is the mother of invention.  Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers come particularly to mind, but during the early 1900s the Buckeye state teemed with individuals bent on making improvements to all manner of things.  Among them was Joshua Low who sold liquor in Steubenville to make a living but whose lifelong passion was inventing.

It appears that Low’s first invention was a “thill coupling,” shown left, that he patented in 1873 when he was 28 years old.   For those, like me, not familiar with the term, a thilll is one of two long shafts, usually of wood, between which a horse is hitched.  The coupling is important because it should be fastened easily, hold steady as the buggy or cart is being drawn along, and then be released with similar ease.  The figure below shows a horse with a thill secured with a coupling.
Born in 1845 in the town of Paris, Washington County, Pennsylvania,  Low had migrated the short ten miles over the Ohio River to Steubenville as a young man.
He dated the founding of his wholesale liquor house to 1865, a time when he was only 20, a dubious claim that suggests that he had bought an existing business, perhaps after working there for a time.  The 1870 census recorded him working as a “clerk” not an owner.  By the 1889 census, however, his occupation was “liquor dealer.”  According to local business directories the “J. Low” company, was located initially at 221-223 Market Street, the avenue shown below.

Low’s decision to sell rather than dispense whiskey over the bar appears to have been a strategic one.  Steubenville directories at the time listed only three liquor houses but some six dozen saloons, all of them needing regular restocking of spirits.  Joshua supplied them and retail customers in cobalt decorated ceramic jugs, featuring one proprietary whiskey he called “66.”  Although willing to spend significant funds to patent his inventions, he never bothered to trademark this brand name.

Low advertised vigorously in the local press: “Ask any man who is an judge of good liquor and he will tell you that our reputation for the finest goods as reasonable prices is not excelled by anyone in the city,” read one of his advertisements.  “And if you want to see how true it is, give us a call.”  Another Low ad shows a tiny child popping the cork on a bottle of sparking wine.  The text suggested that good wine was health-giving for men, women and even kiddies.  The ad urged “…get some good stuff from us and get well.  Prices are right. Goods are right.”

The press of selling alcohol could not, however, deter Joseph from his passion for inventing.  Although no evidence exists that his “thill coupling” ever saw commercial fulfillment, he turned his attention to coupling railroad cars.  This  invention, he claimed, could firmly join two pieces of rolling stock simply by pushing them together.

Once again, no proof exists that this innovation ever saw actual production.  Perhaps discouraged with the coupling field, Low next turned his inventing fever to an area of where his knowledge was more personal — coaxing liquid out of a barrel and into a jug or bottle.  Years of tediously siphoning whiskey and wine out of barrels and into wholesale or retail portions apparently had triggered a desire on Low’s part to facilitate a means whereby the liquid could be drawn off at a point higher than the tank or cask.  It consisted of two tubes rather than the standard single.  By blowing into the smaller tube, Low contended that liquid would be forced out into the larger one and the flow would continue until the container was empty.

Having patented this invention in January 1885, Low continued to work on the problem of emptying barrels.  His improved dual siphons needed to be stabilized in place if they were to work right, he subsequently suggested.  This required a specialized kind of siphon cork made of rubber to hold each tube in place.  With this further development, patented the following September he claimed he had perfected “a device…that will meet the general demands of the trade….”  While Low himself may have employed this invention, again there is no evidence of general manufacture.

Low’s last idea was for an “electric ignitor for gas engines.” Patented in 1894 just as the automobile age was dawning, he and his partner may have had in mind a way of starting a vehicle without the need for cranking to obtain a spark.  The description speaks of a battery providing the electrical current needed to ignite the gasoline, presumably the answer to retiring the automobile crank.  It would appear, however, that commercial application once again escaped the whiskey man.   

One wonders about the thoughts of Joshua’s wife about his incessant tinkering. He had married Elizabeth Mohr, a German immigrant, when he was 22 years old and she was 21.  They would go on to have a family of nine children, five girls and four boys.  In addition to the amount of time Low was spending on his “novelties,” as he sometimes called them, obtaining a patent could be expensive.  Even if the inventor did not provide a three-dimensional model, an artist had to be hired to provide a suitable drawing.  A lawyer familiar with the patent process usually was required to fill out the necessary paperwork and to make sure that the written descriptions provided were done appropriately in “patent speak.”  Otherwise the application might be rejected on its face with loss of the filing fee, itself a substantial sum.

