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Jesse Moore Whiskey

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About a month ago I asked questions about the role my great grandfather, Jesse Moore, played in the bourbon business in Kentucky. The response was generally that no one knew. Since then I have done more research in Jesse's will, the Louisville city directories for 1861 and 1890 and a volume "Kentucky Biographies," a genealogical history.

I find that Jesse's older brother, George J. Moore, arrived in Louisville from either Ashford, Connecticut, where he was born, or from Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1833. Then 23, he became a private banker. Meanwhile, Jesse was in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1830 he married Hanna Cloff who bore one daughter and died in 1843. Jesse re-married to Lucy Cloff who died, childless, in 1846. MY ASSUMPTION is that George invited Jesse to Kentucky after the death of wife # 2.

George J. Moore married Catherine Fonda, of Troy, NY and went into the grocery business in Louisville as Moore, Fonda & Co. George J and Catherine had a son, George H. Moore who was schooled in Shelbyville and then worked in his father's wholesale grocery business until 1858 when he went to work in Jackson, Mississippi as a bookkeeper in another large wholesale house. When the Civil War broke out George H. volunteered for the Confederate army, was captured at Altoona, Georgia, and was a POW until 1865 when he returned to Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Jesse spent a missing 12 years, probably in Louisville. He returned to Worcester and married Frances Payne Melcher (of Brunswick, Maine) in 1858 and immediately took his bride to Louisville, as a son, Edward H. Moore was born there in 1859 and a second son, George, in June, 1862. Jesse shows up in the 1861 Louisville directory, p. 178, as a wholesale liquor dealer, "Jesse Moore, Liquors, 212 Second St. bet. Gray and Broadway".

Apparently Kentuckians did not take well to a Yankee whiskey dealer during The War, as Jesse and Frances were next found back in Worcester with the birth of a third son, Frank, in March, 1865, a daughter, Jessie Louise, in 1867 and a second daughter, my grandmother, Mabel, in 1872.

George Henry Moore seems to have become a partner in Jesse's business in 1868 as "Jesse Moore & Co., whiskies, 223 and 225 W. Main"in the 1890 Louisville directory. George H. Moore was involved in the distilleries of Moore & Sellinger and as a partner with Jesse in Moore, Hunt & Co., wholesalers in San Francisco and elsewhere. George H. is also described as a banker and philanthropist. In 1892 with Jesse 70 years old George H. Moore bought out his uncle's interests and Jesse retired.

In Jesse's obituary in Worcester in July 1898 he is described as "one of the largest whiskey distillers" and "has amassed a large fortune." He had a net worth of $140,000 when he died, worth in 2003 probably $14 million and he and his two grown sons had fabulous houses in Worcester. None of his children ever had to work until they died in the 1940s. (I knew Edward, George, Frank, Jessie Louise and of course Mabel when I was a child.) Jesse carried on his very successful Louisville business from Worcester, where he appears in city directories consistently from 1865 until his death, with never a hint of his occupation. In the 1870 and 1880 censuses, however, he is shown as a "liquor dealer."

I would like to know more about the Moore businesses in Kentucky and how a man living in Worcester, Massachusetts, becomes and stays quite wealthy while living 800 miles from his business?

(His son George Dunning Moore, married George H. Moore's daughter, Jessie Moore, his first cousin and had one mildly retarded son, Francis D. Moore who died in the Maine north woods in 1975. The wife remembered her brother, Percival Moore, of Louisville, in her will.)

Obviously I have found a great deal, but I would like to know more. Any information about Jesse's or his brother's parents (father, John Moore, born in Rhode Island) would be helpful. - Gordon Eliot White, Deltaville, Virginia

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Gordon, this looks very interesting, but I am tired and can't concentrate very well right now. frown.gif Maybe, before I read it tomorrow, you can sneak back in, edit it, and add a few carriage returns to create some paragraphs? crazy.gif That would make it much easier and much more enjoyable to read. smile.gif

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Throwing in the Sellinger (actually Selliger) name helped me find a reference in Sam Cecil's book. He writes, "Moore & Selliger, Max Selliger & Co., RD #1-2 (Jefferson County, Fifth District). George Moore and Max Selliger operated this plant at 17th and Breckinridge Streets in 1870 and their brands were 'Astor,' a sweet mash, and 'Belmont' and 'Nutwood,' both sour mashes. Mr. Moore died in 1896 and Selliger continued as Max Selliger & Co. He built another distillery on the premises in 1905 and in 1911 built a new eight-story brick warehouse at a cost of $15,000." There is more about the history of the distillery itself, but George Moore (presumably George H., nephew of your Jesse) doesn't appear in it again, by virtue of his being dead. Incidentally, this is the distillery which is today Heaven Hill's Louisville plant, adjacent to the corporate headquarters of Brown-Forman.

Cecil has a listing for "Jesse Moore" in the index, but it refers to someone named Jesse Moore Hunt in the article about the J. W. Dant distillery in Marion County. It says Dant made a whiskey for Hunt (indicating that he probably was a wholesaler) called "West Point."

