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Letter: Some sobering math

No doubt colonial New England encountered some exuberant and at times irresponsible use of alcohol among its citizens, but the Monitor should check its math before portraying our colonial ancestors as a sodden lot of stumbling inebriates (“Get soused the colonial way,” Monitor Forum, March 21).

Using standard measures for one drink (1.5 ounces of spirits, 12 ounces beer or 5 ounces wine) and assuming the total annual amounts per person over age 15 quoted in the article are correct, it appears that colonials in 1790 drank close to current safe drinking guideline limits for men (14 or fewer drinks a week), not nearly the “seven shots per day” plus beer and wine indicated in the article. At 5 gallons of spirits, 34 gallons of beer and 1 gallon of wine annually each, citizens would have consumed on average a little over 15 standard drinks per week (8.2 spirit-based drinks and seven beers plus two glasses of wine a month).

The fact that youth and women are included in these numbers could raise retrospective concern (safe drinking guidelines for women recommend seven or fewer drinks per week and no alcohol for youth). But while our colonial ancestors were clearly not all teetotalers, they certainly also were not the continuously soused society the article suggests.

Arithmetic and ancestral mores aside, thanks to the Monitor for sharing some interesting sounding colonial favorites: A little Rattle Skull or an Ale Flip could yet brighten an evening as this too long winter extends into the spring.



Legacy Comments1

All one has to do is some basic research on colonial times to find the importance of alcohol. Tavern owners held a higher status than clergy, the Pilgrims loaded more beer on their ships than water and the manufacture of rum was the largest industry and most prosperous in colonial America. George Washington after leaving the presidency owned the largest whisky distillery in the early US. So I think the math would work out.

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