30 January 2014
I read with great interest your piece on C.H. Ebbert & Co’s OUR OWN SOUTHERN BITTERS. I can totally understand why this bottle would be high on any Southerner’s wish list, but that digging story from thememphisdiggers.com is sort of confusing. Did they actually dig pieces of the bottle or were they just hoping to find an example of this enigmatic bottle? If pieces were found, I would assume that they would have been photographed along with the other items shown in their digging article.
The ‘Memphis Boys’ also note the letters “O.O.S.B.” embossed on one of the panels of at least one of the two known variants of the bottle. Advertisements of the day prove the product existed, and with accounts of how the bottle was embossed, it is remarkable that no one has been forthcoming with photos of, at least, pieces of the bottle. It makes me skeptical that one actually exists.
Shortly after OUR OWN SOUTHERN BITTERS was introduced to the market several newspapers carried articles attempting to discredit Ebbert by alluding that he was actually a “Northerner” who was trying to capitalize on the Southern market. It is well documented that thousands of cases of Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters were supplied to the Union troops, and this new “knockoff” was said to be just an imitation targeting Southern sympathizers. Even though he was born in Ohio, and his wife was born in New York, it is doubtful Charles H. Ebbert harbored any resentment toward Southerners, as he did live in Memphis. He likely just saw a market opportunity, not thinking he would be targeted as an outsider. In fact, the Memphis Daily Avalanche of May 25, 1866, notes:
“The agents of Mrs. Jefferson Davis are in the city, and are the guests of the Ebbert House.”
That would be none other than the wife of Jefferson Davis. In 1866, Davis was in rather hot water for acting as president of the Confederate States of America. In fact of Ebbert’s two silent partners, Benjamin F. Folger served in Company A, Tennessee 3rd Infantry Battalion from Memphis. His other partner, John F. Cameron, was his brother-in-law, a well respected citizen of Memphis who entered Confederate service as Captain of the Young Guard from Memphis and was eventually promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. It is not clear whether the defamation of Ebbert’s name contributed to the decline of his wholesale liquor business, but by February of 1868 Ebbert found it necessary to declare bankruptcy. His death soon followed, in 1869 or 1870, for his widow and children were living in Sioux City, Iowa, as noted in the 1870 U.S. Census for that city.
Charles H. Ebbert married Elizabeth “Libbie” H. Cameron in Memphis on 20 March 1866. They had two children, Mae Ebbert, born in Memphis on 7 May 1868 and Katherine Ebbert, born 7 October 1869 in Sioux City, Iowa. Mae eventually married but died a divorced widow as Mae Ebbert Lebaud in Knoxville, Tennessee, on 5 April 1952. Katherine became a music teacher, first in Galveston, Texas, and later moved to Los Angeles, California, where she died on 30 July 1969. She never married.
Elizabeth Ebbert, wife of Charles H. Ebbert, moved back to Memphis in the mid-1870’s where her mother, Isabella Fraser Cameron, and four of her siblings were living. Libbie operated a boarding house for awhile and was last noted in the 1883 directory, but then disappeared from available records.
On 16 May 1866, Ebbert registered the text of the label for his OUR OWN SOUTHERN STOMACH BITTERS with the clerk of the Western District Court of Tennessee. A copy of the label was attached to the registration. The graphics are the same as that used in some of his advertisements, with a central feature being the bust of Andrew ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, resting upon perhaps the most recognizable symbol of the Confederate States, apart from its flag – the Confederate wreath. It is also interesting to note that Ebbert, Folger and Cameron were initially selling a bitters called STONEWALL BITTERS, which is probably the same product but the marketplace became cluttered with similarly named products and it may be that they wanted a cleaner ownership to the name of their bitters.
I am with you, Ferdinand, in challenging the Southern diggers to post pictures of the OOSB embossed bottle.
1. A copy of the label for OUR OWN SOUTHERN BITTERS (see below), copyrighted by Charles H. Ebbert in 1866.
2. An advertisement for OUR OWN SOUTHERN BITTERS that appeared in the New Orleans Times, 27 Apr 1866. It contains the letters O. O. S. B., one in each corner of the ad.