The Original Founder of Wild Turkey
James Rippey was born in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland in March 1811. James and his two siblings emigrated to America and entered the country along the Deleware River in the Port of Philadelphia. An immigration worker who filled out the paperwork for the three children in Pennsylvania misspelled their last name, as “Ripy” and the legal process to get it changed back after that was too lengthy and expensive. So they decided to keep it that way. Within a very short time they moved to a small town in Kentucky called Lawrenceburg around 1830. All three of the Ripy children moved into a small log cabin along the Kentucky River in what was Bourbon County but is now Anderson County.
In his twenties James became a clerk in a dry goods store. In 1839 James renounced his British Citizenship and became an American Citizen. In 1840 Ripy married a local Bourbon County girl from a very wealthy family, her name was Artemesia Walker and she was just a year younger than him. Ripy later became a successful merchant and distributor of household goods including whiskey in the mid 1840’s and 1850’s. He started buying up a number of small distilleries in and around Anderson County. James and Artemesia had three children but one died as an infant. The two sons that lived to adulthood, James P. Ripy who was born in 1844, and Thomas Beebe Ripy who was born in 1847.
The younger James served as a junior officer in the Confederate Cavalry Corp during the US Civil War. After the war married into another distilling family the one that produced “Bond & Lilliard” Whiskey. Like his father James went on to become become a distiller. The younger son Thomas Beebe Ripy or T. B. was three years younger and was sent off to school for a fine education for both prep school in Louisville and then to college in Frankfort.
In 1853 the father James, now in his 50’s along with two partners bought a good sized distillery a few miles east of town. Within a year James had the plant churning out over 120 barrels of mash a day. One year later at the peak of their product his owner financed the sale of the distillery to a prominent local Judge McBrayer and his son T. B.. Another year after that the judge left and T. B. became a sole proprietor of what was called “T. B. Ripy Cliff Springs Distilling Co.”
In 1869 James and his two sons built their own larger distillery on the Kentucky River in the town of Steamville, that James later renamed Tyrone after the County in Ireland that he was from. The distillery was called the Rippy Brothers Distillery named after the two sons that he had hired to run the plant. Thomas Ripy would go on to become the largest distiller in the world over two decades between 1880 and 1905. James Ripy began having health problems and his wife Artemesia was not physically able to take care of James. So both sons pitched in to help care for their parents. But in June 1872, James Ripy at only 61 years of age passed away. He and several years later his wife died and both were buried in the Walker Cemetery near Lawrenceburg.
Over a decade later, his son T. B. paid homage to his father James by putting the slogan on every bottle of bourbon, “From Father to Son Since 1831."