“Halfway to Concord:” Drinking in Colonial America

Written by Jim Hollister, Park Ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park

In Colonial America, most adults consumed alcohol to a greater or lesser degree. Moderation was a highly esteemed virtue and considered a mark of civility. Sadly, however, there are many accounts of people who have over-imbibed. For example, in 1736, Thomas Apty, a plasterer in Philadelphia, boasted he could drink a gallon of “cider royal” in an hour and a half. He did as he promised and then said “I have finished . . . then fell down . . . and then expired.” (Sharon Salinger, Taverns and Drinking in Early America, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004 pg 73.) 

On January 13, 1737, “The Drinker’s Dictionary” appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette. It is attributed to Benjamin Franklin though a nearly identical list appeared the previous year in the New England Weekly Journal (Joel S. Berson, “The Source for Benjamin Franklin’s ‘The Drinker’s Dictionary”). It provided over 200 terms in alphabetical order to describe the state of drunkenness. So, in our first two photos, we find young Thompson has “cast up his Accounts, piss’d in the Brook, loaded his cart, and had a thump over the head with Sampson’s jawbone.” He’s also “halfway to Concord, dizzy as a goose, wamble crop’d, stew’d, and stiff as a ring-bolt.” Click here to read more from the Drinker’s Dictionary.

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