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Liquor Legislation in Connecticut Colony

Published in The Journal of American History, 1913

THE EARLY settlers of Connecticut had no distilleries, nor for the first few years any grain, even for food, except Indian corn, bought mostly from Indian raising and through the agency of William Pynchon of Springfield for the upper or Connecticut colony; nor had they any saloons, nor for several years even an inn. During many years wine is the only intoxicating drink mentioned by name, and though there were wild grapes in some places, the colonial records suggest that all liquors were imported. More than three years after the beginning of the Court records of Connecticut colony, we find its first sentence for drinking; and it occurred on board a vessel.

“August the first, 1639. These following were censured & fined for unseasonable and immoderate drinking at the pinnace. Thomas Cornewell, 30s. Jno. Latimer, 15s. Mathew Beckwith, ros. Samuell Kittwell, 10s. Thomas Vpson, 20s. “Sept. the 5th, 1639, Thomas Gridley, of Windsore was compleyned of for refusing to watch, strong suspition of drunkenes, contempteous words against the orders of Court, quarreling and striking Mr. Stiles his man; he was censured to be whipt att Hartford and bound to his good behavior.” “Feb. 14th, 1643. Whereas many compleynts are brought into the Court by mason of diurs abuses that fall out by seuerall prsons that sell Wyne and strong water, as well in vessells on the Riuer as also in seuerall howses, for the preventing whereof yt is now Ordered, that no person or persons after the publisheing this Order, shall nether sell Wyne nor strong water in any place within these libertyes, without license from the perticuler Court or any two Magistrates.” “June 3, 1644. Whereas many strayngers & passengers that vpon occation haue recourse to these Townes, and are strenghtened for waint of entertainment, it is now Ordered that these seuerall Townes shall pruide amongst themselves in ech Towne one sufficient inhabitnt to keepe an Ordinary, for pruision and lodgeing in some comfortable manner, that such passengers or strayngers may know where to resorte; and such inhabitants as by the seuerall Townes shall be chosen for the said. scaruice shall be presented to two Magistrats, that they may be judged meet for that imployment, and this to be effected by the severall Townes within one month, under the penalty of 40s. a month, ech month ether Towne shall neglect yt.”

Next in chronological order is the New Haven act for regulating liquor selling in that colony. “16 of June, 1645. It was ordered that if any person or persons, whether directly or indirectly, in this town shall sell wine by retayle of quarts or pintes or the like, after 14 dayes next ensueing be expired’, without license, he or they shall be punished at the discretion of the Court.” Will Andrews licensed to draw wine and to sell by retayle.”

Mr. Andrews had already been chosen keeper of the inn or “ordinary” under the following act: “To prevent much sin & inconvenience wch may grow by disorderly meetings & drinkings, it is ordered that none of or belonging to this plantation shall either directly or indirectly within their howses, cellars or other places, sell or deliver out any sort of wine or strong liquors by retayle, namely by pottes, quarts or pintes, or the like without express lisence from this court, under such penalty & fine as the monthly court, upon due consideration of the miscarriadge or contempt shall see cause to impose. And at present, Wm. Andrews and Georg Walker are allowed to draw & sell by retayle, but wth advice & order that they be carefull & circumspect to whom & what quantities they either delyver out or suffer to be drunck in their howses or any place where they draw or have command, that disorderliness be either prevented or observed and punished.”

To return to the workings of the license system, strict as it was, in Connecticut colony. “Sept. 4; 1645. Geo. Chappell for abuseing the Constable and excesse in drinking, is to be bowned to his good behavior and to be fined fiue pownd. 5l. Will Bromfield’ for drunkenes and strickeing the watchman is to be bowned to his good behaviour and fyned fifty shillings.” “Dec. 4th, 1645. Samuell Hales for his mysdemeanor by excesse in drinkeing is fyned twenty nobles.” (The noble was equal to 6s. 8d. sterling. “Thomas Hurlebut, for the like is fyned 4l. Elias Trotte for accompanying them and drawing wyne without liberty, is fyned 40s.”

“Will’ Crosse, for haueing wyne sould in his howse without lycence is fyned 40s.”

“June the 5th, 1646. Jo: Carpenter, for breaking into Will’ Gybbons his howse & drinking wyne is fyned 10l. c& stands bound to his good behavior.”

