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
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
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