Shapira’s Confederates in the Attic

Ian Shapira. Photo credit: Washington Post

by James A. Bacon

In a series of blistering articles over the past year, Washington Post staff writer Ian Shapira has accused the Virginia Military Institute of “relentless racism” and written favorably about the renaming of statues, memorials and iconography associated with slavery and the Confederacy.

Reporting on the May meeting of the VMI Board of Visitors, for instance, Shapira recounted how the Board took steps to downplay the military academy’s tributes to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, whom he described as “a former professor at the college who owned six enslaved people.” The board stripped the Civil War general’s name from an arch and from the memorial hall. The purge went so far as to expunge Jackson’s name from a barracks plaque that was inscripted with a maxim he often quoted.

That erasure came, Shapira noted in a self-administered pat on the back, after The Washington Post published a story, which he had written, “chronicling a host of disturbing incidents in recent years at VMI.” That article also prompted Governor Ralph Northam to launch an investigation into racism at the school.

One would never imagine it from reading his broadsides against VMI, but Shapira himself has a few Confederates in the attic. The Post reporter sits on the board of directors of a Kentucky-based distillery, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. The family-owned business sells three brands of bourbon named after owners or employers of slave labor and a brand of rum named after a fervent defender of England’s slave plantations in the West Indies.

The Heaven Hill website has declared the company’s support for “those who protest institutions in our society that perpetuate injustice,” and a spokesman told Bacon’s Rebellion that the company has begun digging into the historic record. “While we’ve found some evidence of slave ownership among some of our namesake brands, a complete understanding remains in the works,” said Joshua Hafer, senior manager corporate communications.

There is no move at the moment to delete any of the company’s own slave-era iconography, which include bourbon brands honoring Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and Henry McKenna, all named after famed Kentucky distillers, or the company’s Admiral Nelson’s premium spiced rums honoring the British naval hero who upheld the harsh regime of West Indian sugar plantations.

Even while serving on the Heaven Hill Distilleries board of directors, Shapira has devoted 22 articles over the past eight months to alleging racism at VMI, including the veneration by means of statues, memorials and ceremonies of Civil War-era figures such as Stonewall Jackson and the cadets who died in the Battle of New Market. That coverage has earned him two national journalism awards, including the Poke award for state reporting, and the Hechinger Grand Prize for educational coverage.

The VMI board has been struggling for years how to reconcile its traditions with changing views of the nation’s troubled racial past. Although the military academy had begun implementing significant changes in the past two or three years, the political pressure engendered by Shapira’s articles and the Northam-orchestrated racism investigation induced Institute leadership to enact many changes that it had not been considering before. Many VMI alumni are fearful that the Governor’s racism probe could recommend additional actions that strike at core traditions such as the single-sanction Honor Code and the rigors of the Rat Line.

The Heaven Hill dynasty. Unlike VMI cadets and alumni, who mostly hail from middle-class families, Shapira is an exemplar of white wealth and privilege. He was born into a business dynasty and attended the elite Princeton University before landing at the Washington Post.

Shapira’s grandfather and his brothers, immigrants from Russia, founded the company in 1935 as Old Heavenhill Springs. They brewed their first whiskey, Bourbon Falls, in 1937 and enjoyed considerable success. The company’s Evan Williams bourbon is one of the top-selling brands in the U.S. today. In 1989 Heaven Hill purchased nearly a dozen bourbon brands from the Seagrams distillery empire, including Henry McKenna Bourbon. In the 1990s, the company began diversifying into liqueurs, brandies, run, and vodka. In 2011, it acquired Admiral Nelson’s Run.

Max Shapira, Ian’s father, became president of the tightly held company in 1996. Kate Shapira Latts joined the company in 2001; she is now chief marketing officer. Her husband Allan Latts is chief operating officer. Ian serves as one of six corporate directors, along with Adam R. Shapira, a Louisville cardiologist, and Ellen Shapira Miller.