“May the 25th, 1647. Order that no person under the age of 20 years nor any other that hath not allreddy accustomed himselfe to the use thereof shall take any Tobacco until he haue brought a certificat, under the hand of some who are approved for knowledge & skill in physicke, that it is useful for him, and also that he hath receaved a lycence from the Court for the same nor above once in the day at most. . . And for the preventing that great abuse wch is creepeing in by excesse in Wyne and strong waters, It is Ordred, that noe inhabitant in any Towne of this jurisdiction shall continue in any common victualling howse in the same Towne wher he liveth aboue halfe an hower att a tyme in drinkeing wyne, bear or hotte waters, neither shall any who draweth & selleth wyne suffer any to drynke any more wyne att on(e) tyme then after the proportion of three to a pynt of sacke. And it is further Ordered that noe such wyne drawer deliuer any wyne or suffer to be deliuered out of his howse to any who com for yt, vnlesse they bring a noate vnder the hand of some on (e) Mr. of some family and alowed inhabitant of that Towne, nether shall any such Ordinary keep, sell or drawe any hotte waters to any but in case of necessity, and in such moderation for quantity as they may have good grounds to conceave yt may not be abused; and shal be reddy to giue an accompte of their doeings herein when they are cauled thereto, vnder censure of the Court, in case of delinquency.”

“June the 3d, 1647. Tho. Newton, for his misdemeanor in the vessell cauled the Virgin, in giueing Phillipe White wyne, wn he had to much before is fyned 5l,”

“March the 2d, 1647. Anthony Longdon for drunkeneses is fyned 20s.”

Code of laws established by the General Court, May, 1650; article Inkeepers. “Ordered by this Courte and Authority thereof, that no person or persons licensed for common Intertainment shall suffer any to bee drunken or drinke excessively; viz : aboue halfe a pinte of wyne for one person at one time, or to continue tipling above the space of halfe an houre, or at vnseasonable times, or after rein of the clock at night, in or about any of their howses, on penalty of fine shillings for euery such offence. And every person found drunken, viz : so that bee bee thereby bereaued or dissabled in th vse of his vndrstanding , appearing in his speech or gesture, in any of the saide howses or elsewhere shall forfit ten shilling; , and for excessive drinking, three shillings fourpence; and for continning aboue halfe an houre tipling, two shillings six pence; and for tipling at vnseasonable times, or after nine a clock at night, fine shillings for everv offence in these particulars, being lawfully convicted thereof; and for want of payment, such shall bee imprisoned vntil they pay, or be set in the stocks, one houre or more, in soiree open place, as the weather will permitt, not exceeding three houres at one time. If any person offend in drunkenes, excessive or long drinking, the second time they shall pay double fines. And if they fall into the same offence the third time, they shall pay treble fines. And if the parties be not able to pay their fynes then he tha tis found drunken shall be punished by whipping to the number of ten stripes and lie that offends by a excessive or long drinking shall bee put into the stocks for three houres, when the weather may not hazzard his life or limbs; and if they offend the fourth time they shall bee imprisoned vntill they put in two sufficient sureties for their good behavior. Lastly it is ordered by the Authority aforesaid, that all Constables may and shall, from time to time, duly make search throughout the limmitts of their Towns. . . so oft as the shall see cause, for all offences and offenders against this law, in any the particulars thereof; And if upon due information or Complaint of any of theire Inhabitants or other credible persons, whether Taverner, Victualler, Tabler or other, they shall refuse to make search as aforesaid or shall not to their power perform all other things belonging to theire place or office of constableship, then upon complaint and due proofe before any one Magistrate, within three months after such refusal or neglect, they shall be fyned for every such offense ten shillings. No Inkeeper, Victualer, wine drawer or other shall deliver any Wyne, nor suffer any to be delivered out of his howse to any wch come for it, unless they bring a noate of some one master of some familye and alowed inhabitant of that Towne” (etc.a repetition of the last order of May 25, 1647).

On the 6th of April, 1654, another order concerning “liquors & strong water” “Ordered that it is not lawful for any persons whatsoever, male or female, one or other, within this jurisdiction, either directly or indirectly, to sell, barter, lend, giue or otherwise, under any plea; coller or pretence whatsoever, convey to any Indyan or Indyans, smalle or greate, any strong water or liquors, sack or any other some of wine of any kinde, upon penalty of five pounds for a pinto, for every pinto of either wine or liquors aforesaid, & forty shillings for the least quantity; one third of the penalty to bee & belong to those that shall inform & prove any delinquency (& two thirds) to the publique treasury. It is also ordered, that whatsoever Berbados Liquors, commonly called Rum, Kill-Deuill, or the like, shall be landed in any place of this Jurisdictyon, and any part thereof drawn & could in any vessel, lying in any harbor or roade in this Commonwealth, after publication of this order, shall be all forfited & confiscated to this Commonwealth; & it shall be lawful for any person in this Jurisdictyon to make seizure thereof, two thirde parts to belong to the publique treasury & the other to the party seizing. . .and that every ancor of liquors that is landed in any place within this Jurisdictyon shall pay to the pttblique treasury loss. & every butt of wine floss.”

