Monday, March 31, 2014

The Real Augustus Bulleit Revealed

"Hi," said the voice on the phone. "I am the great great grandson of Augustus Bulleit." No, it was not someone who promotes Bulleit whiskeys for Diageo. This descendant wanted to explain why no one can find a record of Augustus Bulleit in Louisville.

He wasn't in Louisville.

Except for a brief transition period after he arrived from France in 1836, Augustus never lived in Louisville. He never distilled there, nor ran a bar, nor did any of the other things Diageo claims about him. "My grandmother never said anything about a secret bourbon recipe," said the caller, laughing.

The caller's information is supported by sources readily found online, although the sources don't always agree. All seem to agree on the year Augustus was born, 1806, but not on the place. It's either Belgium, Alsace-Lorraine, or France. My caller says France and explains the confusion. Augustus married a Belgian girl. (More on her later.) Alsace-Lorraine may also be correct, since it was still controlled by France when Augustus lived there. My caller also mentioned an earlier spelling of the name, Boilliat.

Augustus made his way to America at age 25 or maybe 30. He stayed briefly in Louisville but soon moved west, across the Ohio River to Harrison County, Indiana, where he married and settled down. His bride, Mary Julia Dulieu, was from Lanesville and they settled on a farm on Buck Creek near Dogwood. (See, this is already better than the made-up stuff.) They were married on April 29, 1841. She was 21, he was 35. In that same year, he became a naturalized American citizen.

They had nine children.

Augustus and Mary Julia appear in census records for both 1850 and 1860. In 1850, his occupation is given as 'miller.' In 1860 it's 'farmer.'

That he was a miller makes it probable he was a distiller too, at least on a small scale. Millers were typically paid in grain. Whatever they were given to mill, they would keep 5 to 7 percent of it in payment. In a community where everyone grew grain, no one needed to buy it, so a miller would either raise livestock and use his grain as feed, or distill it into whiskey for sale. Whiskey was desirable because it didn't spoil and always sold.

From family lore, my caller said Augustus may have operated a tavern at one time and may also have been in the lumber business, but both of those enterprises failed.

Mary Julia Dulieu Bulleit is buried in the Catholic cemetery in New Middletown. No one knows where Augustus is buried or even when he died. In 1860, at the age of 54, he got on a flatboat with some goods he intended to sell in New Orleans and was never seen nor heard from again.

While we may never know exactly how or where Augustus Bulleit died, just as we may never know where Bulleit Bourbon is made, at least now we know who Augustus Bulleit really was.

On a Personal Note: Today is the last day of the month and I just want to thank Diageo for making March so much fun.


Donna Mattingly said...

Love it! Chuck, I actually signed up for an account after your search for those ancestors and did see the Indiana connection. Very cool that you were able to interview a descendant!

Gary Gillman said...

The puzzle of identity, origins, lineage. Fascinating.


Rob K said...

I imagine it gives Diageo a real kick in the teeth too that it makes him a Hoosier and not a Kentuckian. If he made bourbon, it was Hoosier bourbon, not Kentucky bourbon. Fitting that Bulleit Rye is made at MGP!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for helping clear the air of the stench and muddy water that's stirred up by the big liquor marketers. Oh, Bulleit is a Diageo project/concoction? What a shocker. How low can they go? Guess we'll find out.

theBitterFig said...

@ Anon: Just to be honest, it isn't just the huge companies which do this. A great many small "distillers" keep their sourced whiskies pretty well muddied up, or at least as much as they can. I can't say definitively there are no innocents here, but...

Anonymous said...

To play devil's advocate, and since you didn't provide the caller's name or his/her evidence, I take most individually done genealogical research with a big grain of sea salt. Just for starters, there could be more than one Augustus Bulleit (or whatever), in fact there very likely was. More importantly, hunting down someone with a spotty history involves a lot of leaps of faith, extrapolations and just plain guessing. Finally, that many generations removed, there may be *several* real great-great-grandsons, each with their own understanding of the family history (one researcher was able to definitively show that all currently living western Europeans could demonstrate direct descendency from Charlamagne).

