An afternoon’s pleasure of company, cards, and rum. Marilyn Jennings, Virginia Brown, Bryan Simpers, Erin Wright, Spencer Chestnut, and Adam Wright concentration camp essay a wedding. Patrick Henry—interpreter Daniel Cross—tended bar as a young man.
A keg offered refreshment to the militia: Robert Rowe, Andrew Ronemus, Justin Liberta, Chris Geist, Josh Bucchioni, Dale Smoot, Colin Brauer, Terry Yemm, and Stephanie Flischel. The father of the country was also captain of the whiskey industry. Star Galloway rounds out the day with an evening glass. Editor’s note: Autumn and winter holidays bring to festive American tables all manner of drink, from fine wines to grocery store eggnog. The celebrations of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s are traditional justifications for raising a convivial glass with friends and family. Early Americans neither needed nor waited for such excuses.
Colonial Americans, at least many of them, believed alcohol could cure the sick, strengthen the weak, enliven the aged, and generally make the world a better place. They tippled, toasted, sipped, slurped, quaffed, and guzzled from dawn to dark. Many started the day with a pick-me-up and ended it with a put-me-down. Between those liquid milestones, they also might enjoy a midmorning whistle wetter, a luncheon libation, an afternoon accompaniment, and a supper snort. If circumstances allowed, they could ease the day with several rounds at a tavern.
Alcohol lubricated such social events as christenings, weddings, funerals, trials, and election-day gatherings, where aspiring candidates tempted voters with free drinks. Craftsmen drank at work, as did hired hands in the fields, shoppers in stores, sailors at sea, and soldiers in camp. Then, as now, college students enjoyed malted beverages, which explains why Harvard had its own brewery. In 1639, when the school did not supply sufficient beer, President Nathaniel Eaton lost his job.
Like students and workers, the Founding Fathers enjoyed a glass or two. John Adams began his days with a draft of hard cider. Thomas Jefferson imported fine libations from France. At one time, Samuel Adams managed his father’s brewery. John Hancock was accused of smuggling wine. Patrick Henry worked as a bartender and, as Virginia’s wartime governor, served home brew to guests. The age of the cocktail lay far in the future.
Colonists, nevertheless, enjoyed alcoholic beverages with such names as Rattle-Skull, Stonewall, Bogus, Blackstrap, Bombo, Mimbo, Whistle Belly, Syllabub, Sling, Toddy, and Flip. If they indulged too much, then they had dozens of words to describe drunkenness. Benjamin Franklin collected more than 200 such terms, including addled, afflicted, biggy, boozy, busky, buzzey, cherubimical, cracked, and “halfway to Concord. If most Americans loved their drink, many to excess, not everybody was so sure that immoderate alcohol consumption was a good idea.
As early as 1622, the Virginia Company of London wrote to Governor Francis Wyatt at Jamestown complaining that colonist drinking hurt the colony. James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, feared rum would ruin his venture and tried to ban it. Puritan leaders attacked drunkenness, although they also saw alcohol as a necessary part of life. Most Americans saw excessive drinking as a simple lack of will. If people wanted to stay sober, the argument went, they would. The notion of a relationship between alcohol and addiction did not exist for much of America’s first 150 years. In the late 1700s, Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, became fascinated with mental illness.
Today, he is considered the father of American psychiatry. He took a special interest in alcoholism and penned a work on the topic, Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits Upon the Human Body and Mind, published in 1785. Rush saw alcoholism as a disease—not a failure of will—and an addiction. As he put it: “The use of strong drink is at first the effect of free agency.
From habit it takes place from necessity. He said the only cure was abstinence. His advice to alcoholics was: “Taste not, handle not. Rush’s thinking played a role in shaping the temperance movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as modern ideas about alcoholism, but it had little impact at the time.