Hugh Wesley - An Entrepreneurial Spirit of Spirits

Hugh Wesley Sharp - The Namesake of Hugh Wesley's Gin

Hugh Wesley was born into the grain business. His father John Wesley had a major grain milling business in Northern Missouri. Hugh was quite the sporty dresser and as a teenager always wore a suit coat even if it was three times too big for him.

He feverishly courted his bride-to-be Elizabeth, and we have the old love letters to prove it. Even though Elizabeth was about as coy as one could get he managed to win her hand.

Elizabeth and Hugh's wedding pictures

Shortly after their marriage Elizabeth and Hugh packed up their Model “T” Ford and drove south looking for a place to start their own grain business. They would find a lawn to pitch their tent and spend a few days in each town assessing its business potential. They finally settled on a small town in Central Missouri that was the county seat and had a rail head.

Once Hugh got his equipment and started his milling business he immediately began to cut into old J.L. Hoops’ existing grain business. J.L. was a long time resident and certainly didn’t take kindly to Hugh’s competition.

One day a fellow named Jim Teeple pulled up to Hugh’s business with a wagon load of corn. Jim was known as the toughest and meanest fighter in the county. Hugh unloaded Jim’s corn and went to pay him. All of a sudden Jim started yelling that Hugh had cheated him while backing Hugh into the corner of a grain bin. Jim towered over Hugh and cocked his arm ready to hit Hugh. Then all of a sudden Jim turned and silently left. The next day Jim showed up with another wagon full of corn. He looked at Hugh and said that J.L. Hoops had hired him to beat Hugh up, but when he cornered Hugh he explained that Hugh looked so little and pitiful he just couldn’t hit him. Jim became a good friend and customer for the rest of his life.

Hugh and his dad John Wesley Sharp in his Crocker, Mo mill office.

Hugh in the basement of his mill.

Hugh was never one to stick with the status quo and he came up with an idea to get into the tobacco business. So he went up to the corner store and purchased every different brand of tobacco he could find. He wrote each company a letter asking to be a distributor of their products. Out of all the letters he only got one reply. It was from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The letter thanked Hugh for his interest but stated they had a distributor some 25 miles away from his location. But even though they did not need a distributor at this time they would forward his letter on the district sales representative.

Some weeks later the district sales representative arrived at the current distributor’s location the night before his scheduled meeting with the distributor. The sales rep went to a local hangout and found a fetching young woman with whom he danced the night away. The next morning the sales rep called on the distributor. As he approached the distributor he was punched in the face. Seems the fetching young woman was the distributor’s girl friend. The R.J. Reynolds sales representative quickly retreated to his car where he saw Hugh’s letter laying in the seat. He immediately drove the 25 miles to Hugh’s office. He walked into Hugh’s office unannounced and asked Hugh if he had $25. Hugh said yes and the representative stated his name announcing he was with the R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco Company and Hugh was in the tobacco business.

The next week Hugh was collecting a fee for doing the paperwork on tobacco that merely flew by the train station on a train bound for points west.

Hugh was always looking for an angle and when all the states around Missouri passed a tobacco tax he knew he could sell tobacco cheaper than anyone in the surrounding states. So he started a mail order cigarette business providing cheap tobacco to thousands of customers. Of course he was legal in his tax free state, but an outlaw in every surrounding taxed state. He realized if another state could get their hands on his records he would be in trouble. So R.J. Reynolds kept a rail box car setting on a special siding in town. The plan was if an out of state government man came into the office a signal would be given to the basement where the records resided and those records would be loaded on a waiting truck and delivered to the box car where it would be picked up by the next freight train and sent to R.J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, NC. Thankfully the plan was never used and soon Missouri enacted a tobacco tax that ended the mail order business. But not before Hugh made a reasonable amount of money.

Sharp Grain and Supply cigar mail order flyer

While Elizabeth was alive she would not let Hugh drive faster than 35 MPH, regardless of the size of the highway or the speed limit. I can remember looking out the back of the car and seeing dozens of cars stretched out on the curvy two lane road. All were undoubtedly working up a fine dose of road rage. We thought Elizabeth’s insistence on a slow pace was her form of control when she was out of control. But she knew something we didn’t. The secret was Hugh was a terrible driver. After Elizabeth’s death a ride with Hugh was a little like an Alabama dirt track race on Saturday night. The fact that he managed to keep it between the ditches was a miracle. As he drove he would comment on other drivers calling them his favorite driving word, peckerwoods. Later in life Hugh forgot to renew his license and had to take a drivers test. After he completed the driving examiner looked at Hugh and told him he would renew his license because he knew Hugh needed to drive. But he told Hugh and reported to son John that Hugh Sharp was the worst driver he had ever seen in all his years of giving driving tests.

No doubt Elizabeth would not be happy about John Emerald Distilling Company. You see she was a teetotaler. Hugh also didn’t embibe for the same reason he didn’t drive over 35 MPH, but I kind of think he would approve, respecting the entrepreneurial spirit of John Emerald’s founders.

Distilled from neutral grain spirits for a smooth demeanor, Hugh Wesley’s gin, like its name sake, is sophisticated and smart with the ambition to deliver the perfect Southern spirit experience.

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