American Alcohol Trivia (Fun Facts from Colonial Times)

We might have dozed off in American history class. Teachers bored us with dates to memorize along with other boring facts. But our past is full of great American alcohol trivia.

Like Drinking Puritans?

They Mayflower II Sailing

The Puritans loaded more beer than water onto the Mayflower before they cast off for the New World. 1

There wasn’t any cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin pie to eat at the first Thanksgiving. However, there was beer, brandy, gin, and wine to drink. 2

College Drinking

A brewery was one of Harvard College’s first construction projects. That was to ensure a steady supply of beer for the student dining hall. 3

The early colonialists made alcoholic beverages from what was available. That included carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, celery, squash, corn silk, dandelions, and goldenrod. 4

The distillation of rum became early Colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry. 5

Tavern owners enjoyed higher social status than did the clergy during part of the Colonial period. 6

A traveler through the Delaware Valley in 1753 compiled a list of the drinks he encountered. All but three of the 48 contained alcohol. 7

Baptist Minister and Whiskey?

Rev. Elijah Craig headhshot
Rev. Elijah Craig

The Reverend Elijah Craig was a Baptist minister. He made the first Kentucky whiskey in 1789.  8

The distillation of whiskey led to the first test of federal power. It was the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. 9

During the Colonial period, alcohol abstainers had to pay one life insurance company rates 10% higher than that of drinkers. Of course, today we know that abstainers tend not to live as long as moderate drinkers. 10

The laws of most American colonies required towns to license suitable persons to sell wine and spirits. Failure to do so could result in a fine. 11

Colonial taverns were often required to be located near the church or meetinghouse. 12

Our Founders

George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson all enjoyed brewing or distilling their own alcohol beverages.13

The Colonial Army supplied its troops with a daily ration of four ounces of either rum or whiskey. 14

Washington crossing the Delaware River
Washington crossing the Delaware River.

Religious services and court sessions were often held in the major tavern of Colonial American towns. 15

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence in a tavern in Philadelphia. 16

They were All Drinkers

Every signer of the American Declaration of Independence drank alcoholic beverages. 17

The first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock, was an alcohol dealer. 18

Before he took his famous ride, Paul Revere apparently had two drinks of rum. 19

The patriot Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) was a bar tender. 20

President Martin Van Buren was born in his father’s tavern. 21

Alewives in Colonial America brewed a special high proof “groaning ale” for pregnant women to drink during labor. 22

American Alcohol Trivia Resources

Readings

These books are all great sources of Colonial American alcohol trivia.

  • Burns, E. The Spirit of America: The Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2004.
  • Cherrington, E. (Ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. Westerville, OH: Am Issue, 1925-1930.
  • Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. Putnam’s Sons, 1965.
  • Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America. NY: Free Press, 1982.
  • Meacham, S. Every Home a Distillery. Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U Press, 2013.

Refrences

  1. Royce, J. Alcohol Problems. NY: Free Press, 1981, 38.
  2. The First Thanksgiving. The Community Trader, Manchester, NY, Nov.,1988;
  3. Furnas, J. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. NY: Putnam’s Sons, 1965, p. 20.
  4. Mendelson, J. and Mello, N. Alcohol. Boston: Little, Brown, 1985.
  5. Roueche, B. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, S. (Ed.) Alcohol and Civilization NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963 pp. 167-182.
  6. Krout, J. The Origins of Prohibition. NY: Knopf, 1925, p. 44.
  7. Grimes, W. Straight Up or On the Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1993, pp. 44-45.
  8. Lender, M. and Martin, J. Drinking in America. NY: Free Press, 1982, p. 33. Grimes, W. Straight Up or On the Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1993, pp. 52-53.
  9. Grimes, pp. 51-52.
  10. Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. NY: Putnams Sons, 1973, p. 26.
  11. Prendergast, M. A History of Alcohol Problem Prevention. In: Holder, H. (Ed.) Control Issues in Alcohol Abuse Prevention. Greenwich, CT: JAI, 1987. Pp. 25-52.
  12. Ibid, p. 27.
  13. Lender and Martin, p. 6.
  14. Goode, E. Drugs in American Society. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 1999, p. 182.
  15. Prendergast, op cit.
  16. Barr, A. Drink: A Social History of America. NY: Carroll & Graf,1999, p. 370.
  17. Burns, Eric. The Spirit of America: A Social History of Alcohol. Philadelphia: Temple U Press, 2004, p. 182.
  18. ______., p. 214.
  19. ______., p. 27.
  20. ______., p. 26.
  21. ______., p. 27.
  22. Eames, A. Secret Life of Beer: Legends, Lore & Little-Known Facts. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1995.