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date: 11 April 2021

Ainslie, Hewfree

  • T. W. Bayne
  • , revised by Douglas Brown

Ainslie, Hew (1792–1878), brewer and poet, was born on 5 April 1792 at Bargeny Mains in the parish of Dailly, Ayrshire, only son of the three children of George Ainslie, a butler on the estate of Sir Hew Dalrymple Hamilton. His mother's name is unknown, but Ainslie praised her in many of his poems. Educated by a dominie at home, then at Ballantrae parish school and Ayr Academy, he finished formal schooling at fourteen. He was influenced by the colourful past of his family, by his mother's songs and lore, and by his father's small collection of Scottish literature, including Burns and Fergusson. For a time Ainslie worked for Hamilton, participating in the improvement of the estate's landscape and learning many of the skills that he used in later life as a construction consultant. His father ended his association with Hamilton in 1809 and moved the family to Roslin, near Edinburgh. Ainslie began to study law at Glasgow. In 1810 he became a clerk at Register House, Edinburgh, and became acquainted with many literary figures. He contributed to Scottish ballads by Robert Chambers and for a while he was amanuensis to Dugald Stewart. Ainslie married his cousin, Janet (d. 1863), daughter of William Ainslie, on 1 August 1812.

In 1822 Ainslie published anonymously A pilgrimage to the land of Burns … with … poetry. Consisting of a narrative interspersed with spirited lyrics, it was his most successful book. A pilgrimage received a good review from Thomas Campbell in New Monthly Magazine, but Walter Scott was not impressed. With low prospects in Scotland, Ainslie emigrated to America in 1822 in order to make a better life for his family. At this time he and Janet had three children. They were to have seven more. On his arrival in America he tried his hand at farming the land which he had purchased in Rensselaer County, New York, but when that did not succeed as he had hoped he moved in 1825 to Robert Owen's social experiment at New Harmony, Indiana. He left after one year and in 1827 became associated with a firm of brewers, Price and Wood, of Cincinnati, Ohio. Here he was instrumental in establishing various breweries, mills, and factories in the western states. In 1829 Ainslie opened a branch of Price and Wood in Louisville, Kentucky, but this was destroyed by flood. A second brewery, of Bottomley and Ainslie, opened in 1840 in New Albany, Indiana, was destroyed by fire, but despite these disasters Ainslie learned many skills and established his reputation as a consultant on brewery and factory construction.

Ainslie retired in the early 1850s. He was one of the group of minor Scottish songwriters to be represented in Whistle-Binkie (1853). In New York in 1855 he published Scottish songs, ballads and poems, of which the most popular was 'The Rover of Loch Ryan'. Written in Scots this volume was not very popular in America but was a success in Scotland. It was followed by a selection of his poems with a memoir in 1857. Janet died in 1863 and shortly afterwards Ainslie journeyed to his homeland for a tour marked by 'unexpected acclaim' (ANB). He also travelled for three years around England, Ireland, and the continent, but it was in Scotland that he attracted the greatest interest, being touted in the Scottish press as an emigrant success story. Distinguished by his 6 feet 4 inches height, as a young man he was described as tall and lanky and he remained a lean figure in maturity; his hair, though grey, was 'as thick and wildly tousled as in his youth'. He never lost his Scottish accent.

Hew Ainslie lived during his final years at his son's home on Chestnut Street in Louisville, Kentucky. He died there on 11 March 1878 and was buried with his wife at Cave Hill cemetery, Louisville.

The centenary of Ainslie's birth was celebrated in Scotland with the republication of A pilgrimage to the land of Burns, and poems, which contained a memoir of the author by Thomas C. Latto.


  • D. Baptie, ed., Musical Scotland, past and present: being a dictionary of Scottish musicians from about 1400 till the present time (1894)
  • J. G. Wilson, ed., The poets and poetry of Scotland, 2 vols. (1876–7)
  • Who was who in America: historical volume, 1607–1896, rev. edn (1967)
  • C. Selle, ‘Brewer and poet Hew Ainslie: from the land of Burns to Kentuckiana’,
  • bap. reg. Scot.
  • m. reg. Scot.


  • Filson Club Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky, Ainslie (Hew) papers, 1834–1902
  • Filson Club Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky, misc. papers, 1869–70


  • W. Wellstood, engraved portrait, repro. in H. Ainslie, Scottish songs, ballads and poems (1855)
  • portrait, repro. in H. Ainslie, A pilgrimage to the land of Burns, and poems (1892)
J. A. Garraty & M. C. Carnes, eds., , 24 vols. (1999)
J. Irving, ed., (1881)
F. Boase, , 6 vols. (privately printed, Truro, 1892–1921); repr. (1965)