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Every Home a Distillery

Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake

Sarah Hand Meacham

Publication Year: 2009

In this original examination of alcohol production in early America, Sarah Hand Meacham uncovers the crucial role women played in cidering and distilling in the colonial Chesapeake. Her fascinating story is one defined by gender, class, technology, and changing patterns of production. Alcohol was essential to colonial life; the region’s water was foul, milk was generally unavailable, and tea and coffee were far too expensive for all but the very wealthy. Colonists used alcohol to drink, in cooking, as a cleaning agent, in beauty products, and as medicine. Meacham finds that the distillation and brewing of alcohol for these purposes traditionally fell to women. Advice and recipes in such guidebooks as The Accomplisht Ladys Delight demonstrate that women were the main producers of alcohol until the middle of the 18th century. Men, mostly small planters, then supplanted women, using new and cheaper technologies to make the region’s cider, ale, and whiskey. Meacham compares alcohol production in the Chesapeake with that in New England, the middle colonies, and Europe, finding the Chesapeake to be far more isolated than even the other American colonies. She explains how home brewers used new technologies, such as small alembic stills and inexpensive cider pressing machines, in their alcoholic enterprises. She links the importation of coffee and tea in America to the temperance movement, showing how the wealthy became concerned with alcohol consumption only after they found something less inebriating to drink. Taking a few pages from contemporary guidebooks, Every Home a Distillery includes samples of historic recipes and instructions on how to make alcoholic beverages. American historians will find this study both enlightening and surprising.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Early America: History, Context, Culture


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This project began when I was trying to research an early-eighteenth-century tavern known as Susannah Allen’s in colonial Williamsburg. It has long been rumored that Allen’s tavern was a brothel. While I suspected that there were not enough single women in colonial Virginia to have supported a brothel, I was intrigued. Very few records of Allen’s tavern remain, and I was unable to determine ...

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pp. 1-5

“Do you know Jack?” begins some Jack Daniel’s distillery websites and brochures. Readers learn that “Mr. Jack” bought his first still at the age of thirteen in 1863 and founded the “nation’s oldest registered distillery” three years later. Readers are told that “Mr. Jack” always dressed in “a formal knee-length frock coat and a broad-brimmed planter’s hat.” Thus America’s largest distilling company suggests ...

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1. “It Was Being Too Abstemious That Brought This Sickness upon Me”: Alcoholic Beverage Consumption in the Early Chesapeake

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pp. 6-23

Consider a day in the life of a small planter in the eighteenth-century Chesapeake. He awoke at daybreak and ate a quick breakfast of corn mush and a couple of mugs of hard cider. After several hot, laborious hours of weeding his tobacco field with his son and his servant, and drinking occasional swigs of cider, he returned to his two-room house. Lunch consisted of some spoon bread, some stew, and another mug of cider. If one of the quarterly meetings of the general court in Williamsburg was in session that day, and if our colonist lived close enough to court ...

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2. “They Will be Adjudged by Their Drinke, What Kind of Housewives They Are”: Gender, Technology, and Household Cidering in England and the Chesapeake, 1690 to 1760

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pp. 24-39

For centuries in England the task of producing alcoholic beverages had belonged to women. Indeed, in 1656 Englishman John Hammond denounced Chesapeake women for making insufficient amounts of alcohol, particularly unhopped corn brews that he called “beer,” for their households. Hammond reported that in Virginia and Maryland “beer is indeed in some places constantly drunken, in other ...

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3. “This Drink Cannot Be Kept During the Summer”: Large Planters, Science, and Community Networks in the Early Eighteenth Century

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pp. 40-63

When small-planter households in the early eighteenth century ran out of cider, they had a unique problem. Unlike people in England, New England, or the Middle Colonies, Chesapeake colonists could not purchase alcohol at local markets or commercial distilleries or breweries. Chesapeake residents did not develop public markets until the late eighteenth century, distilleries until the nineteenth ...

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4. “Anne Howard . . . Will Take in Gentlemen”: White Middling Women and the Tavernkeeping Trade in Colonial Virginia

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pp. 64-81

Taverns mattered in the colonial Chesapeake. Taverns connected colonists spread apart by sprawling tobacco farms. It was in the taverns that colonists learned current crop prices, purchased goods, read newspapers, and discovered business opportunities. Significantly, throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many, if not most of these, were run by middling-sort women and prominent widows. ...

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5. “Ladys Here All Go to Market to Supply Their Pantry”: Alcohol for Sale, 1760 to 1776

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pp. 82-94

After the middle of the eighteenth century, Chesapeake colonists found an increasing variety of places where they could buy alcoholic beverages. They were no longer limited to producing alcohol at home, buying it from the surplus of large planters, or purchasing it from taverns favored by large planters. Especially after 1760, colonists could purchase all sorts of alcoholic drinks at markets, Scottish ...

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6. “Every Man His Own Distiller”: Technology, the American Revolution, and the Masculinization of Alcohol Production in the Late Eighteenth Century

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pp. 95-119

The majority of Chesapeake men became interested in the traditionally feminine project of making alcoholic beverages during the second half of the eighteenth century. A very small number of men, all of them the largest planters, had already become involved with large-scale alcohol production, but they were the exception in the region. Most men in the Chesapeake lagged behind men in Europe ...

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7. “He Is Much Addicted to Strong Drinke”: The Problem of Alcohol

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pp. 120-134

In 1660, Robert Warren sat drinking in a Northampton County, Virginia, courtroom, his voice growing louder and louder. He began “rudely intruding” on the court proceedings, “interrupting” the judges and “upbraiding” them for their judgments. The judges’ response was to ask the sheriff to remove Warren from the courtroom, and he continued drinking outside. No one appears to have chided ...

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pp. 135-138

Until the late eighteenth century in the Chesapeake, alcoholic beverages were considered a necessary part of daily life for health and socializing. Men valued women who could make alcoholic beverages and depended on this aspect of women’s cookery for survival and pleasure. By 1782, however, Luicinda Orr, an adolescent in Virginia, could record in her diary that she was “in a peck of troubles ...

A Few Recipes

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pp. 139-143


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pp. 143-170

Essay on Sources

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pp. 171-180


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pp. 181-187

E-ISBN-13: 9780801897917
E-ISBN-10: 0801897912
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801893124
Print-ISBN-10: 0801893127

Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 9 halftones
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Early America: History, Context, Culture
Series Editor Byline: Joyce E. Chaplin and Philip D. Morgan, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 647881211
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Every Home a Distillery

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- Social life and customs -- 17th century.
  • Drinking of alcoholic beverages -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- Social life and customs -- 18th century.
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Brewing -- Social aspects -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Housewives -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Home economics -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Sex role -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Social classes -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
  • Distilling industries -- Social aspects -- Chesapeake Bay Region (Md. and Va.) -- History.
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