Grappling with bourbon’s slave-holding past. As Virginia has wrestled with its racial past in recent years, so has Kentucky. In recent years, academics and historians have been probing the origins of bourbon distilleries, which comprise one of Kentucky’s signature industries. The industry had celebrated its master distillers, naming bourbon brands after them, and telling their stories in museums and distillery tours. Tours are a revenue generator for Heaven Hill, as it is for other major distributors. Visitors to the Heaven Hill distillery in historic Bardstown near Louisville are guided through “the history and heritage of America’s original whiskey.”

Woodford Reserve was one of the first to bring up the delicate topic of slave labor on distillery tours; the company also disclosed its use of slaves in an application to become a national landmark. In another  breakthrough, Brown-Forman, parent company of Jack Daniel’s, acknowledged the contribution of Nathan “Nearest” Green, a slave who taught Jack Daniel how to distill. A year later, industry outsider Fawn Weaver launched a bourbon, Nearest Green, in honor of Daniel’s teacher.

In a 2019 Herald-Courier article, Weaver challenged other distilleries to do a better job of recognizing the contribution of slaves in their company histories and honoring them today. “It isn’t just a matter of we went back into history and found one person,” she said. “All [distilleries] began the same way. They all had slaves that were putting the barrels together, rolling the barrels. Not one wasn’t utilizing slaves for this. Go back in your books and find out who they were and give them credit.”

Some information is available online about the linkages between Heaven Hill brands and slavery, but only a little.

The best documented connection is for the most famous individual celebrated in the Heaven Hill liquor portfolio: Lord Horatio Nelson, the greatest naval hero of English history. Though a brilliant military leader, Nelson was a staunch supporter of slavery. In one letter, he declared, “I have ever been and shall die a firm friend to our present colonial system.” He was referring to the system of West Indian plantation slavery, which was far more brutal than the American system. “I was bred, as you know, in the good old school, and taught to appreciate the value of our West Indian possessions; and neither in the field or in the senate [House of Lords] shall their interest be infringed whilst I have an arm to fight in their defence, or a tongue to launch my voice against the damnable and cursed doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies.” (William Wilberforce led the movement to abolish the English slave trade.)

As the United Kingdom undergoes its own version of the Black Lives Matter movement, protesters have targeted statues to Nelson. His memorials are as controversial in the U.K. as those of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are in the U.S.

Tax records from 1800 reveal that Elijah Craig, widely acclaimed as “the father of bourbon,” owned 32 slaves. Some or all of them likely worked on a 4,000-acre farm he owned. Craig was a colorful character. Born in Orange County, Va., he became a Baptist preacher who ran afoul of the established Anglican Church before the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Migrating west, he became a founder of schools, a manufacturer and a distiller. Although the claim that he invented bourbon whiskey is now disputed, there is no question that he was a bourbon pioneer. Very little is known, however, about his slaves.

Evan Williams was a Welsh immigrant who settled in Kentucky and began distilling in 1783 in what is know Louisville. A historical marker says that the site was Kentucky’s first commercial distillery. He also served as the first wharf master of Louisville in 1797. Henry McKenna, an Irish immigrant, adapted his family’s whiskey recipe to work with the grains he found in Kentucky. Both men likely owned slaves or employed the slaves of others, although few details are known.

I emailed Heaven Hill with the following questions:

Does Heaven Hill have any plans to follow Ms. [Fawn] Weaver’s advice and document the intersection of slavery with the men — Craig, Nelson, Williams, and McKenna — whose names it honors with brands?

Given that several of its brands are associated with slaveholders, has Heaven Hill given any consideration to the idea of renaming the brands?

Heaven Hill spokesman Hafer responded as follows (with pleasantries omitted):

Ms. Weaver is right. We all have a role in understanding the contributions of enslaved people. Heaven Hill began to dig into the historic record for our brands in the past several years. While we’ve found some evidence of slave ownership among some of our namesake brands, a complete understanding remains in the works.

To get the complete and accurate understanding, we are in the process of working with Bluegrass-area academics to identify primary source material. Any decision-making for our brands would be informed by the outcome of that research.

There are a variety of potential outcomes. But we recognize that there is great opportunity to expose and contextualize the contributions enslaved people made to American Whiskey. That includes acknowledging the historic record and being transparent about it when telling the story of our brands.

