Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"THEY WILL BE ADJUDGED BY THEIR DRINK, WHAT KINDE OF HOUSEWIVES THEY ARE": Gender, Technology, and Household Cidering in England and the Chesapeake, 1690 to 1760

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

"THEY WILL BE ADJUDGED BY THEIR DRINK, WHAT KINDE OF HOUSEWIVES THEY ARE": Gender, Technology, and Household Cidering in England and the Chesapeake, 1690 to 1760

Article excerpt

Beare is indeed in some place constantly drunken, in other some, nothing but Water or Milk and Water or Beverage; and that is where the goodwives (if I may so call them) are negligent and idle; for it is not for want of Corn to make Malt with (for the Country affords enough) but because they are sloathful and careless: but I hope this Item will shame them out of those humors, that they will be adjudged by their drink, what kinde of Housewives they are.-John Hammond, "Leah and Rachel, or, The Two Fruitful Sisters, Virginia and Mary-Land" (1656)1

Whereas Thomas Phillips . . . was brought before this Court on Suspicion of Picking open the Lock of George Sissons Chamber and taking out the Keg of his Syder house and Disposing of his Syder and on Examination of Severall Evidences Touching the Same, It is the Opinion of this Court that the said Thomas Phillips is Guilty of the Crime Laid to his Charge. It is therefore Ordered that the Sheriff take him and Carry him to the Common whipping post and give him Tenn Lashes on his bare back well laid on.-Richmond County Court, 3 January 1721/2(2)

IN 1656, John Hammond denounced Chesapeake women for making insufficient amounts of alcohol, particularly beer, for their households. Hammond claimed they were "negligent and idle . . . sloathful and careless" and warned that their housewifery would be judged "by their drink." Sixty-five years later a Richmond County court sentenced Thomas Phillips to ten lashes for stealing George Sisson's cider, stating repeatedly that the cider was male property. Although the two passages do not appear at first to be related, in fact they share a close connection. When the Richmond County court called the cider that Thomas Phillips stole George Sisson's property, it unintentionally obscured the fact that the cider was probably made by Sisson's wife and daughters. Ironically, by the late seventeenth century, when women in the Chesapeake were fulfilling Hammond's challenge and regularly making the alcohol needed by early Chesapeake households, men and women in England were concluding that alcohol production was men's work. But over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men and women in Virginia and Maryland came to depend on cider provided by women rather than the beer produced by men that was popular in England.

In addition to adding to our knowledge about women's work and lives in early America, this essay reveals the anomalous nature of the early Chesapeake. Production of alcoholic beverages in the region in the eighteenth century increasingly resembled that of sixteenth-century England, with women making unhopped ale and cider. Despite the contentions of such scholars as Jack Greene that the southern colonies were normative, the case study of alcohol illustrates the uniqueness of the early Chesapeake. Although men and women in western Europe made and enjoyed beer (made with hops) and distilled liquors, like gin, Chesapeake colonists made only ciders from apples, peaches, and persimmons; concoctions of molasses and water; a little ale (made without hops, and in the Chesapeake from corn and molasses rather than from oats and barley); and some apple brandy (distilled cider). The Chesapeake did not follow the trajectory of masculinization in alcohol production seen in Europe, New England, and the Middle Colonies because of the Chesapeake's immigration patterns, scattered population, and tobacco monoculture.3

Small planter households in the Chesapeake made much of the alcoholic drink they consumed. Small planters were those men who owned 100 to 200 acres. Their households on average included six members, two or three of whom were tithable, meaning that they were indentured servants, or increasingly slaves, for whom their masters paid a property tax.4 Small planters, as the term implies, raised crops for a living and often worked their land themselves. Their households made up about one-half of those in the Chesapeake from the late seventeenth century on. …

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