No evidence exists that over the approximately 21 years during which Low was inventing and patenting his brain-children that any of them actually were put into commercial production or that even that he was able to sell the rights.  In his lifetime Thomas Edison owned 1,093 U.S. patents, the first issued for a voting machine when he was 22 years old.  By the time Edison was 33 he had invented the light bulb and Orville Wright the airplane.   Low at 33 owned a patent on a horse hitch.

Nevertheless, the Steubenville whiskey dealer deserves no disparagement.  Whether his inventions were commercially successful or not, Joshua Low was firmly within the rich tradition of the Ohio workshop tinkerer, passionate about making something that would improve an existing mechanism or process.  Unfortunately Joshua developed heart trouble during his late 50s and died in December 1903 at the age of 58.  His joint gravestone with Elizabeth is shown here.  

After his death his elder sons who had been working with him in the business took over.  They renamed the company "Joshua Lows Sons Wholesale Liquor."  The sons piloted the company successfully until it was shut down when Ohio voted itself “dry” in 1916.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

G. B. Bingham: Destroyed with the Whiskey Ring

In 1872 Gordon Byron Bingham of Patoka, Indiana, patented an upright tank for holding liquor that he claimed was aimed at preventing “fraud on the revenue.”  Just three years later, as a distiller, Bingham was implicated and convicted as a participant in the “Whiskey Ring,” whose sole purpose was to defraud the revenue.  As a result, Bingham ruined himself and the town of Patoka was thrown “on the downgrade of the stream of time….”

It may have been love that brought Bingham to Indiana.  He was born in Baltimore in 1826 to Candace (Jeauld) and Gordon Bingham, a well-to-do Maryland businessman.  In 1858 Gordon II married an Indiana woman from Gibson County named Minerva Stockwell.   Eight years younger than her husband and 21 when they wed, she was from a prominent local family.   

Soon after their nuptials, Bingham moved to Indiana and apparently with family money, engaged in a number of commercial ventures in Patoka and nearby Evansville.  These included a general store, flour mill, packing house and, most significant, a distillery.  In the 1870 census, Bingham’s occupation was given as “distiller and miller.”  His net worth was given at $77,000, the equivalent of almost $2 million today.  Observed one resident about Patoka:  “Whiskey has ever been one of the staples of this town.”

According to business directories, Bingham appears to have had two major liquor interests:  G. B. Bingham & Co., advertised as “Distillers, Rectifiers and Wholesale Dealers in Domestic Liquors,” and “Bingham Bros. Distillers.”  In both companies Gordon’s younger brother, John, was listed as a partner.  The two also owned a distillery in St. Louis, located at 1313 Papin Street.

Having a mind for invention, Bingham in February 1872 patented a metal tank for holding whiskey that, he said, would “prevent fraud on the revenue.”  Shown here, his tank or “high wine cistern” was aimed at preventing a fraudulent removal of spirits that otherwise could go undetected by the U.S. revenue gauger.  Bingham’s invention, he claimed, provided the federal officers with “an easy means of determining, at all times, the exact proof and quantity of the spirits within the tank.”

Ironically, it was was not long after obtaining his patent that Bingham and his brother became entangled in the massive fraud against the U.S. government’s collection of taxes on spirits that became known as “The Whiskey Ring.”  By massive payoffs to top revenue officials and the “watchdog” gaugers,  distillers and “rectifiers” (whiskey blenders) in the Ring were able to get away with paying only a fraction of the taxes they owed.  

When the sudden drop in liquor revenues caught the attention of Secretary of the Treasury Benjamin Bristow, shown left, he created a secret investigatory task force that gather extensive evidence of the conspiracy within his own department.  In May 1875 he signed the order to roll up the Whiskey Ring.  Hundreds of distillers, rectifiers, wholesale dealers and internal revenue officials, including gaugers, were arrested.  Although the chief Ring centers were St. Louis and Chicago, as one observer put it:  “Fraudulent packages [were] seized in every important city from Boston to Galveston and from points in Central Texas to Milwaukee….”  Patoka, Indiana, was among them. 

Indictments were handed down in both Indiana and Missouri against Gordon Bingham and his brother;  they were among the first to be hauled into court.  Federal Judge Walter Q. Gresham,  presided over their trial in Evansville.   Although public opinion nationally was squarely behind Bristow and the raids, the local press sided with the defendants.  The Evansville Courier complained that the judge had allowed no loophole for the Binghams to escape the charge that they had run their distillery at Patoka without a federally required storekeeper.  Although conviction carried only a $1,000 fine, a verdict of guilty would be a significant blow to the Ring.  Accordingly the Binghams brought in top legal talent to fight the case.