How and when those stories are told remains to be seen. But virtually everything is on the table. We have websites, visitors’ centers and commercial materials that can be used to do so.

We anticipate some more concrete evidence in the next 6-8 months.

I then emailed Shapira to ask if he, as a member of the board of directors, acknowledges that honoring men who were slave holders or defenders of slavery might be offensive to African Americans, if he had ever advocated that Heaven Hill retire the brand names, or if he saw any inconsistency between his reporting on VMI and serving on the board of a company that honors slave holders.

His response:

Hi Jim,

You’ve already corresponded with Heaven Hill’s communications director. He speaks for the company.


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80 responses to “Shapira’s Confederates in the Attic”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    The psychological phenomenon is called transference, as I recall….

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      You’re in love with your therapist?

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        It can be any emotion and it can be transferred to others than just your therapist. 🙂 Like from your own family business to some VA school…

  2. dick dyas Avatar
    dick dyas

    Ian’s got some ‘splaining to do.
    Perhaps, Jeff Bezos should be informed.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    There was a documentary on Jack Daniels. At the time the distillery opened, there was one black man working there. He taught Daniels the business. His descendants still work at the distillery.

    1. dick dyas Avatar
      dick dyas

      How naive of you

    2. PeterTx52 Avatar

      did you even read the article?

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Just dumped an unopened bottle of Elijah Craig into the john and promptly flushed. Shapira is such a tool. Might try out this one:×1280/products/500/1274/Buy_Rebel_Yell_Bourbon_Online__89898.1570056462.jpg?c=2

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      Sadly, Heaven Hill Distillery also makes Mellow Corn – my personal favorite.

    2. Wahoo'74 Avatar

      Rebel Yell used to have a marvelous recounting of the General Bragg Confederate victory at Chickamauga on the back of the bottle. Sadly, removed about 10 years ago.

      1. Alex Church Avatar
        Alex Church

        Do they have a bourbon recounting Virginian son George Thomas’s routing of Bragg at Missionary Ridge or his absolute destruction of Hood’s army at Nashville? Or did they just want to avoid celebrating losers on their bottles?

    3. Your cancel culture is embarrassing.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        Late to the party. As usual.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    Kentucky comes from the Iroquois word “ken-tah-ten,” which means “land of tomorrow.” Please tell Shapira that is cultural appropriation. He should make sure that word “Kentucky” is removed from all bottles of Heaven Hill product. Also, Heaven is, by definition, a religious term. Using that name is a micr-aggression to atheists. The company needs to be renamed. Finally, “Hill” might refer to Confederate General AP Hill. The company should at least issue a trigger warning before using that name.

    Does the company’s distillery have a designated “safe space”?

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Heaven Hill… distillery. Heaven Hill… distillery. Heaven Hill… tillery. Heaven Hill… llery. Heavens! It’s Hillary!! Arggghhh!

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Damn. Secret messages are everywhere.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Perspective. Critical Race Theory means something entirely different at Daytona.

    2. Wahoo'74 Avatar


  6. Comment posted on behalf of Michael Purdy:

    I just read your last piece on Ian Shapira, and I feel compelled to point out some items for your consideration. This issue of course first came to light on VMI social media websites, which many right-wing alums argued proved hypocrisy on Mr. Shapira’s behalf. I think we first need to get our facts straight, so I’ll share with you what I’ve shared with the alums pushing this story:

    • Elijah Craig was not a confederate, so I’m not sure you get the title of your latest blog post, which is misleading. Craig died 50+ years before the outbreak of the civil war, and Mr. Shapira’s family started Heaven Hill 70 years after the civil war ended. The connection to the confederacy is non-existent.

    • And while slaveholding was certainly immoral, it was legal and accepted in the 18th and part of the 19th century. Contrast the confederates whom VMI honors. They took up arms against the United States (in violation of their officer oaths) to defend the institution itself in defiance of the democratic election in 1860; these men are only known because of their service to the confederate cause of preserving slavery, not in spite of it.

