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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1997-12 > 0883402257


From: "Robert T. Hilliard" <>
Subject: RE: Charley Read 's PA Whisky
Date: Mon, 29 Dec 1997 08:30:57 -0500


John,
Thanks for the posts. I don't have time to respond to the personal one you sent me,
but I will soon. I just wanted to make a couple of quick notes to the list on this post
before I forget to do it.
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.
For those folks who are familiar with the area mentioned here, this statement
may seem odd given that the river in this area is now 40 feet or more deep.
Construction of a series of navigation dams (I think the ones on the Allegheny
were built in this century, while the dams on the Mon were built much earlier -
mid-1800s) and sand and gravel dredging totally changed the character of the
river from a shallow, rocky-bottomed river to the deep, sandy river that we know
today.
In 1804 Michael Read began a distilling business on his homestead that was
continued by his son Patrick Read and grandson Charles.
This was perhaps more the norm than the exception in western PA at that time.
While Pittsburgh later became known as the 'Smoky City' for other reasons,
contemporary descriptions of the area from the very early 1800s nearly always
mention the smoke spiraling from distilleries up and down the river valleys. It
was probably the largest industry in the area at that time. Distilling was
critical to the pioneers because it allowed them to change their grain crops
into a tradable good. Considering that actual money was in short supply on
the frontier, whiskey became a sort of de facto currency. Hence the outrage
that led to the Whiskey Rebellion (your asking a lot of me, but I'll give you
more on that in a later post - don't think I don't love the chance to show off
on these topics).
"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."
In 1876, there were 50,000 gallons of eyesight-dimming, head-pounding,
Irish immigrant whiskey being produced in Armstrong County? approximately 1 gallon for every man, woman, and child in the
county at the time. BUT, it was a DRY COUNTY! So as good as
Charley Read's brew may have been, he wasn't selling it to his neighbors.
At least, not as far as the county government was aware. Very similar
to the county (Franklin, maybe?) in KY today where Jack Daniels
bourbon is made. Consumers have to drive to the next county to
actually buy it. Go figure.
Sports fans will be interested to know that it is the
"home" church of Jim Kelly of Buffalo Bill football fame.
I'd love to claim an Irish connection for all of the NFL QBs from western PA.
Unfortunately, names like Marino and Montana (Italian), Namath (Hungarian),
Unitas (Greek, I think), and Blanda (who knows?) won't allow it. So I'll just
stick with my theory that it's in the water...or maybe the whiskey! Medicinal
purposes only, of course. Here's to ya!
Go Steelers!
Rob
PS: On the subject of whiskey and such, I once read this 'Irish' toast (I don't
know if we want to get into this thread because there's a lot of bogus stuff
floating around out there) and it stuck with me: "May your roof never fall in,
and may the friends under it never fall out." For what it's worth. Happy New
Year.

----------
From: John Giacoletti
Sent: Saturday, December 27, 1997 1:42 PM
To: Scotch-Irish
Subject: Charley Read 's PA Whisky

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
independence."

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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