During the raid, Bristow’s men had seized the Binghams' distillery, stocks of whiskey and other tangible property.  The defendants' first move was to demand their return as illegally confiscated.  The District Attorney prosecuting the case respond by obtaining an order from Judge Gresham, shown right, to open the Patoka distillery safe.  When it was found empty, the court ordered the brothers to produce their books and journals.  Those were found to be so incomplete as to be useless — a further federal violation.  The Binghams were in danger of being imprisoned for contempt of court.
At this point the brothers caved in.  They withdrew their claim to their distillery and the whiskey, and pled guilty to all government charges.  More important Gordon became the first and chief witness for the government against other Ring participants.  Under custody he was taken to Indianapolis where he testified that at the St. George Hotel in Evansville, he had given bribes totaling $1,000 to a close associate of Gen. James C. Veatch, the local collector of internal revenue shown here. Despite Bingham’s revelation, the intermediary was acquitted and Gordon allowed to return home, likely vilified by former Whiskey Ring associates.

In Patoka, however, Bingham got a hero’s welcome at the railroad depot, shown here. Townspeople, according to press reports, fired cannons, lit bonfires and made welcoming speeches in his honor.  An alcohol-fueled party ensued.  The Indianapolis News of November 22 was caustic in its reaction, calling Bingham “Earl of Patoka and Grand Chamberlain of the Illustrious Still Worm” and hectored “his feudal dependents” for publicly respecting a man who had committed “…the meanest, most rascally and most mischievous swindling ever practiced in this State.”

Disgraced and seemingly beset on all sides,  Bingham within a matter of days was dead, passing on January 10, 1876, at the age of 49.  He was buried in Patoka Cemetery, his gravestone shown here.  Was his death the result of natural causes brought on by the stress of his legal problems?  Did he die by his own hand?  Is there another reason for his untimely demise?  I can find no death certificate or obituary.  The Indianapolis News commented the following day that:  “The death of Gordon Byron Bingham will not be bad news for the Whiskey Ring.”  No longer would he testify against other Ring members.

The effects of Bingham’s fall would continue to be felt.  He left behind a widow, Minerva, with five youngsters, the oldest fifteen, the youngest nine.  In addition, the government sued the family for $30,000, representing the amount believed to have been fraudulently withheld.  Others residents of Patoka subsequently were reported disgraced and bankrupted over the scandal although few if any went to jail.  With its distilleries gone, Patoka — an Indian name meaning “log on the bottom” — went into serious decline.  In the early 1880s the following was written about the town:  “Distilleries first made her prosperous, then crooked whiskey sheared her golden locks, nipped her pristine vigor, made her prematurely gray and hurled her on the downgrade of the stream of time from which she is not likely soon to recover….

Today Patoka has a population under 800.  The per capita income for the town in 2010 was $16,000.  About 11 percent of the population live below the poverty line.  Above is a contemporary picture of the town's main street.  Few residents, if any, are likely recall the name Gordon Byron Bingham, the factiously dubbed “Earl of Patoka,” as the man who once was responsible for the town’s prosperity — and then helped destroy it.

Note:  A 1919 biography of Judge Gresham by his wife Matilda, entitled “The Life of Walter Quintan Gresham, provided the blow-by-blow description of the trial of the Binghams in Evansville.  Another useful resource was a “History of Gibson County” by Gil Stormont, 1914.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Monaghans: From Miners to Movers in Pennsylvania

Like many Irish immigrants the Monaghans began their American journey by working as miners in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania during turbulent times.  Then one of the clan climbed out of the mine and founded a liquor house that lasted more than a half century and established the Monaghans as a force in local business and politics.

The founding father, Bernard J. Monaghan Sr., was born in County Mayo in 1799 and emigrated to the United States in 1844, locating initially in Minersville, Pennsylvania, later moving to Ashland, — both towns within Schuylkill County, an important anthracite mining region.  Bernard was a coal miner, one of thousands of Irish engaged underground there.   Because of the wretched conditions in which the miners worked, an Irish terrorist group known as the Molly McGuires were were a movement there in the 1870s, known for murder and mayhem.

The Monaghans seem to have risen above such bitter conflicts. Bernard Sr. was engaged in legitimate political life, active in the Democratic party.  Bernard’s son, John, born in Mayo in 1835, followed his father to America about 1847 and, according census data, also initially worked as a coal miner.  By 1858 he had made it out of the pit by saving his money and opening a wholesale liquor house in Ashland, operating successfully at that location for eleven years. Then John moved to Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, at 220 S. Main Street, the avenue shown below, selling liquor and some groceries.