    • No one is advocating for removing statues and place names at VMI merely for slave ownership; rather, we (and I count myself in this bunch) want symbols of Jim Crow removed (which the statue of Stonewall Jackson certainly is), and VMI to quit honoring Confederates at the expense of more recent and prominent grads. No one is advocating to remove Washington. It’s a straw man.

    • The Wapo’s reporting reflects the sentiments above which are held by a small but sizeable group of alums and the govt. of Virginia. They’re reporting current events, like VMI’s refusal to remove the Stonewall Jackson statue last year, not things that happened over 200 years ago by people barely known to history. Despite your assertion that VMI has been grappling with its legacy of slavery and white supremacy for “years,” the fact is that it took no meaningful action until July 2020, and even then it was out of step with the norms of the U.S. military and Commonwealth. VMI remains a confederate carnival.
    Bottom line, I’m not sure the argument you’re advancing stands up to scrutiny.

    1. Acbar Avatar

      Re Mr. Purdy’s comments: I’ll drink to that! [Henry McKenna, of course.]

    2. I could retitle the story, “Slave Holders in the Attic.”

      Would that be better, Michael?

    3. owen dunlap Avatar
      owen dunlap

      Michael – ” VMI remains a confederate carnival” please explain what you mean with that statement and provide examples to defend it. What would be the appropriate amount or type of symbology for a military school that 1) was founded by and supported and called into action by a confederate state 2) provided many officers who served in the confederacy ( hence ” the institute shall be heard from today”) 3) fought as a unit /school in the battle of New Market 4) was burned and shelled by union forces ? Yes just a 5 year period of history in a much longer and greater history but still it all happened.

    4. Carmen Villani Jr Avatar
      Carmen Villani Jr


      Thanks for shedding light on Ian Shapira’s hypocrisy. Would also like to comment on what Michael Purdy asked to be posted. Nice attempt by him to divert attention from the fact that products put forth by a distillery owned by the Shapira family has names of individuals on products they produce that supported slavery by mentioning the word “Confederacy.”

      He makes mention of Jim Crow. Guess what – a Democrat. How about more recent actions by Democrats such as putting forth legislation permitting infanticide. Does the term “appalling” come to mind???

      He speaks of “norms” and how we are to acquiesce to it. Suggest he go back and look at the recent video by Maj Gen Wins commenting about the fact that “our society needs what VMI produces now more than ever.” Sure sounds like society should be embracing our “norm,” not the other way around.

      As to the rest of his post, I have to question why did he even attend VMI if he found it to be so troublesome? You receive an outstanding education that enables you to enjoy great success and then you turn around and tarnish the school’s reputation because a “small but sizeable group” wants it their way? Does the majority mean anything?

      Speaking of Statues, here is something from the Washington Post (11/23/2017) that Michael Purdy is so enamored with from the current Governor of Virginia:

      “While Northam said in August that he would be a ‘vocal advocate’ for relocating Confederate monuments to museums and do everything he can to remove statues at the state level, he has since softened his approach. Now he says he wouldn’t meddle with local decision-making. He TOUTED (emphasis added) the board of visitors at Virginia Military Institute, whose members he will appoint as governor, as an example of local decision-makers who grappled with a Confederate-era statue and chose to keep it up.”

      Not done just yet, another Democrat and former Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, had this to say in 2015:
      “But not statues. I mean, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, these are all parts of our heritage,’ he added. ‘And the people that were in that battle, the Civil War, many of them were in it obviously for their own reasons that they had for that. But leave the statues and those things alone.”

      There are those in our society that want this nation and VMI to look thru the prism of skin color. With all due respect, I reject that and choose to embrace the “dream” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by looking thru the prism of content of character. It is what VMI has strived for and while not perfect, has done an incredible job! Finally, here is the email I sent Michael and another member of the four who started this destructive crusade back in June of last year:


      As the authors of the article appearing in the Richmond Time Dispatch, you call on VMI to lead, yet what is being asked for is to follow. When the public narrative surfaced of removing Civil War statues in 2017, the VMI Board of Visitors issued a letter touching on the issue. It stated in part: “We will continue to learn from our history, yet be ultimately guided by our best judgment in how to achieve our mission. The safety of our cadets, faculty and staff, our Post and our community is always present in our mind. That is why, today, the VMI Board of Visitors endorses continuing to acknowledge all those who are part of the history of the Institute. We choose not to honor their weaknesses, but to recognize their strengths. We will continue to learn and not to repeat divisions. We strongly encourage all to move forward together in the defense and advancement of our Nation.”

