Even the history of brewing in New England is not entirely free from this legendary element, although there is, indeed, no dearth of well-authenticated historical facts from the very moment when the new communities emerged from the primitive conditions of the earliest camp life. There can be no doubt that on the soil of New England beer was consumed by people of European origin long before the landing of the Pilgrims. On their adventurous voyage of exploration, which resulted in the discovery of Vineland, the Vikings, it may safely be assumed, carried with them a supply of their favorite beverage; and there is more than an ordinary degree of internal probability in the assumption that Bartholomew Gosnold, who in 1602 landed at the point which he named Cape Code, brought with him from Falmouth an ample supply of ale, which in those days was deemed an indispensable commissary article of every ship destined for the New World. The fact that Gosnold's party---the first Englishmen who trod upon Massachusetts soil---looked forward to a permanent settlement, lends additional force to our view. It may also be safely assumed that malt liquor was brought by all the exploring expeditions that touched the coast, or attempted settlements thereon; and this certainly applies to the party of John Smith, to whom we owe both the name and printed description of New England.
It is an historical fact that Robinson's stout-hearted flock of "Separatists," while yet at their first place of refuge in Holland, and considering, with all the seriousness of their character, the advisability of migrating to the Western World, were long undecided as to the course they should take; whether to accept the invitation of the Dutch to settle in New Amsterdam, or to avail themselves of the inducements held out by the Virginia Company, or finally, to create an independent community in New England. Even after their embarkation, it was not positively determined whether Virginia or New England should be their destination. Now it may easily be conceived that, in conjunction with the historically demonstrable causes of the landing at Plymouth, the lack of beer helped to accelerate a final resolution, and thus prevented a settlement in Virginia---a course which might have turned the subsequent current of our national development into a direction totally different from that which led us on to political, moral and physical greatness. If we duly consider what all historians are agreed upon, namely, that the people of that part of the mother-country whence the New England colonists originally emigrated, still represented, in a remarkable degree of purity, the old Teutonic stock---German tinged with Northman's blood---we may be all the more inclined to accept this beer story seriously; at all events, we shall understand perfectly what history tells us of the colonial brewer and his place in the infant society.
The first regulative measure of this kind, the very one which unwisely gave to the afore-mentioned Captain Sedgwick a monopoly of brewing strong beer, was conceived in this spirit, and a subsequent law (1639) restoring to all tavern-keepers the right to brew all kinds of malt liquors, without any restraint whatever, at the same time restricting the sale of ardent spirits to one person in each town, such persons to be appointed upon the recommendation of their respective town authorities, reveals in a palpable manner the objects of the lawmakers.
This established the character and standing of the business, which in many instances derived additional luster from the character and standing of the men engaged in it, for it is an indisputable fact that many brewers and taverners not only occupied prominent civil and military positions, but became influential leaders, distinguished alike by valor in the field and wisdom in council, and transmitting to their off-springs (by heredity, perhaps, no less than by the formative power of example) that spirit of patriotism which gave birth to our Nation.
In the course of this narrative, this subject will again be adverted to; but for the present, in order to put our readers in a receptive mood, the mere mention of a few historical names will doubtless suffice. Such names, for instance, as that of Samuel Adams, one of the foremost of our Revolutionary forefathers, the son of a brewer and himself a brewer, as proud of his calling as doubtless were the Revolutionary generals Putnam, Weedon and Sumner, who also brewed and sold beer. General Putnam distinguished himself alike by the ardor of his patriotism and his undaunted courage and masterly generalship. In addition to tilling his own lands, he carried on the two-fold business of brewing and tapping until, obeying his country's call for brave hearts and stout hands, he joined the Revolutionary army, in which he won great honor and lasting fame. After the war, he returned to his old home in Brooklyn, Connecticut, resuming his old business and retaining control of it to the end of his days.
The average Vermonter of our times, who up to 1904 had lived under a prohibitory law and become accustomed to look upon brewing and tapping as callings to be shunned by decent people, may possibly find it difficult to realize that the first Governor of the Green Mountain Republic, Thomas Chittenden, the man who fills a larger place in the history of Vermont, and who has done more for the independence and civic welfare of his people than any other, was a brewing tavern-keeper---a man whose unselfishness, patriotism, courage and wisdom won for him unstinted praise at home and abroad.
