Colonial beer roots

By Gregg Smith

In early America a tavern was one of the most important buildings a community could have. It disseminated the news, served as the center for commerce, and filled the social needs of an often harsh existence. The colonial government found taverns so important to development of this new land they enacted laws to encourage their construction. Among the other benefits it provided a means of common defense.

In colonial times it was the ordinary citizenry which banded together into an armed force called the "militia". The problem with relying on a militia was inconsistency in both ability and experience of its members. However, with problems of its own back on the continent, the powers in London were reluctant to station a standing army in the america's.

Thus defense was left to the colonists, except that when faced with a choice, most militia members avoided the supposedly mandatory training days. The attitude seemed to be an unspoken "Well of course I'll take this serious...when I'm faced with certain death." Unfortunately, an army is ineffective and subject to slaughter if it cannot maneuver with speed and discipline in the field. Neither pleas nor demands corrected the problem, the frontier inhabitants simply wouldn't show up for training.

Finally, the governors turned to a solution which successfully solved other colonial problems - - beer. Need to turn out the population of a region? Easy, underwrite a few barrels of beer at the local tavern. It was an immediate success and able bodied "militiamen" literally appeared out of the colonial woodwork.

It wasn't long until "Drill Day" became a not to be missed social function of the North American frontier. Soon the wives and families wanted in on the event and people started to show up early for a little extra socializing before the drill. Beer flowed freely, sometimes to the detriment of the next day's drill. Eventually they learned not to release the free beer until the training was complete.

Through it the citizen soldiers were learning a few things. First, they could function on their own. Second, the militia junior officers were learning to command. They were also learning to both assemble and operate as a unit out of a central point, the tavern.

Indeed, it was from a tavern that a mob spilled to provoke the Boston's British garrison into what became known as "the Boston Massacre". Later, from a planning and command post in Boston's Green Dragon Tavern they launched a protest to taxes which became known as "Boston Tea Party". Such disregard for property, at the hands of an organized mob, pushed the crownto the limits of its tolerance and set the stage for military action.

When the two sides met in Lexington, Massachusetts the opening of hostilities took place in exactly the fashion in which the militia was trained. Their leader Captain Parker established his headquarters in the nearby Buckman Tavern.

Thus part of the solution to development of the colonies, by encouraging the growth of taverns, eventually led to the end of British colonial America.

Gregg Smith


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