The last clause, concerning duty on imported liquor, was changed in 1658-59. New Haven colony passed an import act in 1655, which was included in the Code of 1656.

The foregoing act of 1654 makes the first mention of “rum.” The earliest citation in Murray’s great historical dictionary is but little earlier, namely. From 1651, as a word used in Barbados for the liquor made from sugarcane, and then described as “a hott, hellish and terrible liquor,” twice as strong as brandy. Its alias was “rumbullion,” a Devonshire word for from the same origin as “rumpus;” and also “Kill-Devil.”

“Brandy” was a shortened form coming into use about this time for “brandywine,” for Dutch brandewijn, that is burnt or distilled wine. “Brand-wine” appears in an English book in 1622.

The first distillery set up in the thirteen colonies was by Governor Kieft on Staten Island. The date is said to be 1642. Some private proposition or attempt to distil seems to have suggested the Connecticut act following. “Mch 9, 1658-59. Its ordred by this Court, that there shall not be any come nor malt stiled into liquors, in any Plantation in this Colony.”

The first brewery in the thirteen colonies was established under Peter Minuit, first governor of New Netherland, 1626-1633, on Manhattan or New Amsterdam.

The brewery did not take root in old New England, and as Skelton said of England nearly a century before the settlement of Plymouth, (1529), “The Dutchman’s strong beere Was not hopt over heere.” The word “brewery” is not found in Johnson’s Dictionary, nor in Bailey’s which succeeded it; but according to Murray’s earliest citation, seems to be merely an Anglicizing of the Dutch, as follows: Hexam, Dutch Dict, 1658 ; Een Brouwerye, a brewerie, or a brewing-house.

The recent brewery advertisement which exploits the mention of beer on the Mayflower omits to mention that it belonged to the master of the ship, and that Bradford speaks of it as “aboard, but on shore none at all” ; nor had the Pilgrims the material for snaking, either as to malt or hops; and as far as the advertisement implies that the “beer” was the same article advertised, it is distinctly misleading; as the following quotations from contemporary English books, one from the very year of Plymouth settlement, show. Plat, Jewel-ho, iii, 16. “It is the Hoppe onelie which make the essential difference betweene Beere and Ale.” This book was published in 1594. 1620, Venner, Via Recta, ii, 36. “Ale by reason of the grossenesse of the substance of it… is more nourishing than Beere.”

Abundant evidence shows that the genuine Old English Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse beer was simply a light-bodied ale. The word is rare in Old English except in poetry, not occurring in Chaucer or Piers Plowman; ale till later, was distinguished as being paler, being made of unroasted malt. Hops were at first imported, and about 1524 began to be grown in England. Murray’s earliest citation for hop beer is 1440.

Oct. 10, 1667, the united colony, (New Haven having joined Connecticut in I664), gave liberty to the county court to grant licences to retail liquors: none but licensed dealers to be allowed to sell liquors.

“This Court vpon the request of Mr. Wm. Rosewell., doe grant him liberty to distill Indian corne to liquers, and allso to retaile liquers, from a gallon of liquers & vp wards. The like liberty is granted to Captn. Tallcott, Mr. Henry Woolcott & Mr. Jos. Willard, vpon the same limitations as is granted to Mr. Rosewell.”

The enterprise was apparently not a success, for we find no farther record as to this kind of distilling; but a provisional regulation by the 1658-9 court seems to imply that it was looking out for some other distilling, probably private, by the retailers of liquor.

