William Lenoir’s distillery notes, “David Owen’s Direction to Make Whiskey from Squire Sowery” (1790s), in subseries 3.1.2 of Lenoir Family Papers, 1763-1940, 1969-1975.


This document outlines a method of brewing corn whiskey that involves mixing corn malt and rye malt. Corn malt was fermented to produce alcohol, and a small portion of rye malt was added to accelerate this process. Other methods in circulation condemned this addition—it varied between families (20).1 Lenoir documented many methods of producing corn whiskey in his recipe book, mostly picked up from the inhabitants of Appalachian North Carolina. Here, the large population of Scottish immigrants had brought with them the knowledge and equipment to distill this and other alcoholic drinks, both of which spread throughout North Carolina as they moved around, selling their equipment and taking their practices with them (20).1 The production of corn whiskey set in motion by this migration was further incentivized by the Sugar Act of 1764. Formerly, rum had been quite popular in the colonies, but following this British decree, the sugary liquor became less accessible. Corn whiskey would probably have been more popular among less affluent demographics for this reason, so seeing it included among Lenoir’s distillery notes indicates something of its cultural and economic worth around this time. The actual process of brewing corn whiskey represents a union of cultural contributions from Native Americans, colonists, and more recent European immigrants; Lenoir delineates the use of “Indian corn meal” for this method, and the steps involved are a fusion between practices carried over from Europe and modified ones adapted to the new environment and resources of America. It is a practice that heralds the cultural, political, and economic departure of America from Great Britain in the process of forming its own national identity. In response to British taxation, Americans were crafting their own substitute from the amalgam of resources available and carving a niche for it in the mountains and plains of North Carolina.


  1. Stewart, Bruce E. “DISTILLERS AND PROHIBITIONISTS: SOCIAL CONFLICT AND THE RISE OF ANTI-ALCOHOL REFORM IN APPALACHIAN NORTH CAROLINA, 1790-1908.” University of Georgia. 2007. https://getd.libs.uga.edu/pdfs/stewart_bruce_e_200705_phd.pdf.



-Cadan Holden