Who was George Welby?

label "superior old bourbon whiskey"

The Filson’s Special Collections has a sample book from the 1850s lithograph firm of Henry Miller and Co. which includes many colorful sample labels for items such as tobacco, perfumes and spirits. One of the labels is for Bourbon Whiskey from Geo. Welby. The question to answer is who was this George Welby who is purchasing bourbon labels?

In the 1850s, bourbon was sold by the distillers in the barrel. The hand blown bottles of the time were expensive and most consumers filled their flasks or jugs at the grocery or liquor store in their neighborhood. Many of these merchants would bottle some of the barrel to sell to people who did not have a flask or jug available at the time of purchase. Welby was one of these merchants.

To find out more about Welby, the place to start is in the Filson’s collection of Louisville City Directories. The collection is incomplete before 1848. Welby appears in the 1848-49 directory as “Wholesale Grocer and liquor merchant” located at 502 West Main Street. His advertisement in the directory states that he is a dealer in “Bourbon, Rye and Other Whiskies”. He is last listed in the 1866 directory in the same business, but located at 121 West Main Street. The next step is to find out more about George Welby the person.

The Cave Hill cemetery records show that he was buried there and died on 2 May 1867. That explains why he was not found in the city directories after 1866. An online search finds him in the 1850 and the 1860 census records. He is married to Amelia Welby in the 1850 census, but she is not found in the 1860 census. These records state he was born in England about 1815 and there is record of him purchasing a passage in Liverpool in 1846, but it lists him as a merchant from Louisville, Kentucky so it is not likely his first passage to America. The 1860 census has him married to 29 year old Anna M. and a son, George C. Welby listed in his household. Amelia is also buried at Cave Hill but there is no date listed. A search for Amelia Welby finds that she was a well known poet who died in 1852 shortly after giving birth to her son, George C. Welby. She was a contributor to the Louisville Daily Journal and George Prentice helped to promote her poetry. According to her article on the website “Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861”, the Welby household became a gathering place for the Louisville “notables.” The Louisville Encyclopedia also has an article about Amelia Welby and states she married Louisville merchant George Welby in 1838.

This information gives us a picture of George Welby as a person who came to Kentucky from England. He became a merchant in Louisville specializing in wholesale goods and spirits. He remained in the business until his death in 1867. Some time in the 1850s, Welby purchased a label for his “Superior Old Bourbon” from Henry Miller and Co. and sold it by the bottle.

Mike Veach

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