Benjamin Radcliff-Washington County Preacher-Distiller

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Benjamin Radcliff-Washington County Indiana Preacher-Distiller

Update:. My friend, Washington County Historian, Jeremy Elliott was kind enough to do some follow up research at the Stevens museum and has found a few articles he intends to copy for me including Benjamin’s inducement to ministry, His father’s will which leaves behind a half interest in an “old” still and mash-tubs to he and his brother who also moved here, a copy of the KY district seven excise receipt, and a receipt for a young slave girl aged 16 yo in the year 1813, just six years prior to the Radcliffs coming to Hardinsburg.  The distinct possibility that she may have come to live and work with the Radcliffs as an eventual free woman is intriguing, particularly since distillation was often left to females.

Jeremy and I discussed as well the oddity that nowhere else is Radcliffs mill discussed in Wash co. History, this leads me to believe it was tied particularly to the distillery for production purposes.  The Democrat article seems to further verify this as it makes note that Preacher Radcliff would stop his sermons to listen for his boys running the still, the location of the still house is far enough away he couldn’t have heard any noise associated with distilling other than those made by the grindstones of the mill preparing grain for distillation.

History has a funny way of sneaking things up on me.  Take for example that I might come across a name such as that of Benjamin Radcliff who is mentioned in passing as a distiller with a water run grist mill on Honey Creek near Hardinsburg Indiana in the Centennial History of Washington County and is thereafter never referenced again.  A tantalizing clue that I might be interested in his history for sure, but not one that seems very reassuring for finding and further analyzing the facts of the case.  None the less, the name holds weight in my head and I almost always mention it during Hells Half Acre Hellbilly Burlesque Show while I continue to research the name via Google almost religiously for a year to no avail.  Eventually I settle for finding the location of his grave site at Old Unity Cemetery outside of Hardinsburg Indiana and stumble across a stray reference by Drew Wright to a Radcliff springs on his 200 Years Ago In Washington County Blog.

I finally decide to make the trip to the cemetery to at least photograph his grave for posterity (the stone is broken in half and illegible).  Once I arrive at my location and see the beautiful layout of the land I decide to spur of the moment type into Google what was apparently the correct combination of words and locations (as if the man himself was saying “Hey dumbass, you are looking in the wrong place, here you go.”) and get a genealogy hit that lets me know I am in the right place at the right time!

My research on Benjamin is not nearly complete but here is what I have gathered so far:

-1815 Benjamin Radcliff paid to the 7’th Tax District of KY. seventeen dollars, sixty-seven and a half cents on 73 gallons of spirits he produced.

-Both Benjamin and his father had been slave holders in KY although it is not known whether any of those slaves came with him and his family to Indiana.  However, there is an oral legend of several African Americans buried at Old Unity Cemetery and if they did come to freedom with his family this is the best chance I know of for finding an African American distiller(s) in Washington County.

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-He and his family came to Indiana in 1819 and were received by letter into the Unity Church around this same time.  The Church at that time had no meeting house and religious rites were instead held at the homes of the membership

-He Bought the land where the church and cemetery are located and where the springs are located in 1820 or so and ran a grist mill and distillery at the location of the springs until at least 1835 (which according to Indiana geology is the third largest flow of spring water in the state of Indiana)

-Around 1830 he deeded the land for the meeting house and cemetery to the church and they erected a building

-In February 1831, the Church granted Benjamin the right to preach: “The church agrees to give brother Benjamin Radcliff liberty to exercise his public gift whenever the Lord in his providence may cast his lot.”

-On October 3 1833, he was officially ordained and preached not only at Old Unity Baptist but performed as an itinerant at other local churches when a preacher was otherwise unavailable

“To all people to whom these presents shall come, the subscribers send greetings – Being convened at Unity Meeting House on the third day of October 1833 at the instance of the Baptist Church aforesaid, for the purpose of setting apart by solemn ordination the bearer hereof, to the sacred office of the ministry, and having by sufficient testimonials, gift, and abilities, whereof we have had true knowledge of, and did therefore on the third day of October, in the presence of said church and a full assembly met, solemnly ordain and set apart to the said sacred office of the ministry by imposition of hands and prayer and the rituals amongst us in that case in use, the said bearer, our worthy and Reverend brother
Benjamin Radcliff whom we recommend as such to favor and respect – Johnathan Jones and Kinsey Veatch.”

-November 18 1885 Horace Heffron of the Salem Democrat wrote that Radcliff had no opposition to whiskey even as a preacher: “the second church (Baptist) was at Radcliff’s big spring. Radcliff had a still house just under the hill. He used to preach and run his still on Sunday. It is said that he used to stop in his sermons and listen to determine whether or not his boys were running the still.”

-From 1841-1849 at his death he was the full-time pastorate of the Unity Church

Pretty damn interesting if you do ask me!  I’ll have more on this as I continue my research to uncover all that I can.  The videos below are from my trip yesterday evening and are pretty interesting themselves, I hope to have some footage of the Radcliff Springs sometime in the next few weeks.




2 thoughts on “Benjamin Radcliff-Washington County Preacher-Distiller

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  1. Hi there! My 2x great grandfather was married to Benjamin Radcliff’s daughter Polly. She was his second wife. In a round about way, I was hoping to find information concerning her married to Robert King, and then, find a pathway to his first wife, Elizabeth “Betsey” Wood(s), the mother of my great grandfather, Benjamin V King. Thank you for this blog and the information in it.


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