The Bar Tab from the 1787 Farewell Dinner for George Washington
Common Sense American History
Think Americans drink too much? Think again – early Americans drank THREE times more alcohol than people today.
In her article in The Atlantic, Emma Green interviewed National Archives curator Bruce Bustard, who oversaw an exhibit on American alcohol consumption.
“Right after the Constitution is ratified, you could see the alcoholic consumption starting to go up,” said Bustard. Over the next four decades, Americans kept drinking steadily more, hitting a peak of 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol per person per year in 1830. By comparison, in 2013, Americans older than 14 each drank an average of 2.34 gallons of pure alcohol.
Heavy drinking was a way to stay hydrated, since clean water was not plentiful. Hard liquor was – especially since farmers frequently distilled their grain into alcohol.
The Founding Fathers were no different than the rest of the populace – many of them just had the means to buy more alcohol. There is no record of the Framers’ Farewell at the City Tavern on September 17, 1787, but happily for us, there is documentation of the September 14 farewell dinner held at the same location for George Washington. Teaching American History’s website features Dr. Gordon Lloyd’s research about the gathering that, in 2011 dollars, cost $15,400.
Highlights of the bill include the consumption of 164 bottles, and 7 bowls of punch for the “55 gentlemen”, 21 bottles and 7 bowls of punch for the 16 servants and musicians, and – SHOCK – costs to replace broken wine and tumbler glasses.
It cannot be denied – the founding of our nation is grounded in blood, sweat, tears – and a huge thirst for claret and madeira.