      To that point, it is difficult to “learn from history” or “advance a nation” when you attempt to destroy its past. As you are both aware, VMI represents honor, bravery, courage, leadership, and perseverance. Stonewall Jackson emulated those qualities. Like each and everyone one of us, he was not perfect. Suggest reading John 8:1-11 (anyone without sin, let him cast the first stone).

      Healing a nation will not be achieved by tearing down or removing the past. We can take down all the statues and paintings, rename all the buildings, streets, and military bases, and the incontrovertible truth remains – history will not change. Recently, a story was reported of a 5 year girl at a protest in Houston that feared for her life because she thought the police may shoot her due to her skin color. This kind of mindset is not derived from a statue on display, it is taught. If we are to work toward the noble goal of eradicating racism from our society, we must change hearts and minds, not the physical landscape all across this nation.


      Carmen D. Villani, Jr.
      VMI Class of ‘76

    5. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      Someone should tell Mr. Purdy that regardless when Heaven Hill was established Kentucky was “neutral” during the Civil War. “Neutral” meaning they assisted the North and therefore weren’t subjected to the Emancipation Proclamation and kept their slaves picking the tobacco and did so until the 13th Amendment was adopted in 1865.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        15 Kentuckians were seated in the Confederate Congress at Capitol Square. It was necessary for Lincoln to exempt states such as Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland from the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a sure way to retain those important border states. Lincoln’s proclamation was brilliantly nuanced to serve his political agenda.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          It was purely political, yes I agree. The EP had no weight to Union states, of which still held slaves (i.e Delaware). As FPOTUS Lincoln’s only goal was the preservation of the Union.

          For all the lauding of the man he was not then nor did he die an abolitionist. If it would’ve been his choice he would’ve provided the slaves and free men and women their own country.

    6. DJRippert Avatar

      Neither Uncle Ben nor Aunt Jemimah were Confederates either. Nor were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington. However, Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemimah are gone and there are movements across the country to rename streets, schools, etc from Jefferson, Madison and Washington to non-slaveholder names.

      The idea that Pajama Boy Shapira should be able to rail at VMI’s slaveholding iconography while ignoring the slaveholders appearing on the bottles of booze his privileged family as been distilling for decades seems, at least, two faced.

      1. RevZafod Avatar

        Janus squared.

      2. OppositionToIgnorance Avatar

        No black person asked for Uncle Ben or Aunt Jemimah to be canceled. Blame over-compensating marketing executives at the respective corporations for that.

        Black people just want to end the culture of police feeling they are judge/jury/executioner whenever a black person encounters law enforcement. Even a person guilty of a crime should not be executed by police unless there is an immediate threat to the officer’s life.

    7. RevZafod Avatar

      “This issue of course first came to light on VMI social media websites,
      which many right-wing alums argued proved hypocrisy on Mr. Shapira’s

      I’m a left-win alumnus [’62] and I also argue the hypocrisy by Ian Shapira.

    8. James Austin Avatar
      James Austin

      There are some facts you forgot to mention. Our Constitution has procedures for the admission of states. It makes to mention of secession. SC was the first to secede. Still, it was months, during which the governor of SC wrote repeatedly asking that the garrison be removed from Ft. Sumter be removed. The bombardment was occasioned by the attempt to resupply the fort by the ship “Star of the West”

      VA seceded in April, 1861, joining the Confederacy. It would seem that Union Troops were in fact invading VA at the first land battle of the war, Bull Run. Small wonder the term ‘War of Northern Aggression’ is/was the common terminology used in the South.