Not saying this anonymous person is wrong, just that they may very strongly believe a family history that requires much more research, and it may not, in fact, disprove Diageo's (or Tom Bulleit's) version of the past.

My mom does a ton of that sort of research for several of her family trees, and it's always the big fun stories ("he was abducted by pirates!" "We are very distantly related to Celebrity X!") that end up having the most speculative gaps filled in ("there are 16 Tom Browns in Chester County, we think ours is the important Tom Brown in this chain").

But great first look anyway!
Robert H-P

Chuck Cowdery said...

Your points are all valid, Robert. I would only point out that the caller identified himself to me and everything he told me checked out. I just chose not to publish his name. There is evidence that this Augustus Bulleit is the same one Diageo claims because Diageo has also used the 'disappeared on a trip to New Orleans' story for their Augustus.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Harrison County Augustus Bulleit shows up in two U.S. Census records and on three property deeds in the Harrison County Courthouse, dated 1836, 1837 and 1856. Also, we're not dealing with ancient history. Harrison County has property records back to 1809. We're not talking about Europe in the 10th century.

Richard Bulliet said...

like Tom Bulleit I am great, great grandson of Augustus Bulleit through his grandson Paul Constantine Bulleit. My grandfather changed the spelling of our name from Bulleit to Bulliet in 1913 and went on to become a prominent newspaper art critic in Chicago from the 1920s onward. Though our branch of the family turned Protestant and gave up drinking, our tradition has it that Augustus owned an inn at one point where he presumably sold his distilled spirits. I myself am a history professor at Columbia University.

Courtney R. said...

Very good read! I can say that I have written family histories to confirm a lot of what the caller said. My great grandmother was Laura Mae Bulleit, originally of Corydon, Indiana. She came from this line of Bulleits. I grew up hearing the story of Augustus as a child. According to family history, Augustus had an unsuccesful run as a tavern owner and operator in Lanesville, Indiana. He moved to a farm on Buck Creek and built a saw mill with success, turning over a large cash profit for the time. He built a flat boat which he was using to sell goods and produce down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. On one such trip to New Orleans, Louisiana Augustus disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. It was rumored he had met with foul play but nothing has ever been confirmed to my knowledge. It is fascinating I grew up hearing these stories and then I found the connection to the Bulleit Bourbon. Pretty wild stuff!

Unknown said...

I am a great grandson of Amiel L. "A. L." Bulleit, the third son of Augustus and Mary Bulleit and, in his day, a well known blacksmith throughout southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. In 1998 I visited Corydon with my mother and sister and I spent the better part of a day in the Genealogical Room of the Corydon Carnegie Public Library. I found a wealth of information about the Bulleit family, much of it supplied as oral histories by Bulleit family members. One account, attributed to a Blanche Christley in 1965, relayed a robust version of family lore surrounding Augustus Bulleit's life and disappearance around Metropolis, Illinois, during a flat boat trading trip to Memphis in 1860. It was said he acquired land there and was killed for his goods and land, probably by the man who later claimed both. Several years later I visited Metropolis and searched the Massac County land records at the County Clerk's office, and found the official record of a deed to "Augustus Boilleat" for 40 acres, recorded in December 1860, in Book P, Page 273 of Deeds. I can supply an image of the handwritten record if requested. Many thanks to Chuck Cowdery for this fine blog. By the way, my ancestors never mentioned anything about a Bulleit tavern or whiskey recipe. According to the Corydon town historian in 1998, whom we met and were introduced to on the sidewalk, the Bulleits were "fertilizer salesmen," blacksmiths and carriage makers.

sensei said...

I met Tom Bulleit’s sister, Mary or MaryJoe and her husband, Ron, at a party. They still live in Louisville, KY. She told me no one ever mentioned Augustus until Seagrams sold Bulleit to Diageo. Tom Bulleit never asked their father about any recipe. There was no recipe, the high rye content was possibly Seagram’s idea.

They also said Tom Bulleit is related to real distillers, the Willett family. Ron wondered why Tom never mentioned them. He wasn't sure how they were related to Willett, since Tom and Mary were both adopted.