John  and his wife Anna produced a family of ten children, seven sons and three daughters.  The prosperity the former miner had found in selling liquor was evinced in affording three servants and his ability to provide his children with advanced education.  His eldest son, Bernard J. Monaghan II, shown right, was among those benefiting.  After attending elementary school in Shenandoah, Bernard was sent to Villanova College in Delaware County and after being graduated there entered Bryant & Stratton’s Business College in Philadelphia.  Following his graduation in 1877 he entered his father’s firm.   Bernard soon would be joined by a younger brother, Peter.  The firm became John B. Monaghan & Sons.

Neither Bernard nor Peter followed their father’s pattern when it came to family size.  In 1892 Bernard married Lizzie E. McOboy, daughter of Lawrence and Catherine McOboy.  They had only one child, Anna.  Five years later Peter wed Eleanor J. Rossiter, a Philadelphia native.  They had three children — James, Mary and Eleanor.

The business climate during latter part of the 1800s was marked by periodic bank panics and depressions, as well as labor unrest at the mines, that caused the failures of area companies and affected the Monaghans.  A biographer noted:  “It is probable…that no businessman of the community suffered more severely than did the elder Monaghan but he always came up smiling and with renewed vigor serf to work to recover lost ground.”

The Monaghans were both retailing and wholesaling liquor, including running  a “rectifying” operation, mixing and blending whiskeys to achieve a particular smoothness, taste and color.  For their customers running saloons and restaurants they packaged their liquor in gallon and two gallon ceramic jugs.  They also advertised using comely children in their flyers and signs. As the business grew, the profitability of whiskey resulted in the close-out of the grocery department and the use of the space solely to stock liquor. 

Meanwhile the Monaghans continued to be active in Democratic politics. Like his father, John was well known in party circles.  In 1890 Bernard took the next step, running for State Senator, representing the northern portion of Schuylkill County.   Oddly, his challenger for the Democratic nomination was a relative by marriage and his opponent in the general election a cousin.  Elected nonetheless, he served on the Committees of Municipal Affairs, Elections, Centennial Affairs, and Insurance.  His principal legislation was aimed at requiring that insurance companies were transparent in the representations made by their agents to those being insured.  A 1893 biography said of Bernard:  “He is thoroughly awake to the needs and interests of the district which he represents, and has an intelligent comprehension of the important questions growing out of the industrial and social relations which exist in the mining regions of Pennsylvania.”

In 1882 at the age of 83 Bernard Sr. died.  Five years later his son, John, retired from the liquor firm, turning the business over to his sons.  At that point a third son, M. V. Monaghan, joined the firm as a partner.  True to the family tradition, noted a biographer:  “He takes an active interest in politics being prominent in the councils of the Democratic Party.”  The sons, seeking more room for expansion, subsequently commissioned the erection of a three-story cement block building in Shenandoah for storage and the rectifying process.  The firm was accounted “one of the leading commercial institutions of Schuylkill County” by a regional history.  Moreover, Peter was active in the local banking sector.  M.V. was an officer of a building and loan association aimed at miners, mechanics and laborers and a director of the Citizens’ Electric Light Company.   Bernard had interests in grain, coal and cattle.

In 1903 John B. died and was buried in the graveyard of the  Annunciation Church in Shenandoah.  Peter then assumed full responsibility for the ownership and management of the liquor house.  Said a biographer:  “No loss of prestige was occasioned the firm when he took hold.”  Over ensuing years John B. Monaghan's Sons continued to be an important part of the region’s commercial scene until shut down by National Prohibition.

This family of Irish immigrants, the Monaghans, beginning by toiling in the mines, by dint of hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit fashioned a business that survived more than 50 years and brought prosperity and recognition to its members as prominent local businessmen and political activists.  To paraphrase a tribute from one observer, the Monaghans “enjoyed the confidence of their city.”

Today many of the family lie together in the graveyard of the Shenandoah Annunciation church.  The gravestones of Bernard and Peter are shown here. The Irish Monaghans might have joined the civil unrest of the their times but instead chose the political and commercial mainstream — and that made all the difference.  

Note:  Much of the biographical information and quotations contained here is from two volumes:   “Biographical & Portrait Cyclopedia of Schuylkill County” by Henry W. Ruoff (1893) and “History of Schuylkill County Pennsylvania” Vol. II, eds. Schalck and Henning (1907).

