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Spirited Ou r Ancestors

T h e D e c o r a t i v e A r t o f D r i n k

Continued from page 23

Wine Bottle Fragment, 1766, England, Glass HOA: 2-1/4", WOA: 1-1/4" • Gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Bivins (Acc. 2517) • Discovered in Brunswick, North Carolina in the 1950s, this seal bears the name of William Dry, the port’s wealthy collector of customs.


Wine Siphon, 1750–1800, Mid-Atlantic United States. Loan courtesy of MESDA Advisory Board member Andy Williams

ea or punch? Caffeine or alcohol? By the end of the 18th century the choice of drink carried deep moral implica-

tions. Before inexpensive tea became available in the second half of the 18th century, however, alcoholic beverages—ranging from homemade cider to distilled spirits—were the safest form of hydration. Rich or poor, black or white, virtually everyone drank alcohol in 18th-century America. The average early American drank nearly twenty gallons of

alcohol a year. They drank when they woke up. They drank while they ate. They drank while they worked. And they drank while they socialized. Our spirited ancestors saw the world through a boozy haze crowded with the decorative arts of drink. What type of alcohol one drank and how one drank it

S a t u r d a y S emi n a r

Our Spirited Ancestors: The Decorative Art of Drink Saturday, November 12

Explore the customs, furniture, and ceramics associated with the art of liquid entertaining in the early South with speak- ers Dennis Pogue, Vice President of Preservation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, who oversaw the reconstruc- tion of George Washington’s Whisky Distillery; Robert Hunter, the editor of Ceramics in America; and Daniel Ackermann, the exhibit’s curator. For more information visit or call 336-721-7360.

defined their place in society. The jugs, cups, glasses, cellarets, and other decorative arts associated with drinking were just as important as what they contained. The distance between the maker and drinker of an alcoholic

beverage might be as near as a few feet, or as far as thousands of miles. Wealthy planters could afford to import wine, ales, and spirits from abroad. An opportunity for conspicuous con- sumption, the elite could decant imported wine into bottles— some customized with their personal seals—using tools as elegant as a silver wine siphon or funnel. However, the major- ity of the alcohol consumed in the South in the early 18th century was made at home. A 1744 Virginia manuscript cookbook in the MESDA collection contains dozens of alco- holic recipes: from Jane Randolph’s recipe for making ale to instructions on making seventeen different kinds of wine. Ciders, wines, and ales could be made at home, but whiskies

and other distilled beverages required stills and other special- ized equipment. Technological advances in the middle of the 18th century made it cheaper and easier to produce spoil- proof beverages with high alcohol content. Across the south- ern backcountry, various grain-derived alcohols found their way into ceramic storage vessels produced by potters like the Cain family of Sullivan County, Tennessee. One example in MESDA’s collection is inscribed “John Wolfe,” “True Blue,” and “1826.” These inscriptions may refer to John Wolfe of nearby Scott County, Virginia, who at his death left his son

24 Old Salem Museums & Gardens

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