Tobacco Culture

Making Heretics

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

"At the houses of entertainment called ordinaries into which a stranger went, he was presently followed by one appointed to that office who would thrust himself into his company uninvited, and if he called for more drink than the officer thought, in his judgment, he could soberly bear away, he would presently countermand it, and appoint the proportion beyond which he could not get one drop."

The ministers, also, who chanced to live within sight of the tavern, had a very virtuous custom of watching the tavern door and all who entered therein, and going over and "chiding them" if they remained too long within the cheerful portals. With constables, deacons, the parson, and that lab-o'-the-tongue—the tithing-man—each on the alert to keep every one from drinking but himself, the Puritan had little chance to be a toper an he would.

The colonists were fiercely intolerant of intemperance among the Indians. Laws were made as early as 1633 prohibiting the sale of strong waters to the "inflamed devilish bloudy salvages," and persons selling liquor to them were sharply prosecuted and punished. New Yorkers thought these laws over-severe, saying, deprecatingly, "to prohibit all strong liquor to them seems very hard and very turkish, rumm doth as little hurt as the ffrenchmans Brandie, and in the whole is much more wholesome." But the Puritans knew of the horrors to be dreaded from drunken Indians.

So plentiful had the sale of ale and beer become in 1675 that Cotton Mather said every other house in Boston was an ale-house, and a century later Governor Pownall made the same assertion. The Puritan magistrates in New England made at a very early date a decided stand not only against excessive drinking by strangers, but against the habit of drunkenness in their citizens. Drunkards were in 1636, in Massachusetts, subject to fine and imprisonment in the stocks, and sellers were forbidden to furnish the tippler with any liquor thereafter. An habitual drunkard was punished by having a great D made of "Redd Cloth" hung around his neck, or sewed on his clothing, and he was disfranchised. In 1630 Governor Winthrop abolished the "Vain Custom" of drinking healths at his table, and in 1639 the Court publicly ordered the cessation of the practice because "it was a thing of no use, it induced drunkenness and quarrelling, it wasted wine and beer and it was troublesome to many, forcing them to drink more than they wished." A fine of twelve shillings was imposed on each health-drinker. Cotton Mather, however, thought health-drinking a usage of common politeness. In Connecticut no man could drink over half a pint of wine at a time, or tipple over half an hour, or drink at all at an ordinary after nine o'clock at night.

All these rigid laws had their effect, and New Englanders throughout the seventeenth century were sober and law-abiding save in a few communities, such as that at Merrymount, where "good chear went forward and strong liquors walked." Boston was an

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005