The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition

By Herbert Asbury | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Genesis

Many of the statutes with which the colonial authorities sought to regulate the taverns and discourage the excessive use of ardent spirits were very strict. Curfew laws were rigidly enforced in New England, and also in New York, where Peter Stuyvesant complained in 1630 that one fourth of the town of New York (then called New Amsterdam) was "devoted to houses for the sale of brandy, tobacco, and beer." In most localities, particularly the New England colonies, definite limits were imposed upon the length of time a man might sit tippling in a public house, and upon the quantity of liquor which he might buy at one visit. Violators of these laws were fined, whipped, confined in the stocks or pillory, and, in extreme cases, expelled from the colony. In 2 Massachusetts a man who had been convicted several times of drunkenness was compelled to wear, dangling from his neck, a large "D" painted in red upon a white cloth; or a large placard pinned to the back of his coat and emblazoned, "A DRUNKARD." Such punishments, however, were not imposed as often as might be supposed, nor were they notably effective; there was a great deal of surreptitious drinking, and even in those early days the authorities found it difficult to destroy a natural appetite by legislation.

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