Drinking Like The Colonials Did

Are Americans drinking more as the pandemic continues and many people remain largely shut into their homes? Although we can’t say for sure because no authoritative studies have been done, and people probably wouldn’t tell the truth anyway, the magic 8-ball would tell us that “all signs point to yes.” But it’s also true that modern Americans would need to drink a lot more — in fact, more than double their consumption of spirits — to even come close to the daily intake of our colonial forebears.

Colonial Americans consumed amazing amounts of alcohol. The accepted estimate is that, on an annual basis, they quaffed more than twice the amount of alcohol we enjoy — guzzling somewhere between five and six gallons of pure alcohol every year. The neighborhood tavern was a huge part of colonial culture, so much so that entire books have been written about taverns and drinking in early America. And the people who frequented the taverns weren’t just plotting revolutionary activities, either; they were slamming down prodigious amounts as they fumed about the tea tax, the stamp act, and the other depredations of the British Empire.

Historians believe that the Americans of that era drank more than Americans of any other era. As one historian put it: “Revolutionary War era persons drank a phenomenal amount. We have here an account of a gentleman’s average consumption: ‘Given cider and punch for lunch; rum and brandy before dinner; punch, Madeira, port and sherry at dinner; punch and liqueurs with the ladies; and wine, spirit and punch till bedtime, all in punchbowls big enough for a goose to swim in.'” 

A few years ago, a blogger decided to try to keep pace with the daily intake of the colonials and wrote about his experience. He survived, and his account of his well-lubricated quasi-colonial day is worth the read, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to duplicate the experiment.

People obviously should be mindful of what they are drinking and how much, but at least there may be some comfort in the fact that what is happening in the boozing department now doesn’t really hold a candle to our Revolutionary War-era ancestors. At the same time, we also should recognize that those dawn-to-dusk drinkers produced the Declaration of Independence, organized the Boston Tea Party, convinced the French to support their cause, and ultimately defeated the most powerful nation on Earth. It should make us admire the “founding fathers” all the more.