The French Connection, continued

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The French Connection, continued

Unread postby cowdery » Sun Mar 29, 2009 11:48 pm

And, furthermore, from the time of Henry VIII forward, marginalized communities of English Catholics were often ministered to by French priests. Some of these priests had mixed spiritual and political agendas, but some were just ministering to a needy flock.

This continued into the New World.

One problem with the popular theory of a Scots-Irish origin for American whiskey is that the Scots-Irish, or Ulster Scotsmen, were protestants and many of the most prominent early distilling families in Kentucky were Catholic, such as the Beams, Wathens, Medleys, Haydens, Mattinglys and many others. Nelson, Washington and Marion County are all heavily Catholic still, as is Daviess County to the west. Louisville and Jefferson County have a large Catholic population, to the point where Louisville even has a traditionally Catholic part of town.

Bardstown was the first center of Catholicism west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Diocese of Bardstown was established on February 8, 1808, and served all Catholics between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River. Its cathedral still stands as the Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto-Cathedral. Much of the art in Saint Joseph's was donated by King Louis-Phillipe during the last Bourbon Restoration in France (1830-1848). The French king's gift included paintings by Rubens, Murillo, Van Dyke and others.

The Catholic Church in France was royalist and many French priests fled after the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Many came to the United States, where there weren't a lot of French people, but there were large pockets of English Catholics who were short of priests because of the Church's long persecution in England itself. So, lots of Catholic congregations got French priests. The first Bishop of Bardstown (a title I covet for myself) was Benedict Joseph Flaget, who was born, raised and educated in France, and whose missions in America touched both the French Catholic and English Catholic communities here.

All Americans loved the French back then, American Catholics even more so.

Even though few of the Catholics in Kentucky were themselves of French ancestry, they had a lot of affection for the Catholic church of France and, by extension, for the French monarchy, even (perhaps especially) after it was overthrown. They also often had French clerics, so they would have been exposed to French culture.

The Catholics of Nelson, Marion and Washington County, Kentucky, played a major role in the development of the Kentucky whiskey industry, perhaps even the predominant role, and they would have felt very fondly about the name "Bourbon." Priests in most frontier communities are among the most educated members of the community, and for many reasons they would have been taste leaders, and perhaps they encouraged the local distillers to strive for a product that resembled French brandy. It's certainly conceivable.

As we have discussed, it's undeniable that the name is derived from the Bourbon family, either directly or via Bourbon County, but it's also conceivable that francophilia in the Catholic community, which produced so many of the most successful distillers, affected the product as well.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
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Re: The French Connection, continued

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:48 am

Chuck,
Very good points about the Catholic communities in Kentucky and their early French leadership. I think there are many reasons to name Bourbon whiskey for the French royals and that the Bourbon County story came later to justify the name with a single reason with a Kentucky origin. Just look at the stories going around today and you can still see the importance to the industry to be "the first" at something and with deep Kentucky roots.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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