      In the mid-19th century, most thought themselves as Virginians or New Yorkers for example before thinking of themselves as Americans. Regiments often carried the name of the states from which the troops came. The Black unit depicted in the movie “Glory” was the 54th Massachusetts. It has been reported that Robert E Lee was opposed to secession of his home state, yet when the time came to decide whether to accept a command in the Union forces felt compelled to fight for his state, Virginia. History is written by the victors. This is why the West Point is being pressured to remove Lee’s name from a barracks building which sits next to a similar structure named for Grant.

      The fact is slavery was legal in 1861. If modern day norms are to be used to measure historical figures, I ask when will the FDR memorial be removed? He allowed for the perpetuation of Jim Crow during his presidency. Even as WW ll raged, he kept the military racially segregated. It should be remembered that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1866, FDR was inaugurated for the first time in 1933, some 67 years later.

  7. WayneS Avatar

    It will be a shame if the names of Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and Henry McKenna are removed from the history of the development of whiskey and bourbon in this country. I think it is a great idea for bourbon distilleries to research their pasts and perhaps find some new names which need to be honored, but these new names should be added to the story, they should not replace those whose contributions we already know.

    1. I totally agree with you. History should be additive, not subtractive. The Kentucky bourbon industry is doing the right thing but researching African-American contributions to the early days of bourbon and incorporating that knowledge into its histories. It would be a shame to cancel the aforesaid brands. However…. there is something to be said by making progressives live up to their own principles. It is totally unacceptable for them to impose one set of standards on VMI and then refuse to live up to those same standards.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        Ya mean like Georgetown?

      2. James McCarthy Avatar
        James McCarthy

        Yes, thee is something to be said about pots and kettles exchanging epithets. Not very much, however. What is “totally unacceptable” IMO is the lengths to which the article goes to make a minor point. Even “imposing one set of standards” seems exaggerated. Nor does the article make a case that family member has the authority to make the determination suggested. For that reason it is not “evident” that the Post writer fails to live up to the standards about which he writes. Methinks, Mr. Bacon, that you have joined the QAnon branch of journalism. Are you related to Nathaniel Bacon?

        1. Shapira sits on the board of directors of the family company. He is one of six non-executive directors. He is in a position to make his presence felt. He is also in a position to resign from the board if he believes the company is violating his deeply held principles. It seems evident from press reports that other distilleries have been far head of Heaven Hill on acknowledging the slavery issue. The company is playing catch up to its peers.

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I’m a rummy. Yeah, yeah, I know, damned candy drinker. But, there’s no doubt about the history of my drink. Of course, I buy from the island distilleries that have learned best how to deal with the slavery in their histories. For the most part, they had revolts, killed the plantation owners and took control. No guilt.

      Here’s lookin’ up your old address.

      1. WayneS Avatar

        I’m no expert on rum, but here is one I like. My family visited the distillery in Williamsburg a couple of years ago. Their bourbon was not too good, but I thought the Gold Rum was quite tasty. I drink it just like I do [good] bourbon, over a couple of ice cubes, often with a good cigar.

        They’re still a relatively young distillery so I’m holding out hope that they will eventually get their bourbon up to snuff.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          You would DEFINITELY like Mt. Gay Sugar Cane Brandy. Rum aged in used bourbon or brandy barrels. All the tastes blended. Hits the nose like a ton of bricks. It’s been years since I bought a bottle — had to go to Maryland at the time — but it may be available now at a big ABC.

          1. Matt Adams Avatar
            Matt Adams

            Have you been to Barbados? They keep the goods stuff on the Island. However, if you like red meat you’re going to be out of luck, they don’t know how to cook it.

  8. Publius Avatar

    Schadenfreude is a dish best served cold…

  9. DJRippert Avatar

    Good article. It seems that cancel culture may have to come visit Pajama Boy. How long has he been on the board of that slaveholder venerating company?

    Also, isn’t Bardstown in Nelson County rather than Bourbon County? I thought true bourbon had to be made in Bourbon County. Oh, and I almost forgot – Nelson County, KY is named after Thomas Nelson, Jr – a Virginia governor who signed the Declaration of Independence. He was also a slaveholder. Looks like the county needs to be renamed or the distillery needs to move.

    It’s hard being a Pajama Boy these days.

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      Appellation controlee?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Yes. I urge people to copy most things the French do.

