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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1997-12 > 0883248158

From: John Giacoletti <>
Subject: Charley Read 's PA Whisky
Date: Sat, 27 Dec 1997 13:42:38 -0500

This is an account Joe Somebodyelse should have written, a very positive,
affirming account of an Ulster Catholic pioneer family that settled in a
Scots-Irish Presbyterian community, lived there peacefully, prospered in
business with the growth of the community, contributing to its spiritual
life and political development as well, and ending three generations later
with Charles Read (pronounced Red)as a prominent leader in Armstrong
County, Pennsylvania.

The pamphlet I recommended a short while ago published by The Pennsylvania
Historical Association, THE IRISH IN PENNSYLVANIA, was the immediate
stimulus for the story. The book references that after the Revolutionary
War, "Irish groups homesteaded at Maguire's Station above Altoona, and
built Catholic churches at Greensburg in 1789, Loreto in 1799, and at Sugar
Creek in what would be Armstrong County in 1805. The Irish Catholics had
made a very visible contribution to the Revolution and were sharing more
broadly in the frontier way of life, and these two experiences would serve
to provide them with a more positive public image in the decades after

Since my Cowan ancestors settled in Sugar Creek Township in 1796 that
reference caught my eye and sent me to the old 19th century Armstrong
County history books as I was unaware of a Catholic Church in Sugar Creek
Township. The referenced church, St. Patrick's, is now in East Brady,
Pennsylvania due to changes in Township lines since 1806 when the Church
was actually built. Sports fans will be interested to know that it is the
"home" church of Jim Kelly of Buffalo Bill football fame. The church
served early Irish immigrants who worked in iron smelting works and coal
mines in the East Brady area.

The 1883 History of Armstrong County goes on to say that Michael Read,
grandfather of Charles Read, emigrated from County Derry, Ireland, in 1794.
He died in Armstrong County, April 15, 1817. For three years he resided
at Laurel Furnace, east of the Allegheny mountains, from whence he came and
settled ..." the land which became the family farm and homestead. "Five
years subsequent to his settlement his family came, which consisted of
three sons and three daughters - Daniel, James, Bridget, Alice, Patrick and
Catherine-all of whom were born in Ireland, Michael, the youngest, was
born in Armstrong County. Daniel, James and Patrick engaged extensively in
the cattle trade, and were the first who drove a heard of cattle across the
Allegheny Rriver near Kittanning, in 1810, on their way "east of the
mountains," to find a market for them.

In 1804 Michael Read began a distilling business on his homestead that was
continued by his son Patrick Read and grandson Charles. "The famous
Charley Read brand of whisky became extensively known because of its
well-merited qualities. It was not only used by business and professional
men generally, but found a ready welcome in legislative halls and was
selected for the army for medical use." Inn keeping and distillery
businesses where dominated by Irish Catholic families in the era and
Charley Read Whisky pie-eyed a good many travellers and Inn frequenters of
all denominations.

Next comes a very telling account of the families success in Sugar Creek
Township. "Patrick Read succeeded his father in the homestead, and in
those early days of inconvenience, trials and hardships, not only
contributed to secure the church farm attached to St. Patrick's Church, but
helped to build the old log church in 1806. He also helped the Rich Hill
congregation to build their first church, now the United Presbyterian
church of Cowansville, notwithstanding he was always a practical and
devoted Catholic." If you want the support of a group, help them in their
endeavors, this the Reads were smart enough to do.

Patrick died in 1854, and the homestead and business was taken by his son
Charles who was born in 1822. In his later years Charles engaged
exclusively in farming and was "numbered among the large, progressive and
prosperous farmers of Armstrong County." Even though he was a Catholic in
a Presbyterian community, and a democrat in a republican dominated
electorate, he entered politics and had enough cross over votes to nearly
become the sheriff . In 1871 he was nominated for associate county judge
and also ran a close but unsuccessful race. Nonetheless, he was an
esteemed man and popular in the community.

The pioneer spirit and cooperation helped, but the distillery provided a
market for grain and the whisky was good. And the whisky was good. Sugar
Creek ... yup, that's the place.

John Giacoletti

Cowan, County Down
McClay, County Tyrone

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