Many of the bourbon barons of the late 1800’s rode a roller coaster of success and failures. Despite his strong business acumen and wild success, Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr., literally fled the Commonwealth in May 1877 to avoid creditors before George T. Stagg bought him (and the O.F.C.) out of bankruptcy in December of that year.
As described in Newcomb-Buchanan Co. v. Baskett, 14 Bush 658, 77 Ky. 658 (1879), Col. Taylor’s troubles were brewing at least by the spring of 1875. Just months before the running of the first Kentucky Derby, Taylor sold 150 barrels to J. S. Baskett, a Henry County farmer who also raised Hereford cattle and was a banker – both passions he shared with Col. Taylor. Baskett also apparently was seeking to gain a foothold as a bourbon dealer. Baskett paid for the bourbon and paid the taxes, so the barrels were to be moved from the bonded warehouse at the O.F.C. to a free warehouse. Instead, Col. Taylor sold the same 150 barrels to Newcomb-Buchanan Co. to cover debts Col. Taylor owed. (Some readers might recognize Newcomb-Buchanan as one of the largest distillery groups in Kentucky at the time, which by 1884 went broke in a scandalous fashion, and was taken over by the Anderson & Nelson Distilleries.)
Newcomb-Buchanan sold 25 of Baskett’s barrels and credited Taylor’s account, shipped another 101 of Baskett’s barrels to George T. Stagg in St. Louis to cover debt Col. Taylor owed to Stagg, and still had the remaining barrels when Baskett came looking for his bourbon during the summer of 1877. Col. Taylor was nowhere to be found – in the Buffalo Trace Oral History Project Col. Taylor’s great-great grandson says that Col. Taylor fled to Europe and left one of his sons behind to deal with the creditors – but the Court simply noted that “In May, 1877, Taylor left the state on account of pecuniary troubles…”, so Baskett sued Newcomb-Buchanan.
Newcomb-Buchanan defended on the ground that it simply didn’t know about Baskett’s ownership of the barrels. The Court ruled in favor of Baskett, reasoning that Newcomb-Buchanan never had an ownership interest in the barrels because Col. Taylor never had the right to (re-)sell the barrels in the first place. “Buyer beware” was alive and well in the 1870’s.
So Newcomb-Buchanan had to pay damages to Baskett, and presumably chase down Col. Taylor along with all of the other creditors. Not to worry though, Col. Taylor more than found his footing after being bailed out by Stagg; he built grand distilleries, led the fight for the Bottled in Bond Act, and left an indelible mark on bourbon history. Although Col. Taylor has practically attained the equivalent of sainthood in the Bourbon world, just remember that he didn’t always wear the white hat.