As the population and business of the colony increase we find more men coming in for the purpose of making money, rather than for religious and moral ends, and the fight waxes hotter. “Oct. 14, 1669. This Court takeing into consideration the great abuse that comes by the selling of wine, liquers & cider to the Indians, notwthstanding all former orders and endeauores to prevent the same Doe therefore now order that if any person or persons shall be accused by any Indian or Indians for selling of him or them any wine, liquers, cider or any other strong drink, and they be fowned drunck, or the liquers fowned with them, and the person accused shall refuse to purg himselfe by an oath before some Assistant or Comr (being called thereto) that he hath neither directly or indirectly, by himselfe or by any other, sold or giuen the sayd wine, cider, liquers or strong drinke he is charged with to haue sold or giuen, it shall be in the power of the Court before whome any such person is accused to impose such a fine upon him as the law requires for such a quantity as he is charged with to haue sold or given.” May 12, 1670. This Court being sensible of the great abuse that comes by that liberty that has been granted for selling of cider by retaile doe repeal that that liberty that hath been order that grants liberty- as aforesayd d, and doe order that if any person or persons for the future shall retaile cider without a perticular lycense for the same, he shall forfeit fine shillings for euery quart so sold. “Oct. 8, 1674. It is ordered by this Court that after the publication hereof, no innholder or alehouse keeper shall sell any cider, greater or less quantity, aboue fourpence a quart. And it is also ordered that no innkeeper or alehouse keeper shall retayle any liquors aboue fourpence a gill and so after that rate for greater or less quantities.” “May 11, 1676. In order to the preventing of the Increase of Drunckennesse. Upon the cornplaynt of abuses that are groweuing upon us by the retaylors of wines & likurs, this Court doe order that henceforth no person or persons shall retaile any less quantities than an auchor of drink at a time, without special lycence from an Assistant or Commissioner, the same not to be deliuered at seuerall times or in seuerall parcels, but at one time, except such as are allowed thereto by the County Courts, upon the penalty of twenty shilling forfeiture for euery time that any person shall be fowned legally convicted thereof, any law, custome or usage to the contrary notwithstanding. And the Court doe order and command all constables, grand jury men, to take speciall care and to make diligent search for transgressors of this order, and to n lake due presentment of those that shall be fowned transgressors, to the next authority. (Next-nearest.) It is also ordered by the Court and the authority thereof, that the selectmen with the constables of each town in this Colony shall be and are hereby required to take speciall care and notice of all and euery person or persons frequenting publique houses where wine, liqrs, cyder and strong beere is sold, and spending their precious time there, and thereupon to require him or them to forbeare frequenting such places, and if after that any such person shall be fowned in such place and be legally convicted thereof he shall forfeit fine shillings or sit in the stocks one bower for every such offence; and the selectmen and constables shall giue notive to the keeper of such houses of enterteinment that they suffer no such noted person in any of their houses, upon penalty of twenty shillings for euery such default; all such fines to be payd to the county treasury.” (Anchor, the Dutch anker, a measure of from 9 to 10 1/2 wine gallons.)

Oct. 1694 “those who presumptously retayle strong drink or liquors unto men whoe are poore and not able to pay for the same without great prejudice to themselves and famalyes by such irregularities, for the prevention thereof as much as may be, it is therefore enacted by this Court and the authority thereof, that after publication hereof, whatsoever person or persons shall sel or retale strong drink under the quantity of an anchor at a time in any of the plantations of this Colony without lycensse from authority according to law, they shall have no liberty or benifit of the law to recover their debts for the same.”

“May, 1695. Whereas it is fowned by experience that excessive drincking increaseth amongst us, and that the multiplying of lycenced houses to sell strong beer, wine and liqrs, is an occasion of the growth of such disorders, for the prevention thereof this Court loth order.. .that after the publication hereof whosouer shall sell any strong drinck, wine, cyder, or beere, without any lycense, he shall pay a fine of forty shillings, the one halfe to the complayner and the other halfe to the county treasurer; and it is allso ordered and hereby declared that all lycenses for retayling any sort of strong drinck are hereby called in, except such as are lycensed and accordingly doe entertaine strangers and travelors and there horses, and from henceforth whosoever shall desire a lycense he shall first obtayne liberty from the town where he lives and present it to the county court, and then if the county court approve of the same they may grant a lycense to hire. It is allso farther ordered by the authority aforesaid that whosoeuer shall receive a lycensse or hold a lycensse, he shall give a bond of ten pounds that he will to the utmost keep rule and good order according to law so long as he acts by his lycensse, and upon the forfeiture of his bond the, one halfe shall be to the complayner and the other to the county treasury.”

May, 1698. “excise upon all wines, brandy, rhum, and other distilled liquors, cyder and metheglin that shall be sold by retail in any town or place in this Colony;” cider excise, 12 pence a barrel; liquors, 4 pence a gallon. Oct. 1702 & May, 1703. The law revision of 1672 under titles Innkeeper and Drunkenness shall remain in full force as formerly until the other provision be made. Oct. 1703. Unlicensed houses for tippling; masters to pay fine and give bond for good behavior or be whipped, not less than ten nor more than fifteen stripes for each offence, and to remain in prison till the fine be paid or the punishment executed. Further ordered, that no person who is or shall be licensed to be an innkeeper, victualler, taverner or retailer of strong drinke shall suffer any other man’s sonnes, apprentices, servants or negroes to sit drinking in his or her house, or to have any manner of drinke there, without speciall order or allowance of their respective weive parents or masters on pain of forfeiting the summe of ten shillings for every such offence: neither shall any lycensed person suffer aminhabitant of such town where he dwells, or coming thither from any other towne, to sit drinking or tipling in his or her house, or any of the dependencies thereof, or to continue there above the space of one hour at one time, other then travailers, persons upon business, or extraordinary occasion, on the penalty of ten shilling’s for every offence, one half to him or them that shall inform or sue, and the other half to the poor of the town where such offence shall be committed.

