Saturday, October 15, 2016

Robert Lancaster Estate: A Very Large Inventory—Part IV: How About Some Whiskey?

Robert Lancaster of Shelby County, Kentucky, died in 1840, and his estate was probated by his youngest son, Josiah Lancaster, as administrator.[1] His estate was ordered to be inventoried and this is the fourth post about that inventory.

This being Kentucky, I should not be surprised to find whiskey making items in the inventory.
66 mash tubs, 2 copper stills &
                still house apparatus            80   00
45 acres of corn                                  300  00
40 bushels of wheat                             20   00
2 Bee stands                                        4    00
72 barrells of whiskey                        516   00
15 Gallons peach brandy                     15   00
1 lot of plank & gate staff (??)              2    00
3 barrells of Vinager                            20  00
So, Robert had two copper stills and still house apparatus. Many farmers in this time period and frontier location had stills. Producing whiskey from grain grown in their fields enabled the farmers to barter for the goods they couldn’t produce or make themselves.

I have no idea from the above description what the still looked like. Early stills were pot stills where the “copper tubing came off the head of the still that was coiled through a barrel of water to cool and condense the vapers coming off the still.”[2] There are many websites that show how to build a moonshine still and recipes for the moonshine. This one has a photo of an old still and a recipe to make the mash.

The mash is the grain meal and water that has been heated in the pot. This mash is left in the pot during the fermentation process. The grain could be corn, rye, or wheat. Robert could have used either corn or wheat to make his whiskey, as he had 40 bushels of wheat and 45 acres of corn growing at the time of the inventory. He also had 72 barrels of whiskey already made. These 72 barrels were worth $516.00 or about $7 per barrel.

After the alcohol was made, favoring was added to it to improve the taste: juniper oil to make gin, fruit to make cordials. They also could filter the alcohol through charcoal to help remove unpleasant tastes.[3]

When the estate items were sold, the still items were purchased by:
1 still & eap                         Meril Forbus                  10   68 ¾
1 still & apparatus            William Gathright            53   25
11 still tubs                          John Crawford               7     50
7 still tubs                            John L Jones                 3     50
10 still tubs                          James Neal                    5     00
12 still tubs                          Macajah Williams          6     00
13 still tubs                          C. White                          7     31 ¼
7 still tubs                            Wilson Maddox             3     50
7 still tubs                            James Calloway             2     18 ¾

The only familiar name on the above list is James Neal, a possible. Robert’s three eldest children married a Neal:
Ellis W. Lancaster married Elizabeth S Neel
John S. Lancaster married Mary “Polly” Neal
Lennis Sumaie Lancaster married Creath Neal

Elizabeth & Mary’s father was named James Neal. They also had a brother named James. Creath Neal’s father might be George Neal. There are many Neal families listed in census and tax records. Time is needed to analyze their relationships.

These are the purchasers of the crops and whiskey:
1 lot corn in field                                   Wm Chambers @ $8.06     308     29
1 WHEAT FAN                                        William Bohannen             6       87 ½
1 lot old wheat                                      Geo W Havener                       9       15
10 barrells whisky                                Jas Lawson                              135     16
6 barrells whisky                                   William C Bohannon            71       82 ½
10 barrells whisky                                Jas Sandusky                          117     04
10 barrells whisky                                L H Beauforde                       121     03 ½
10 barrells                                               W Allen                                  114     66
10 barrells whisky                                L H Beauford                          121     03 ½
10 barrells whisky more or less      W Coons for Barber                        118     22

The value of the whiskey at the time of the inventory was about $7 per barrel, but sold for more than $11 per barrel.

It is interesting that none of Robert’s sons nor his sons-in-law purchased the stills, tubs, crops, or whiskey. Either they already had their own stills or were not interested in making whiskey. Perhaps the whisky was more valuable as a cash commodity for the family and they just sold it for the cash.

I tried to find a photo or drawing of a mid-19th century still. There are many images of moonshine stills, some that are of an old style here.

[1] Shelby County, Kentucky, Probate, Bk 14, p. 63-68, 1840, Robert Lancaster, digital images, FamilySearch ( : 22 Sep 2016); citing FHL film 259254, item 3.
[2] Michael R. Veach, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An America Heritage, (Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 2013), p. 4.
[3] ibid, p. 10. 

Copyright © 2016 by Lisa Suzanne Gorrell, Mam-ma's Southern Family

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