Alcohol and Drinking History in America: A Chronology

The New Republic

1774-1783.

1774. The Single Brothers Brewery and Distillery opens in the Moravian religious settlement of Salem, North Carolina.3

1777. George Washington wrote to John Hancock that the “benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced in all Armies and are not to be disputed.”4

George Washington was his new nation’s first large distiller.5 His wife, Martha, enjoyed daily toddies. In the 1790s, "happy hour" began at 3:00 p.m. and cocktails continued until dinner.6

1778. The Free African Society temperance organization was formed and excluded men of drinking habits.”7

1781. Corks were first used as a common stopper, which made wine bottle aging possible.8

1782. The first California wine was made by priests at San Juan Capistrano.9

Post-1783. “...rising nationalism in the post-revolutionary years led American drinkers to switch from rum, a product dependent on supplies from Europe’s Caribbean colonies, to whiskeys distilled from domestically produced grains.”10 

1784. Dr. Benjamin Rush published his pamphlet “An Enquiry into the Effects of Spiritous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society.” He promoted his ideas that alcoholism is an “odious disease” for which his recommended cures included “whipping the patient severely,” blistering the ankles, bleeding, and purging with toxic substances. Parenthetically, he also promoted his belief that being black was a result of a curable skin disease, which he called negroidism. Intermarrying, he argued, help spread the disease.11

1785. When Rev. Philip Otterbein organized his first United Brethren in Christ church in the U.S., he “took perhaps the strongest stand that had been taken officially by any minister up to that time by excluding from partaking in communion all those who indulged in strong drink.”12

1786. Thomas Sewall was a temperance activist who created eight graphic colored drawings of what he called "alcohol diseased stomachs." These were widely distributed to promote abstinence. One temperance leader sent a copy to every household in the state of New York and also sent 150,000 copies to poorhouses, prisons, hospitals and schools.13

1789.

Folk hero Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) began wandering the northeastern U.S. planting seeds from apples. Being sour, the apples were not intended for eating but for the production of hard cider.19

1790s. "Happy hour" typically began at three o’clock in the afternoon  and cocktails were enjoyed until dinner.20

1791. Congress passed the Distilled Spirits Tax of 1791 (the Whiskey Tax),which imposed a tax on all distilled spirits produced in the US.21

1792. Brewing property became non-taxable in New Hampshire.22

1793. During the Whiskey Rebellion that occurred in Pennsylvania, federal troops established the federal government’s ability and willingness to impose its power by arresting those who refused to pay taxes on their products.23

1798. John James Dufour planted the first vineyard in Kentucky but the vines failed by 1802.24

Every signer of the American Declaration of Independence, without exception, drank alcoholic beverages.25

Nineteenth Century

1801.  On The recommendation of Thomas Jefferson, the federal duty of liquor was abolished.32

1802.

1803. By 1803 cocktails appear to have been invented. The first published reference to the cocktail appeared in the Farmer's Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire, April 28, 1803) and the first published definition appeared in The Balance and Columbian Repository of 1806 as “a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”36

1804. Swiss immigrant Jean-Jacques Dufour planted the first vines in Indiana 12 years before it became a state at what is now Vevay in Switzerland County.  His community of Swiss settlers produced wine made from the first American hybrid (Alexander or Cape) and the first American-grown wines sold to the public.37

1808. “Members of the Congregational Church in Moreau, Saratoga County, New York form a temperance society.”38

1810.

The "Star-Spangled Banner" was set to the tune of an English drinking song.42

1813.

1814. The first grape vines were planted in Hawaii.45

1815. The American Practical Brewer and Tanner was published,46 indicating widespread interest in brewing.

1818. Federal taxes on distillers’ and retailers’ licenses were repealed.47

1819. The first engine used in producing beer in the U.S. was a steam engine built by Thomas Holloway and installed in the brewery of Francis Perot in Philadelphia.48

1820.

1824. Nicholas Longworth planted Catawba vines in Cincinnati, Ohio, and three years later made his first Catawba wine. He retired from law to devote his time to viticulture and wine making, which became very successful.51

Cir. 1825. The first vines were planted in the state of Washington by a trapper at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.52

1825.

1826.  First known as the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, the American Temperance Society, was established by two Presbyterian ministers. One, Lyman Beecher, was strongly anti-Catholic and also a racist who refused to permit African-American students in his classes at the theological seminary. The other, Justin Edwards, said the organization was to promote temperance while letting drunkards "die off and rid the world of ‘an amazing evil.'" It currently publishes Listen: A Journal of Better Living.55

1827. Unidentified sources reported that Wilbraham, Massachusetts, a town of  2,000 residents, consumed 8,000 gallons of rum in one year and that each of the 34 families in Salisbury, Connecticut, consumed 29 and 1/2 gallons of rum in a year.56

1829. The D.G. Yuengling Brewery was established in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. It is the oldest brewery in the U.S. still in operation.57

Resources

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