One thing sure: Ray distiller was wealthy

By Linda Emley

Last week while reading a 1920 Richmond Missourian, I ran across an interesting article that reminded me that things are not always as they seem.
I’ve been collecting information about a man that lived in the Ray County river bottoms named Col. William Moore. He died in 1854 and left a large estate that was estimated to be worth $140,800 in 1860. In our modern world, it would be $28,281,000, so Col. Moore was a rather wealthy man.
I read in the Jan. 22, 1920 Missourian “That Ray county once had a distillery is a fact that few people remember, but back in the early days of the county, when it was considered “South”, and had its slaves and small plantations, a man named Col. William Moore came from Tennessee and took up 1,000 acres of land on the Missouri River, extending from the old Lexington ferry landing to the mouth of the Crooked River.
“Why Col. Moore came to Missouri was an unanswered question in the minds of those who knew him, for he was very unlike the usual settlers in Missouri. He is said to have been very reticent and held himself aloof from all, making few friends. Stories reached Missouri of a duel and a death one moonlit night, but in the early Missouri days there were many men who left their homes for untold reasons and no one questioned Col. Moore’s presence.”
Col. Moore raised corn and after several good years he had a large surplus so he decided to start a distillery as a way to use up his extra grain. The colonel went to Kentucky and purchased a distiller’s worm and still that he brought back to Ray County to build what was then the second-largest distillery in the state. The largest one was in St Louis, and was later purchased by Eberhard Anheuser in 1860 when it was on the brink of bankruptcy. It later became the company we knew today as Anheuser Busch.
The colonel’s brewery was only in service for about a year before he died, but it was famous while it lasted. His whiskey was shipped by riverboat to St. Louis, Cincinnati and New Orleans. There are even stories of it being shipped to the Rocky Mountains by wagon train.
Col. Moore also had a grist mill. In an effort to take business away from a competing mill, the colonel gave a gallon of whiskey to each farmer that brought a load of grain to his mill. The paper was quoted as saying, “and, needless to say, few forgot their jugs.”
After Col. Moore died, Alexander Maitland and James Lightner, of Lexington rented his property and continued the business for another year. Alexander had worked for Col. Moore as his business manager and when Lightner bought the surplus corn, Maitland rented some land and farmed for himself.
The still and worm were sold to the St Louis company and the days of Col. Moore’s brewery were over. Col. Moore’s widow, Mary, continued to run the farm and was still living on the farm with her children Alex, Mollie and Joseph in 1860. They had a governess named Elizabeth Lain that lived with them, so it sounds like they truly did live on a southern plantation.
Moore was the largest slave owner in Ray County and some records show that he had around 150 slaves. Thomas Cooper from Tennessee worked for Col. Moore and was an overseer on his plantation. He later moved to Camden and started his own company with his cousin, Seth Moore. They had a warehouse and were in the shipping business.
A few days after the Missourian ran the story about Col. Moore, there was another article that was labeled “ A Correction”. This is where we find that things are not always as them seem. “In a recent historical story of the Col. Wm. Moore distillery, an error was made, inadvertently, through what seems to have been misinformation in securing the material for this story. Colonel Moore, about whom the story centered, was one of the blue bloods southerners who came to Missouri in the early days, and was honored and respected both in Tennessee and in Missouri. He came from one of the leading families of Tennessee, where many of the members of the Moore family yet reside, and are numbered among the Tennessee first families. Some of his descents are still residents of this part of Missouri and a grand daughter, Mrs. J. W. Harvey, now lives in Richmond. At his death his property passed into the hands of heirs in Missouri. The Missourian deeply regrets the errors that seem to have been made in the article and is glad to correct the statements made through misinformation which, in a way, reflects upon the integrity of Col Moore and his honored descendants.”
I thought that was a nice “save” by the Richmond Missourian but it just goes to show that the truth is always somewhere in between what we think we know and what really happened.
I have one “Moore” tale for this story. A few years ago, there was a large sale in Richmond and the estate of Chris McDonald was auctioned off. An old brief case was sold that contained the business ledger of Col. Moore. I got to spend some time looking over his ledger and one thing I know for sure is that Col. Moore left a lot more questions than answers, so stay tuned for more tales.

You can reach Linda Emley at or see her in person at Ray County Museum.

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