Thursday, July 29, 2004
More Tabasco Sauce Lore Appears to Be Fiction
By ROGER M. GRACE
Among the bogus lore connected with Tabasco Sauce would appear to be the tale of how the Louisiana product came to be marketed on the East Coast, then beyond, by a prominent national grocery wholesaler.
The standard yarn is that Edmund McIlhenny prepared a dish for a Yankee general, John G. Hazard, stationed in Louisiana during the Reconstruction, adding to it some of the hot-pepper sauce he had invented. The general was said to have been favorably impressed by the condiment, and sent some of the sauce to his brother in New York. The brother’s wholesale grocery company, E.C. Hazard and Company, marketed it, and it proved to be a “hot” item.
It is true that E.C. Hazard and Company distributed the sauce, historian Shane K. Bernard told me. The rest, he said, is “folk legend.”
That characterization would also seem to apply to the account of how McIlhenny gained some pepper pods in the late 1840s from a soldier back from the War with Mexico, planted the seeds 11 years later or so on Avery Island, and, after the Civil War, made his sauce from peppers which had survived the Union Army’s devastation of the plantation. That story, as I recounted a couple weeks ago, is now branded as fiction by Bernard, though it had been propagated for decades by the McIlhenny Company, which employs him.
The Tabasco fables being debunked by Bernard causes one to wonder just how much supposed historical facts we learned in school and are still being taught are actually bunk, destined to be perpetuated and never challenged.
As to the legend involving the Union general, it turns out that Hazard “had retired from the military in 1866, and moved to New Orleans in the 1870s,” Bernard advised.
In fact, I ascertained independently, after the Civil War and until his retirement, John Hazard commanded a fort at New York Harbor.
Rhode Island businessman attained distinction as an officer
in the Union Army — rising to the rank of general — but apparently
had no role, contrary to lore, in the history of Tabasco Sauce.
The former general became a cotton factor, or “middleman,” in New Orleans, Bernard said. He noted that Hazard and McIlhenny were members of the same social club in New Orleans, but said that “Edmund McIlhenny rarely went to New Orleans.”
E.C. Hazard was not a brother of John Hazard, the historian pointed out, but merely a sixth cousin.
“There is no evidence that General Hazard ever communicated with E.C. Hazard, his distant cousin, about Tabasco Sauce,” Bernard said.
What is fact, Bernard related, is the role played by one John C. Henshaw in bringing about the distribution of Tabasco Sauce by Hazard’s company.
Henshaw, who had been a major in the Union Army, was a distant relative of the Avery family, into which McIlhenny had married in 1859. McIlhenny wrote to Henshaw, who lived in New York, offering him a 50-50 partnership if he would distribute the sauce. Henshaw passed up that opportunity, Bernard recited, but did agree to become McIlhenny’s “agent for New York.” As it turned out, Bernard said, Henshaw became “sole agent from Maryland to Maine.”
It was Henshaw, not Gen. John Hazard, who contacted E.C. Hazard, according to Bernard’s research.
I’ve communicated by e-mail with a great grandson of E.C. (Edward Clarke) Hazard, Bob Dewey, a retired real estate agent now living in Virginia.
He told of an “attempt by Hazard to put a paper EC Hazard & Company ring around the neck of the Tabasco bottles,” which the McIlhenny Company forbade, leading to a parting of ways. Dewey noted there was a “subsequent attempt by Hazard to market a like sauce” with the shape of a diamond, resembling that imprinted on the Tabasco label, etched on each bottle.
The McIlhenny lawyers brought a halt to that effort, he said.
“We settled out of court with E.C. Hazard and Company around 1898; it never really developed into actual litigation, as far as I’ve been able to discern (possibly because of the long amicable business relationship that had existed between McIlhenny Company and E.C. Hazard and Company by the time the issue arose—E.C. Hazard and Company had been distributing Tabasco brand pepper sauce for nearly 30 years by then!)”
Until three years ago, Dewey told me, he had no knowledge of a link between Tabasco and his great grandfather (who lived from 1831-1905). The story of how he came upon the knowledge is an interesting one—and will be related here next week.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company
MetNews Main Page Reminiscing Columns