A modern historian (Rowland A. Robinson in "American Commonwealths"), with a keen perception of the fitness of things, concludes his work with these words: "The history of Vermont is one that her people may well be proud of. Such shall it continue to be, if her sons depart not from the wise and fatherly counsel of her first Governor (Chittenden) to be a 'faithful, industrious and moral people', and not in all their appointments 'to have regard to none but those who maintain a good moral character, men of integrity and distinguished for wisdom and abilities.'"
One cannot mention Chittenden without thinking of his friend, Captain Stephen Fay, the landlord of the Catamount Tavern, who had five sons in the Battle of Bennington, and left one of them dead upon the bloody field. It was in the council chamber of this Catamount Tavern that the leaders of the Green Mountain Boys, among them Ethan Allen, met after the Battle of Lexington and determined to "unite with their countrymen" against the common enemy.
Nearly every liberty-pole in revolutionary and pre-revolutionary days stood before a tavern, the headquarters of the Sons of Liberty; and not infrequently the tavern-keeper was the leader of the band. In her "Stage Coach and Tavern Days," Miss Alice Morse Earle has a chapter on the "Tavern in War," which opens with this paragraph:
"The tavern has ever played an important part in social, political and military life, has helped to make history. From the earliest days when men gathered to talk over the terrors of Indian warfare; through the renewal of these fears in the French and Indian Wars, before and after the glories of Louisburg and through all the anxious but steadfast years preceding and during the Revolution, these gatherings were held in taverns and ordinaries. What a scene took place in the Brookfield Tavern! The only ordinary, that of Goodman Ayres, was a garrison house as well as a tavern and the sturdy landlord was commander of the train band."
Miss Earle cites many such examples and we might readily add a score of illustrious names borne by tavern-keepers and brewing tapsters who distinguished themselves in the Revolution and whose deeds form some of the most brilliant chapters of our history.
If the British considered the taverns as the hot-beds of sedition, as in fact they did, the Patriots with equal justice regarded them as the nurseries of liberty; and it is not at all unlikely that in the tavern of his father-in-law, where he so often made himself useful as a tapster, Patrick Henry imbibed the ideas which culminated in his soul-stirring utterance, "Give me liberty or give me death."
Enough has been said, we trust, to prove the truth of the assertion that throughout the Colonial period, and up to the time of the adoption of the Constitution, the trade was practiced by the very best people---men whose names adorn the pages of our history, and remind us of the fact that this industry has at all times given to the cause of freedom and popular rights some of the most eminent champions; such men as James Artevelde, to whom Hewlett, in his "Heroes of Europe" accords a prominent place, or Santerre, whom Dumas regarded as "the gigantic personification of the popular will," a man who sacrificed all he possessed in order to alleviate the sufferings of his people. [1 - For the names of prominent brewers in New York see chapter II.]
Unfortunately, every effort to accomplish the purpose here referred to, was frustrated by countervailing circumstances, resulting from the imperfect state of the art and the lack of proper materials, or by unwise measures, usually of a fiscal or protective character, adopted by the authorities under pressure of monetary needs or false theories. For instance, at one time the importation of malt was forbidden, in order to stimulate domestic malting; yet, within a short time thereafter, the malting of domestic wheat, rye and barley was prohibited on account of the scarcity of these cereals. At another time, a desire to encourage the exportation of wheat led to the enactment of a law imposing upon a brewers a fine of ten shillings for every bushel of wheat used in brewing. Ordinances encouraging brewing by exempting beer from taxation were counteracted in their contemplated effects by regulations prescribing the quality and fixing the price of malt liquors without regard to the increased cost of materials and production. And in later periods the requirements of commercial barter with the West Indies and the competition with other American colonies for this trade, dictated measure protecting home distilleries in such a manner and to such an extent that the drinking habits of the people could not but be changed for the worse and brewing doomed to decay. The lawmakers realized that there was great need of discouraging the use of strong drinks among a people who while "fighting and praying," consumed immense quantities of "fiery Holland," which, as Holmes puts it:
"All drank as t'were their mother's milk and not a man afraid."