On p. 83, in his discussion of Elk Run RD#368, Cecil mentions that when the president of that operation died in 1891, the "Jesse-Moore Hunt Co. of California acquired an interest. Mr. Moore of this company was president of Moore and Selliger #412 at 17th and Breckinridge Streets. The company sold out to the trust in 1905."

If all this seems a little confused, that's in part the fault of Sam's book and, in all fairness to Sam, a fault of the confusing nature of the business, as distilleries were constantly changing hands with various people owning parts of each others companies. I can't explain the hyphen in "Jesse-Moore Hunt Co."

However, all of this suggests to me that your Jesse Moore was primarily a distributor, a merchant. He may well have owned interests in several distilleries, making him at least technically a "distiller," but he had other partners who did the whiskey-making, which explains why he could be doing business so far away. A similar operator would be A.C. Herbst, who owned the Old Judge Distillery and the Old Fitzgerald brand, but who ran his business entirely from Milwaukee, with offices in several major cities in the U.S. and Europe. He also became quite wealthy.

In those days (before Prohibition), it was really the distributors who controlled the business. Few distilleries actually produced "brand name" products and distributed them themselves. Most sold their output in bulk to these distributors, some under exclusive contracts that obliged the distributor to buy everything the distiller could produce and obliged the distiller to sell only to that exclusive distributor. Some of that whiskey would be sold as straight bourbon, but a lot of it would be used to make blended whiskey.

I hope this is helpful.

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</font><blockquote><font class="small">In reply to:</font><hr />

and their brands were 'Astor,' a sweet mash, and 'Belmont' and 'Nutwood,' both sour mashes.

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After all of the alcohol has been extracted from the mash through distillation, you are left with "spent mash." In the sour mash process, spent mash is mixed with new mash in the fermentation tub. Formulas vary, but the percentage might be anywhere from 15% to 25% of the volume being spent mash. The purpose is consistency. The spent mash creates the most ideal environment for the yeast, consistent with all previous batches. Spent mash is also referred to as "back set."

In the sweet mash process, no back set is used, only fresh yeast. Typically, consistency will be achieved by using a pure culture yeast.

All U.S. distillers currently use the sour mash process.

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Great info, Gordon. You've renewed my interest in uncovering more of my Grandfather's history in the industry. I had posted last summer in the General Bourbon Topics forum (Bourbon Historians Needed) about his work in the industry from the 1930s onto the 1970s. (I know, I should have posted it in the History forum, but, hey, even the moderators didn't catch it.)

On a side note, I asked Bettye Jo in a PM about her new photo in her profile. She responded that it was a picture of her at her Grandmother's on Deerwood Ave in L'ville. Guess what? That's where my Grandfather lived before he was married. So, my Mom and I were on the phone to my Grandmother today (my Grandfather is deceased) who gave us some more info. I'll be posting more as I gather the info and make it readable and enjoyable.

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  • 5 weeks later...

more on Jesse Moore whisky -

I find that the Moore brothers, George J. Moore and my ancestor, Jesse Moore, were born in Connecticut and migrated to Kentucky, George in 1830 and Jesse , by way of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1833.

George set himself up as a banker and in 1838 had a half-page ad in the Louisville City Directory as "Savings Bank of Louisville, G.J. Moore, Cashier, corner Wall & Water streets.

Jesse went into the grocery business.

There was a bank panic in the late 1830s and George and Jesse went to Mount Vernon, Indiana, to set up a distillery. Jesse returned for a time to Worcester, Massachusetts and married Hannah B. Clapp in August of 1839, then took her back to Indiana. (On the marriage license in Holden, Massachusetts, he described himself as a "confectioner." He shows up in the 1840 federal census for Black Township, Posey County, Indiana, with one female, 20 and one female one year old.

Does anyone have any knowledge of that Mount Vernon, Indiana, distillery?

Jesse and George returned to Louisville as their base of operations and George went back into banking while Jesse stayed in the whisky business. They, with their families, are in the 1850 census, living in the Wall Street House Hotel, apparently Louisville's finest, along with John Fonda, merchant, of Greenbush, New York, another player in the Moore business interests and any number of foreign, chiefly German, merchants.

Can you recommend a book dealing with the early bourbon business in Louisville? Or add anything to what I know about the Moores?

Hannah died in 1843 and was buried in either Indiana or some family plot outside Louisville. When Jesse and George J. bought a cemetery lot at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville she was re-interred there. there are many Moores buried at Cave Hill, by the way.

- Gordon White

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  • 14 years later...

Hello Gordon, 


From reading your post, I am fairly certain that I have been researching one of your relatives, and I would love to know if you have more information about him.  He was Frank Ashburton Moore, an architect, who was the son of Jesse Moore.  He was from Worcester, Massachusetts, graduated from M.I.T. in 1888, and eventually set up practice in New York.  I have discovered a number of houses and civic buildings that Moore designed, primarily in Larchmont, NY, but have had great difficulty uncovering anything about his personal life.  You mentioned Frank in one of your subsequent posts, and said that you had met him.  Would you be able to tell me what you know of him?  I would be very grateful!


Thank you very much,


Susan Emery

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