I think I discovered the origin of the term "bourbon" in bourbon whiskey, or at least very persuasive evidence. Some years ago I read on this board of a theory that the term bourbon may be connected to the French Royal Family of that name, a family who had many interactions with America in the late 1700's and part of the 1800's. I believe Mike Veach and John Lipman had discussed this idea originally (correct me if I am wrong) but I don't recall or know more than that in terms of its genesis. The discussions related I believe to New Orleans and the fact of former French Royal rule there, including a link possibly to a seemingly similar drink (in some ways), Cognac brandy.
Periodically since then when discussing bourbon history on the http://www.Bourbon
Enthusiast.com forum, this idea has come again about a possible connection to the House of Bourbon (historic French Royal family), as it did today (in jocular form in part) in another thread on BE dealing with different theories of how America's best whiskey got its name.
At lunch today I did some searching on Google Books to try to identify an actual connection between the French Bourbon Family and American whiskey. And I found one. It is from a book about Louis-Philippe, the last Bourbon king and earlier the Duke of Orleans. In 1797 Louis-Philippe, then in his early 20's, did a tour with his two brothers through, amongst other areas, parts of Tennessee and Kentucky following an itinerary suggested by George Washington when they visited Mount Vernon.
Benjamin Perley Poore wrote a book about Louis-Philippe in 1848 called "The Rise and Fall of Louis Philippe, ex-King of the French", a study of 316 pages. Here are extracts from the book:
.... Bidding adieu to the 'Cincinnatus of the West', the Princes mounted their horses, and took the road by Leesburg and Harper's Ferry to Winchester, where they stopped at the public house of Mr. Bush, a portly old revolutionary soldier, who considered the relations between the traveller and himself as a favor to the former. He was a native of Manheim on the Rhine, and Louis Philippe, thinking he had won his
good graces by speaking to him in German about his 'fatherland', proposed that the meals of his party should be sent up into their room. Such a proposition had never been heard in the whole valley of the Shenandoah, and least of all in the mansion of our friend, Mr. Bush. The rules of his house, to which the laws of the Medes and Persians were but transitory regulations, had been attacked, and his professional pride wounded; and the recollections of Manheim, and the pleasure of his native language, and the modest conversation of the young strangers, were all thrown to the wind, and the worthy and offended dignitary exclaimed: 'If you are too good to eat at the same table with my other guests, you are too good to eat in my house - begone!'. And notwithstanding the deprecatory tone which Louis Philippe immediately took, his disavowal of any intention to offend, and his offer to eat wherever it would be agreeable to this governor of hungry appetites to decide, the young men were compelled to leave the house, and to seek refuge elsewhere.
Leaving Winchester and its democratic landlord, the Princes proceeded by Staunton, Abingdon and Knoxville, to Nashville. It was court week when they arrived there, and the compiler of this work once heard Louis Philippe narrate, with great glee, the crowded state of the inn, where they were all three forced to sleep in the same bed. On leaving next morning, says an eye-witness, they inquired if they should be able to procure any spirits during the day. Receiving a negative answer, Louis Philippe purchased a tin canteen, had it filled, and off they started, one of his brothers remarking: - 'This will cut a curious figure in history, the Duke of Orleans in the wilds of America with a canteen of whiskey around his neck.'
From Nashville they journeyed to Pittsburg via Louisville, Lexington, Maysville, Cbillicothe, Lancaster, Zanes-ville, Wheeling and Washington, in Pennsylvania....". [Some of the names may be misspelled in my transcription, I give the original source below].
While the whiskey procured by the "bourbon brothers" was from Tennessee, a few days later (according to other accounts I've now read) they arrived in Kentucky, possibly still with some of that whiskey. American whiskey then and now was not just made in Kentucky, it was made in Tennessee, too. Charred barrel aging, which did not initially characterize all bourbon I understand, would not have been unique to Kentucky (as e.g., Jack Daniels shows). Note that one of the brothers attributed historical importance to the spectacle of the Duke of Orleans carrying a tin canteen of American whiskey. Louis Philippe wrote a diary of his American travels which I've been able to search in snippet view, it was in translation from the French (this also on Google Books). There are three references that I found to whiskey but they seem to relate only to the brothers determining that whiskey was available here and there as a drink (in terms either factual or condescending): I did not find confirmation in the diary of the incident related by Poore. I tried to find other discussions of, or references to, this incident, but could not. Still, Poore's book is an impressive study - Louis-Philippe was living in the year of its publication, he died in 1850 - and should have credibility considering when it was written and by whom. Poore was an American diplomat who had represented the State of Massachusets in France. He also worked as a journalist in Paris for an American newspaper. Here is the reference to the full book:http://books.google.com/books?id=5J4aAA ... s+Phillipe
Some information on Poore from Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Poore
In the 1960's and 1970's a biography in English was published on Louis-Philippe by a writer called Howarth (some details on Google Books), I searched whiskey and whisky in it in snippet view and could not find any references to these terms. Perhaps other sources will be unveiled referring to or discussing the incident of the three French royals carrying American whiskey with them on their trek from Tennessee to Kentucky.
One can conceive, especially considering how the Duke's brother characterized the incident (i.e., sensing historical and yet the mocking dimensions), that the term "Bourbon" quickly became attached to what was emerging as America's indigenous whiskey. 1797 was the perfect time for this to occur. What soon was called generally Bourbon was already in existence, perhaps not all of it then aged in new charred barrels, but the point being that good whiskey made from American grain acquired a kind of imprimatur from the French House of Bourbon. That would have facilitated its ascension since, then as now, anything Royals touch or do is gold. The name would have spread and I would regard the fact of bourbon later being shipped from Maysville in (as it then was) Bourbon County either a coincidence or a reinforcing aspect at best. It may be noted that my argument dispenses with the problem noted by Mike Veach that early bourbon advertisements did not call the whiskey "Bourbon County Whiskey".
I must record that I found after writing the above another book by Poore, reminiscences of social and political life, written clearly toward the end of his days. In this book he refers to bourbon as - Bourbon County whiskey! Does this weaken my argument? Maybe, but I think, first of all, Poore probably had forgotten by then what he wrote decades earlier about the "bourbon brothers"; second, he may not have realized himself the import of his remarks in his 1848 book.http://books.google.com/books?id=iWG9Sn ... #PPA363,M1