But the condition of things militated against the realization of their object, as we have shown, and thus within less than one hundred and fifty years, with the growing demand for rum as a medium of barter, brewing gradually declined, and inebriety continued to spread throughout the colonies with such alarming rapidity that again---too late, unfortunately---the lawmakers of the different colonies vied with each other in strenuous but fruitless attempts to revive the industry. These efforts were continued in the New England States and elsewhere after the Revolution; and as an illustration of them may be quoted the Massachusetts Act of 1789, "to encourage the manufacture and consumption of strong beer," totally exempting from all taxation the entire real and personal property of brewers. As one of the reasons for this measure, the act sets forth the fact, "that the wholesome qualities of malt liquors greatly recommend them to general use, as an important means of preserving the health of the citizens of this commonwealth, and of preventing the pernicious effect of spirituous liquors."
That under more favorable circumstances the industry would doubtless have progressed rapidly we may infer from the uncommon degree of prosperity which both malting and brewing attained during the brief intervals of the unhampered operations of fostering legislation. As early as 1641, John Appleton, a representative to the General Court, established a very fine malt house, and engaged extensively in the cultivation of hops. He and Samuel Livermore began very early to experiment with maize as a substitute for wheat, oats or barley, and Winthrop, the younger, of Connecticut, having devoted serious study to this question, finally read a most interesting paper on the subject before the Royal Society of London, presenting at the same time samples of Indian corn beer of a very palatable nature and good quality. The malt of New England soon acquired a wide-spread reputation for its excellent quality, and relatively large quantities were exported to the neighboring colonies, particularly to Pennsylvania. This historical fact is of more than ordinary interest, or it shows that the use of maize, a material which, in conjunction with malted barley, the modern brewer uses for the improvement of the quality of his product, is a thoroughly American practice, sanctioned by long experience, and approved by the taste of the consumer. In a primitive way, however, Indian corn was used for brewing very much earlier, if we may believe Sir Richard Greenville, who, in his description of Virginia, relates that he saw maize used in brewing by the English of that colony.
During the brief era of the first internal revenue system, with its Whiskey Revolution and other open violations of the law, brewing did indeed regain some of its lost ground, only to relapse again into its former somnolent condition, however, as soon as the "free-whiskey" policy was reintroduced.
When, four decades after Hamilton's regime, the temperance movement began to make itself felt in New England, the brewing industry, the very agency which all our great statesmen had sought to employ against the whiskey habit, had to atone for the sins of the rural distillers, to whose unlimited operations is due all the misery and degradation that lent a justifying aspect to the demands of the reformers. Under prohibitory rule in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and other eastern States, the general use of ardent spirits, manufactured outside of, but freely sold within the borders of these States, tended to confirm the rum habit, and this was all the more inevitable, because for reasons well known to every one familiar with the question, malt liquors cannot be sold surreptitiously without great expense and imminent risk of detection.
This explains why before the introduction of the internal revenue system of 1861, which imparted a powerful impetus to brewing throughout the country, the industry lagged behind in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island and was never able to gain a permanent foothold in Maine.
In 1863 the total production of malt liquors in all the New England States, excepting Massachusetts, amounted to 49,607 barrels, a little more than double the quantities produced in 1809-10 in Massachusetts alone. Of these 49,607 barrels Connecticut produced 13,055; Maine 2,207; New Hampshire 25,945; Rhode Island 7,029; and Vermont 1,371 barrels. In the same year (1863) the total production of malt liquors in Massachusetts amounted to 112,000 barrels.
The direct result of this agitation and of a comprehensive legislative inquiry into the different phases of this question, under Governor John A. Andrews in 1867, was the repeal of prohibition in Massachusetts in 1868. Connecticut, after essentially modifying the prohibitory law, totally repealed it in 1867, substituting a license law. In New Hampshire the manufacture and sale of beer, cider and native wine had not been forbidden by the so-called Prohibition Act of 1855. Rhode Island also repealed her prohibitory law in 1863. Vermont was the only New England State, excepting Main, of course, in which the Maine law of 1852 remained then in force.