        1. Steven Conroy AKA DVWeekendWar Avatar
          Steven Conroy AKA DVWeekendWar

          So, we should start producing lever delayed blowback bullpup rifles with built in bipods?

          1. WayneS Avatar

            He did say most things…


        2. RevZafod Avatar


    2. Wahoo'74 Avatar


  10. For the literal-minded, let me be clear about one thing: The allusion to “Confederates in the Attic” was a rhetorical device. None of the distillers in the Heaven Hill portfolio were Confederates. They lived in an earlier slave-holding era. And needless to say, Lord Nelson was not a Confederate.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Aren’t they in woodpiles, not attics?

      1. WayneS Avatar

        There’s a Nelson in the woodpile?

      2. Alex Church Avatar
        Alex Church

        *wink* *wink* get it, fellow Neo-Confederates?

  11. Stan126 Avatar

    I don’t care. I’m finishing a bottle of Rebel bourbon right now. Those men had every legal right to own slaves, says nothing at about them otherwise.

  12. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Rewriting Distillery Tour History…

    “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion in between the stanchions and ropes taking pictures. If you didn’t know the footage was from January 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit,” Rep. Clyde (R, Texas) said.!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_1020/image.jpg

    1. Stephen Haner Avatar
      Stephen Haner

      The only thing infinite in the Universe is the human capacity for self deception. Said that right to the face of somebody the other day as he wondered aloud who all those people really were since they weren’t Trumpers…..

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        As a mathematician, I’d argue that “only” thing, but it’s certainly a member of the set of such.

        History is a whole lot easier to rewrite while it’s fresh in the minds of the gullible. Speaking of which, did you hear that the OED is removing the word “gullible “?

        1. WayneS Avatar

          “Speaking of which, did you hear that the OED is removing the word “gullible “?”

          Nicely done.

  13. tmtfairfax Avatar

    And yet, the trash-@## rag missed the Northam blackface story over two election cycles. Journalism at its best.

  14. Steven Conroy AKA DVWeekendWar Avatar
    Steven Conroy AKA DVWeekendWar

    People that see racism everywhere are usually the most racist themselves.

  15. LarrytheG Avatar

    It would be quite easy to look at many private sector businesses in the South that had Confederate roots, slave-owning ancestors, etc…. but the point missed is the difference between private sector and government where the Government of ALL citizens discriminated against it’s own citizens and maintain racist laws and facilities INCLUDING State-funded Colleges.

    My bet is if one traced the ancestry of many in the South , you would find slave-owning roots and white privilege and in fact, that has been acknowledged by many who point out how black generations today typically have 1/10 the wealth of white family generations.

    The difference is that it was Government that presided over the racism and discrimination and veneration of leaders and slave owners for decades – as is the case with VMI.

    What Shapira was/is “guility” of is NOT Government-sanctioned racism.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      “What Shapira was/is “guility” of is NOT Government-sanctioned racism.”

      Trademarks are issued by the government and I guarantee that Heaven Hill has trademarked their racist icons.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        They may well have but that’s NOT Government-sanctioned discrimination and racism which is what happened at VMI.

        Comparing Shapira’s history with VMI’s history is lame and deflects from the real issue.

        Shapira could be KKK incarnate for all it matters but that would not change at all what VMI did.

        It’s just deflection.

  16. LarrytheG Avatar

    Racism of individuals towards others is NOT the same as Government instituted laws against SOME citizens and it was not that long ago either:

    ” A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America

    The Federal Housing Administration’s justification was that if African-Americans bought homes in these suburbs, or even if they bought homes near these suburbs, the property values of the homes they were insuring, the white homes they were insuring, would decline. And therefore their loans would be at risk.

    There was no basis for this claim on the part of the Federal Housing Administration. In fact, when African-Americans tried to buy homes in all-white neighborhoods or in mostly white neighborhoods, property values rose because African-Americans were more willing to pay more for properties than whites were, simply because their housing supply was so restricted and they had so many fewer choices. So the rationale that the Federal Housing Administration used was never based on any kind of study. It was never based on any reality.