Friday, April 7, 2017

James Anderson, Washington's Plantation Manager

Foreword:  Having featured George Washington as a “whiskey man”, in March, I was reminded of James Anderson, the Scottish overseer who talked the Founding Father into making whiskey at Mount Vernon.  That, in turn, led me to a short biography of Anderson by Esther White, an archeologist I met some years ago when she was supervising the “big dig” to unearth Washington’s distillery.  She graciously has allowed me to reprint her article here as a post.  Dr. White’s resume is below.

We talk so much about George Washington's distillery that we sometimes forget the idea for the operation came from James Anderson, his plantation manager. Anderson began duties at Mount Vernon on January 1, 1797, and he immediately thought the plantation--with the abundance of grain grown--would be a superb spot for a distillery. 

With Washington's consent, Anderson began distilling that February. He was so successful that Washington agreed to expand the distillery into the stone building we were uncovering. As we excavated this building, revealing the series of drains and other features, I often found myself thinking about James Anderson and his role in the distillery.

Washington was clear that the distillery was Mr. Anderson's idea: "Mr. Anderson has engaged me in a distillery (sic), on a small scale, and is very desirous of encreasing (sic) it: assuring me from his own experience in this country, and in Europe..." (George Washington to John Fitzgerald, June 12, 1797).  This letter informs us that Anderson was an experienced distiller. Anderson provided biographical information in two letters written to Washington on August 28 and September 11, 1796, while "interviewing" for the plantation manager position. (Unless otherwise stated, the quotes below are from the September 11 letter.)
Inverkeithing Scotland
Anderson was born in 1745 and grew up on his father's farm, 40 miles north of Edinburgh, near the village of Inverkeithing, Scotland. At the age of 21, he began an apprenticeship "upon the English border...with a Gentleman, Famous in Farming," and at the end of the second year began to manage the estate of this gentleman's uncle. Anderson held this post for three more years, then for the next 19 years "farmed on my own account, 18 of which I was also largely in the Grain line, And had several manufacturing Mills. But by the failure of a Sett (sic) of Distillers in 1788 I nearly lost all."

In February 1774, during the period of farming on his own, he married Helen Gordon, a native of Inverkeithing. They had seven children--John (1776), Elizabeth (1777), Jean (1779), Helen (1781), James (1783), Alexander (1785), and Margaret (1787). The Andersons left Scotland, landing in Norfolk, Virginia, in late 1790 or early 1791. 

The family initially rented a farm near Mount Vernon, and Anderson worked as a manager for a smaller plantation. They moved south near Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1795 to manage Salvington, the Selden family plantation. Anderson described Salvington as 1,700 acres with 25 slaves and a distillery "which I also conduct." This seems to have been his first opportunity to run a distillery. In Scotland, it seems he grew and processed grain for large distilleries.

Little is known about Salvington's distillery. At this time in Virginia, distilleries generally had two or three stills and were about 1,000 square feet in size. Mount Vernon's distillery had five stills and was more than 2,000 square feet, making it considerably larger. In fact, the distillery that Anderson convinced Washington to build was one of the largest distilleries of the time. Perhaps Anderson used larger distilleries in Scotland as a model for the Mount Vernon operation.

Anderson and Washington held each other in high esteem, yet they maintained a prickly working relationship. Washington paid Anderson his highest compliment on June 11, 1798, when he wrote "I believe you are a man of strict integrity; sobriety; industry & zeal." However, Washington also thought Anderson promised too freely and failed to complete tasks as quickly as he wanted. Probably because of this tension in their working relationship, Anderson thought about working for a neighboring planter in the spring of 1798. 

Washington and Anderson patched up their differences, and 
White House Plantation
Anderson continued to work at Mount Vernon until after Martha Washington's death in 1802. In late 1803 or early 1804, the Andersons moved south to manage White House Plantation for George Washington Parke Custis, Martha's grandson. James died on March 12, 1807, Helen on November 30, 1809. They are buried near the White House Plantation. 

Note:  Trained as an historical archaeologist, Esther White is a founding director of History Revealed, Inc., a history nonprofit formed to explore the intersection of objects, landscapes and text with people and places through time.  Prior to this start-up, she spent over two decades excavating at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and directing the excavation and historical research for the reconstruction of his distillery and gristmill that opened in 2007.  Her interests range from public interpretation of history and archaeology at historic sites, museum collections, and material culture studies.  Dr. White is the author of articles on diverse subjects, including early American whiskey distilling.  She holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina, a M.A. from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. from the University of Leicester, and lives in Alexandria, Virginia.