Alcohol and Drinking History in America: A Chronology

The Early Colonists

Sixteenth Century

1563. Wine was made in Florida from wild grapes by the Spaniards.11

1587. The first beer brewed in the New World was in 1587 at Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony in Virginia. It was brewed from Indian corn or maize.12

Seventeenth Century

1609. The governor and the council of Virginia advertised in 1609 for two brewers in an effort to reduce the death rate.25

1614. “The first non-native American is born in New Amsterdam, (perhaps the first non-native American male born in the New World) in Block & Christiansen's brewhouse. Jean Vigne grows up to become the first brewer born in the New World.”26

1619. The Colony of Virginia enacted a law against playing dice, cards, idleness, drunkenness and excess in apparel. It required that drunkards be “reproved by ministers.”27

1620-1776. During the first century and a half (1620-1776) of the American colonies that became the U.S., alcohol was widely and heavily used. Alcohol was viewed positively while its abuse was condemned.28

1620. The Pilgrims may have landed at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts, rather than continue sailing because they were running out of supplies, especially beer.29 The seamen forced the passengers ashore to ensure that they would have sufficient beer for their return trip to England.30

A brewery was one of Harvard College's first construction projects so that a steady supply of beer could be served in the student dining halls.31

1623. The first vinifera (European grape) vines were planted in New Hampshire by Ambrose Gibbons at the mouth of the Piscataqua River. His diary reflects his pessimism about their prospects: ”The vines that were planted will come to nothing. They prosper not in the ground where they were set, but them that grow naturally are very good of divers sorts.”32

1630s. The settlers were determined to overcome obstacles in their determination and ingenuity to make alcoholic beverages, as this poem suggests:

If barley be wanting to make into malt,
We must be content and think it no fault,
For we can make liquor to sweeten our lips,
Of pumpkins, and parsnips, and walnut-tree chips.35

1630. The first attempt to impose prohibition in the New World occurred when Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts attempted to outlaw all alcoholic beverages in Boston.36

1633.

1636. “Thomas Savery of Plymouth Colony is found guilty of drunkenness and ordered whipped.”40

1637.

1638.

1639. When Harvard failed to supply students with an adequate supply of beer the president of the college lost his job.46

1640. “William Kief, the Director General of the New Netherland Colony, decided that liquor should be distilled on Staten Island. His master distiller, Wilhelm Hendriksen, is said to have used corn and rye to make liquor, and since the Dutch didn’t develop a formula for gin until 10 or so years later, he must have ben making some form of whiskey.”47

1641. Hops cultivation began in Massachusetts.48

1642.

1645. “In 1645, the Massachusetts General Court forbade ordinary keepers ‘to suffer anyone to be drunk or drink excessively, or continue tippling above the space of half an hour in any of their said houses.”50

1648. The cultivation of hops was begun in Virginia.51

1649. Massachusetts required that “every victualler, ordinary keeper or taverner should always keep provided with good and wholesome beer for the entertainment of strangers who, for want thereof, are necessitated to much needless expenses in wine.”52

1650. The importation of rum into New England from the West Indies began and the beverage became especially popular among poor people because of its low price.53

1651. “The first mention of [rum] is contained in a description of Barbados....”54

1652. The first distillery was established in the American colonies on what is now Staten Island in New York State.55

1654.

1657. By 1657, a rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful and within a generation the manufacture of rum would become colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry.58

1662.

1670. The first license to brew beer in New Hampshire was granted.61

1672. A Massachusetts law prohibiting payment of wages in the form of alcohol resulted in a labor strike.62

1673. "In 1673, [Puritan minister] Increase Mather praised alcohol, saying that 'Drink is in itself a creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness.'"63

1675. Massachusetts established the office of tithingman to report alcohol violations in homes.64

1680. William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, operated a commercial brewery in Philadelphia.

1693. In Massachusetts, Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote Wo to Drunkards and the next year blamed growing irreligiosity on excess drinking.65

Resources

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