Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's Women Who Drove You to Drink

What's the best way to take the edge off of an isolated lifestyle? Alcohol, of course! And if coffee is for the wealthy and tea heavily taxed and water believed to cause illness and even death, what does that leave you with? Alcohol again! These things could explain why the average person in the 17th century drank a gallon of ale every day, starting at breakfast.

Then there's the all-purpose uses of alcohol, like cosmetic, household, medicinal and even for bathing. Name a product today that can do so much. I learned all this at today's Library of Virginia noon lecture by Sarah Meacham, author of Every Home A Distillery: Alcohol, Gender and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake.

Seems taverns were the only place to socialize and guess who ran taverns? Women. And guess who made the ale and cider served in those taverns? Women. And since taverns were built before courthouses and churches, they were often called into use for those purposes. Juries were even given alcohol. A quart of brandy was the normal accompanying beverage for childbirth. At funerals, the alcohol for the guests was positioned directly on the casket.

Making alcohol was considered women's work up until the Revolution when men began taking it over because it required mastery and science, two skills not generally attributed to us women-folk at the time. We just weren't thought of as bright enough to use the new technology, you know, thermometers and hydrometers.

As I've stated before, I love history lectures about my people. Don't tell me women didn't help shape this country because I know it's not true. Learning more about as crucial a role as providing the only sociability in remote places and supplying the alcohol the made it possible could be seen as pivotal to the success of the development of our region.

After all that affirmation, I just had to meet a guy friend for lunch and crow about how great my sex is. Since the Library of Virginia is on the next block from Gibson's Grill, we made that our destination. I chose the white pizza (spinach, tomatoes, caramelized onions and Asiago cheese) and Andrew played copy-cat with pizza, getting the BBQ chicken version (with the same onions).
I know mine was better than I expected, generous with spinach and tiny little pieces of tomato
and plenty of those scrumptious onions. He did finish all of his, which is always a good sign, although I think that's just what guys do with pizza.

And while we didn't drink at lunch, unlike the Chesapeake colonists, we did acknowledge that it was thanks to my people that drinking got off to the fine start that it did here in Virginia. After all, someone had to stay home and do the brewing while the men were off fighting for independence and all that sort of noble endeavor. What would be the good of freedom from the motherland if you couldn't celebrate it with a stiff one?

Feel free to toast us when you have your next cold beverage.


  1. we'll toast you for more reasons then that. keep up the blog, it's great!

  2. SO many reasons to toast us, jrt! Thanks for realizing that...and happy to hear you like my blog. Hope I can keep you reading.