All licenses shall be null and void by the first day of March next ensuing.” Oct. 1706. Fine for drunkenness, 10 shillings; for tippling after 9 o’clock at night, 5 shillings: the master or mistress of the family where such tippling shall be, shall forfeit the sum of forty shillings; and for want of payment, the offender to be set in the stocks not exceeding three hours nor less than one hour. All breaches of this law to be heard and determined by any assistant or justice of the peace.”

May, 1712. “Lycenses for keeping houses of publick entertainment shall be of force for one year and no more. . . No person lycenced as aforesaid shall at any time after the next session of the inferior court in each county respectively, be allowed to bring any action against any person whatsoever to recover of such person any sum or sums of money or any other thing whatsoever for any kind or quantities of drink so sold to such persons and drank in such houses.”

May, 1715. Act for the better regulations of Taverns. “Be it enacted… That no person or persons dwelling in any town in this Colony, shall at any time be suffered to drink any strong drink, viz. wine, rhum, cyder, metheglin or brandy, for any mixt drink made with any of them) in any tavern or house of publick entertainment, or the appendices thereof, in the town whereto he or they belong, upon penalty of ten shillings money, for every breach of this act. And the master and mistress of such houses, who shall by themselves, their children or servants, suffer any town dweller to drink any such strong drink in or about his or her house as aforesaid, shall forfeit the sum of thirty shillings money. All breaches of this act to be tryed by one assistant or justice of the peace, and the said penalties by them inflicted upon due proof. All penalties arising upon this act to be half for the use of the; poor of the town in which the offence is committed the other half to him or them that shall complain of such offendor and prosecute his or their complaint to effect, as well the constables and grandjury men as others, and the constables and grand jury men in the respective towns are hereby required to make diligent inquiry after, and presentment of all breaches of this act. May, 1716, the following changes. “Persons selling without license shall pay five pounds for the first offence, tell for the second, and so double for every breach. ..It is recommende to those that keep lycensed houses to prosecute all breaches of this act.. . Selectmen . . . shall cause the names of tavern-haunters to be posted at the doors of every tavern in the same town, by certificate forbidding every tavern keeper on the penalties contained in this act to entertain or suffer entertained such persons, or (allow them) to have drink. ..-or pay five pounds. If the person or persons warned do not forbear, they must furnish sureties for well-behaving, or pay a fine of twenty shillings or sit in the stocks two hours.”

Oct. 1719. Persons unfit having imposed upon count- courts so as to obtain licenses, “Which to prevent, Be it enacted. ..That the civil authority, selectmen, constables and grand jury men in the respective towns shall in the month of January annually nominate the person or persons whom they, or the major part of then, think fit and suitable to keep a house of entertainment for the ensuing year; their names to be sent to the next county court, which court shall grant license to the said persons and no others; always taking a bond of those licensed.”

Oct. 1720. Persons reputed to sell drink without license shall give bond with surety, to the value of twenty pounds that they will not sell unless acquitted by a jury of twelve lawful men of the neighborhood.”

May, 1723. An inhabitant found in a tavern on the night next before or the night next after Lord’s day or after nine o’clock on any other night, if arrested shall pay five shillings. Constables are required to search taverns and may break open lock or door on occasion, and command and warn any inhabitant to depart forthwith; and if refused, shall arrest such person, who upon conviction shall pay ten shillings.. . If a constable refused to inspect public house and to perform his duty, the penalty is forty shillings for every such offence. May, 1727, fine for distilling rum or spirits from molasses three shillings per gallon, and if the quantity distilled be such that the penalty exceeds forty shillings, the offender is to be bound over to the next court; the other colonies not adopting this restriction, it was repealed in October, 1727, on account of the easy importation, which nullified the effect of the act. Various acts for excise, and for the continuance of the laws of 1719-1723, passed, in 1735, 1736, 1755, and 1763 ; excise to be paid by licensed tavern keepers and retailers; retailer not to sell less than one quart, and not to suffer liquor to be drunk in his house; retailer’s bond made 20 pounds in 1756; in 1759 and 1769, drawback allowed to importer who had paid excise, if he carried liquor on which he paid excise, out of the colony again.

Act of the State, Dec. 1776, continues the acts of 1719-1723; as to nomination of licensees by town officers. etc.