From the almost instantaneous effect of these measures, superadded to the operation of the Federal tax-law, the brewing industry, and, it is needless to say, the health and morality of the commonwealth, derived inestimable advantages. Within three years, i.e., at the end of the fiscal year 1866-67, the annual production of malt liquors in the New England States had increased from 161,607 to 406,154 barrels. Massachusetts, unfortunately, re-enacted prohibition in 1869, permitting, however, the manufacture of liquors for exportation. In the following year this law was so amended as to permit the sale of malt liquors; and in 1871 cities and towns were authorized to decide annually by popular vote whether the sale of malt liquors should be permitted. Repealed in 1873, this act and a number of others were replaced by a license law, enacted in 1874 and supplemented in 1881 by local option. Constant changes subsequently tended to deprive the trade of stability and particularly of that complete security which lies at the bottom of every industrial success.
Although a prohibitory amendment to the Constitution was defeated in Massachusetts by a popular majority of forty-six thousand votes, in 1888, thus clearly demonstrating the will of the people, professional reformers continued their unwise opposition not only in this direction but also against any discrimination in favor of fermented drinks; and as a result every year brought forth additional restraints designed to harass a trade which Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and many other eminent Americans, including Dr. B. Rush, the real father of the temperance movement, regarded as the most efficient temperance agency---an opinion which the scientific inquiry conducted by Dr. Bowditch proved to be almost universal. With slight differences as to time and mode, the trade labored and still labors under similar disadvantages in the other States. To this incessant legislative intermeddling, which frequently produced the most incongruous propositions copied from monarchical institutions or borrowed from small and insignificant cities totally unlike the great metropolis of New England in every respect, must be attributed the fact that these States are not now in the front rank of the brewing centers of this country. Even so, the progress of brewing there is not inconsiderable.
Without entering into wearisome statistical details it may be stated, in a general way, that but for adverse legislation of the nature here referred to---which, by the way, always tends to increase very considerably the home consumption and surreptitious sale of ardent liquors---beer would in all probability be today the common drink of the whole people, and drunkenness, very much diminished since the more general use of beer, would be as rare today as it is in Bavaria.
If we compare the increase of production in the entire country with the output of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island during the decade ending in 1895---Maine and Vermont having dropped out of the list of beer producing States---we shall find in such comparison ample reason for regretting that unwise legislation (which Dr. Bowditch rightly regards as a fruitful source of intemperance) prevented popular taste and inclination from making malt liquors what they are in many German states noted for the sobriety of their people. That there is a strong popular inclination to adopt the lighter beverages is very evident from the development of brewing in spite of all impediments. The following figures illustrate the growth of brewing and afford an intimation of the progress that would have been attained in the absence of adverse measures:
|United States||19,216,630 bbl.||33,469,661 bbl.|
During the next twelve years (1896 to 1907) radical changes took place in two of the New England States. New Hampshire and Vermont adopted stringent license systems coupled with local option; but this change from prohibition to regulation does not appear to have redounded to the benefit of brewing. Vermont is still without a brewery and the few brewing establishments which have existed in New Hampshire, even under the operation of the prohibitory law, retrograded steadily, in point of annual production.
In both States, it seems, the rural population still adheres to the drinking habits fostered by and under the old regime, and the population of the industrial centers, where as a rule beer finds its most favorite markets in other States, is composed to a large extent of French Canadians who are not commonly beer drinkers.
In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, on the other hand, the condition of things, considering the instability of holdings under the fluctuations of the license votes in the first-named State, seems to be somewhat encouraging.
During the period named, the production of beer in New Hampshire decreased from 384,333 to 323,363 barrels. As to the New England group as a whole, compared with the United States, the following figures require no comment:
|Area||Production 1896||Production 1907|
|United States||35,826,098 barrels||58,546,111 barrels|
|New England States||2,719,083||3,704,968|
| Prev | Next | Top |