Bourbon In My Blood

Our Bourbon is Smooth, Our Thoroughbreds are Beautiful and Our Women are Fast - Kentucky

Kentucky was considered a land of good fortune because of the abundance of wild life and a sacred burial ground by many Native Americans. For these reasons they resented the white man for settling in Ken-tah-ten. The land in this region transitions from the Appalachian Mountains in the east proceeding west to gently rolling hills to flat lands back to gently rolling hills to small mountains called knobs. Springs and waterways are abundant in this area carrying clean limestone water free of iron oxide deposits giving the water a sweet taste, the perfect base for what would later become the perfect spirit. Kentucky distilleries were built around and along these springs and waterways to produce this much craved elixir called Kentucky bourbon whiskey.

My name is John and I’m a retired Baby Boomer. With time on my hands I needed to fill it with something enjoyable to do. I published a novel and am working on my second one. Another hobby is genealogy. It is through this pastime that some very interesting facts came to light about my wife’s and my ancestors. In my wife’s ancestral tree are a Kentucky governor, the notorious pirate Captain Kidd and royalty leading back to the great Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor.

On researching my mother’s ancestors I was surprised in what I found just in the past 200 years. I found royalty of another kind. Royalty in the art of distilling liquid amber gold in the form of Kentucky Bourbon. Several families with last names like Thompson, Hayden, Mattingly, Russell, Cissell or Cecil, Moore, Van Cleave, Samuels, Willett, Beam, Boone and others that migrated through the Cumberland Gap or came down the Ohio River by flatboat and either disembarked in Maysville or Louisville, Kentucky. Either way they headed for the heartland of Kentucky; made up of Nelson, Marion, Washington, Anderson, Woodford and portions of surrounding counties. Land that sat atop a giant limestone aquifer that fed hundreds of springs with fresh sweet tasting water void of iron oxide.


A while ago my parents lost a good friend of over 40 years with the last name of Boone. My mother's sister is an amateur genealogist along with myself for our family. In a conversation with my mother, my aunt sprung the news that we were related to the Boone's, descendants of frontiersman Daniel Boone, that lived in the same small town where my parents owned a tree farm and that these friends of many decades were actually distant cousins.


My mother called me with this news and I in turn called my aunt. We discussed this new find and I told her about our relationship with four distilling families. She replied as though it was no surprise and then dropped a bombshell on me. She informed me that we were also related to two other distilling families; the Samuels (Maker's Mark) and the Beam's (Jim Beam Distillery). I knew that there was a relation with the Samuels for Bill Samuels, Jr. and I had discussed it a few times. I was tracking the kinship down but my aunt beat me to the punch. I won't know the exact relation until I can import her database into mine.


This is one reason most of the old distillery families have such a good working relationship with each other because most have family ties and family takes care of family. When one family is in trouble or needs advise they can just pick up the phone and call any number of owners or master distillers and get the help or advise they need. When Kentucky Peerless in Louisville needed some advice on building their new distillery they called on Jimmy Russell, master distiller for Wild Turkey and Jimmy made the trip from Lawrenceburg, KY to Louisville and gave them the on-site advice they needed to solve their problem. There are not too many industries where competitors will bend over backwards to help each other out. How many other industries that you know will do that for one another. In the end the consumer is the overall winner.


It was explained to me by a bourbon/distillery historian that like the kings and queens of old they married other royalty from other kingdoms in order to strengthen each others kingdoms and expand land holdings. The distiller/owners did much the same thing in order to help each other out in times of need or expansion. One thing that ended these dynasties that was totally out of their control was Prohibition. What would the bourbon industry and Kentucky be like if Prohibition never happened. Hmmm...I wonder.


About John 'Bourbon Daddy' Johnson

Here are the distillers that I have found so far that I am related

to either by blood or marriage:


Jim Beam

I sat down several weeks ago with the Beam family member who manages the genealogy for the Beam-Noe families. I presented him with the genealogical information that I had so far. He recognized several names on my list as being members of his family tree and came to the conclusion that there definitely was a family tie. I have merged my aunt's ancestry database with mine and identified exactly our blood relationship. Fred Noe and his cousin Jim Beam Noe are 5th cousins 1x removed. I think its pretty cool but I still have to buy the Jim Beam bourbon like everyone else. No family discounts and that's OK with me.


Joseph Washington Dant

Creator of the J.W. Dant bourbon and Yellowstone. At the age of 15 he created his first bourbon using a hollowed out log. Joseph Washington Dant is my 1st great uncle of the wife of my half 2nd uncle.

Basil Hayden, Sr.

Creator of Basil Hayden bourbon. Basil Hayden, Sr. is the brother-in-law of my 5th great aunt.

Raymond B. Hayden

Creator of Old Grand Dad. Raymond B. Hayden is the grandnephew of my 5th great aunt.

John Graves Mattingly

Involved with several very early distilleries, including J. G. Mattingly & Sons in Louisville in 1845 and the

Marion County Distillery (also in Louisville, by the way, not in Marion County) in 1866. John Graves Mattingly is my 1st cousin 4x removed.

Willett Distillery

Benjamin Franklin Mattingly co-distiller of Mattingly & Moore bourbon and son-in-law of John D. Willett,

along with Belle of Nelson (named for John Willett's winning race horse) and Morton’s Spring Rye,

(named for the spring that provided the water for the distillery). Benjamin Franklin Mattingly is my

1st cousin 4x removed.

I am also kin to a line of Russell's from the Washington, Nelson and Anderson counties but I have no idea

yet if I am related to the great Jimmie Russell, Master Distiller of Wild Turkey.

If you think you can trace your ancestral line back to the heartland of Kentucky you may find that some of

your kinfolk may have been in the legal distilling business or ran their cars by the light of the moon

between the years of 1920 and 1933.  Join Ancestry.Com and find out for yourself.