    1. tmtfairfax Avatar

      Sort of like the U.S. government that presumed Irish-American soldiers deserted unless they had their discharge papers even though the Provost General wrote that many of the deserter lists were wrong.

  17. Don Allen Avatar
    Don Allen

    If it weren’t for double standards, they wouldn’t have any at all.

  18. Wahoo'74 Avatar

    Superb article, Jim.

    I guess Ira Shapira does not live by the old axiom “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!” What an entitled hypocrite. I’ll be sure never to buy his family’s bourbon again.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      There is a big difference between decades of state-sponsored racism and discrimination – and individuals who are descendants of slave owners who benefited from state-enforced racism.

      Many of us who grew up in the South likely are descendants of slave-owning ancestors – but that does not reflect on us personally but what does is how we as individuals today deal with the truth and realities of racism, past and present.

      Is there such a thing as white privilege. Did white folks in the past benefit from the fact that their black citizen counter parts did not receive an “equal” education or have an opportunity to attend colleges like UVA or Tech or obtain a higher paying job with pension and health insurance? Could they acquire family wealth equivalent to white folks? Could they acquire property or vote?

      How do you view these things today as to whether they had an impact on generations of black folks?

      Shapira could even be a direct descendant of a slave-owning plantation owner but what does that really mean especially is Mr. Shapira views racism as an abhorrent practice that we do need to atone for – or not?

      What does any of that history have to do with him being a journalist that has exposed the history of VPI and the lies that believe insist on believing that it did not and does not engage in racist policies?

      At some point, we need to honestly confront the realities instead of condemning those who expose the truth.

      1. tmtfairfax Avatar

        What about those of us who didn’t live in the former Confederacy and didn’t have Jim Crow laws? And since Obama and I are very distant cousins (John Tyler and Harry Truman too), shouldn’t we be treated alike?

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          What about you? What is the problem?
          Are you opposed to helping others who were discriminated against?

          For that matter, are you opposed to helping kids who have learning disabilities, dyslexia or autistic so they can catch up?

  19. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Perhaps the Board of Directors at the Virginia ABC should be enlightened to the systemic qualities of Heaven Hill distillery. Would it be too much to ask HH products to be pulled from the shelves until company leadership atones for their past sins? I bet that would get Ian’s attention.

  20. John Robertson Avatar
    John Robertson

    Met Life etc and the remnants of Slave traders seem untouched by this cancel culture.

  21. John Thayer Avatar
    John Thayer

    I will never apologize for our past. Nothing to be ashamed of. If you are having problems coming to terms with our nation’s history go find yourself a country that suits you better. Woke is a joke.

  22. elliot Avatar

    Let’s just cancel everyone. The last person to be cancelled, pls turn off the lights

  23. OppositionToIgnorance Avatar

    Is this your best attempt at “gotcha journalism”? I don’t even know who that WaPo writer is, I don’t care about pointless attempts to change brand names in order to appease people who never even asked to appeased (ask any black person if they care at all about Bourbon brand names) – but this was an obvious attempt to try to embarrass a journalist of the “MSM”, and it is just plain laughable.

    You write about 2000 words of introduction to get to the part where you get an email response that says “you already emailed the company. What more do you want me to say?”

    Good job. Great reporting, blog.

  24. What a completely ridiculous article.

  25. fewiz Avatar

    Racism? yawn. So many real problems in the world. Instantly erase all racism, and new hatred will take its place as fast as thunder follows lightning.

    The stupidest of the woke stupidity is the constant implications/assumptions that portray slaveowners as cretins among the civilized people of their time, like they were the exception to the rule. Thus, for example, you hear talk of Confederate states seeking to “expand” slavery, and in this article, England’s colonial system being ugly. It’s all BS.

    By every definition of the term, slavery has existed forever. Even narrowing the definition, there are more slaves today than ever before, exponentially more than during America’s slavery era. Not surprising, almost all slaves today are people of color enslaved by people of color – if you take that narrow view.

    Really, we are all slaves. Owned by our governments and forced to work for the benefit of others. Slaveowners of the past are no different than our slaveowners today. The Marxists rioting today don’t want to end slavery, they just want to become the new slaveowners.

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