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Ohio’s Love of Alcohol: Pre-Civil War

Dayton DUI Attorney Charles Rowland > DUI Law  > Drugs & Alcohol  > Ohio’s Love of Alcohol: Pre-Civil War

Ohio’s Love of Alcohol: Pre-Civil War

Approximately 150,000 years ago Austalopithecus Man discovered that life was just a little bit more livable when he sucked on some of the fruit that lay rotting and fermenting in the hot, pre-history sun.[1]  By 12,000 BC, the Sumerians agree to live in close proximity for the purpose of pooling resources, growing crops and telling the first mother-in-law jokes.[2]  This started what we call civilization. “The search for unpolluted drinking water is as old as civilization itself. As soon as there were mass human settlements, waterborne diseases like dysentery became a crucial population bottleneck. For much of human history, the solution to this chronic public-health issue was not purifying the water supply. The solution was to drink alcohol.”[3] “Most of the world’s population today is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their genetic tolerance (and love) for alcohol.” [4]

With civilization came the world’s first beer recipes[5] and beer songs.  An actual inscription dated to 2000 BC states,

“When I have abundance of beer,

I feel great.  I feel wonderful.

By the beer I am happy

My heart is full of joy, my liver is full of luck,

When I am full of gladness, my liver wears the dress

     befitting a queen.”[6]

By 2400 BC, beer was being given to the slaves who spent their days building the pyramids.[7]  Alcohol was a hit, right from the start and laws codified its important status.  In 1790 BC, the Code of Hammurabi set forth regulations about how wine and beer could be made, sold and purchased in Babylon.[8]  In China, the rage of spitting chewed up rice and millet into a tub to ferment led Confucius to say, “Man with big mouth should make beer, not boasts.”  Society had come a long way if people are willing to literally share spit as long it has a “little kick.”

If you wandered around the Aegean coast around 700 B.C. you would find an abundance of alcohol; wine specifically.  The libation was a mainstay of Hellenistic society and it was used to honor the gods, as currency, as medicine, as a thirst-quencher and to get drunk.  In fact, using alcohol was considered a civic duty in Athens.  At great gatherings and feasts officials, known as oinoptai made sure that the wine was distributed fairly.  By showing the citizens that government could be trusted with something as important as wine, the Greeks ushered in demokratia or “people power” and entered a classical age marked by an unparalleled creativity unmatched in the history of mankind.[9]

According to epic poet Panyasis: “Wine is like fire, an aid and sweet relief, Wards off all ills and comforts every grief,  Wine can of every feast the joys enhance,  It kindles soft desire, it leads the dance.” The word philopotes means “lover of the drinking session” and is used to distinguish the children of the god Dionysus from those lowly “water drinkers” who lacked passion and were believed to give off a terrible odor.  Dionysus is the god of wine and drunken revelry in Greek mythology. He is a patron of the theater and an agricultural/fertility god. He was sometimes at the heart of frenzied madness. Whereas the Sun God Apollo personifies the cerebral and aspirational aspects of mankind, Dionysus represents the libido, gratification and appreciation for our time of enjoyment here on earth.

Around 30 AD, a little known carpenter vaulted to fame by miraculously turning bad ol’ water into a light and fruity merlot with a strong pomegranate finish[10] thereby saving an otherwise lackluster wedding feast.[11]  His followers would make the ritual consumption of wine a staple of religious ceremony.  By 500 AD, their monastic ancestors took over the regulation and brewing of beer, which Franciscan philosopher Raimundus Lullus declared was “ultima consolation corporus humani” (the greatest comfort for the human body).[12]

The prophet Mohammed disagreed and declared alcohol evil for followers of his religion.[13]  Now having a little more time on their hands, the Muslims invaded Europe in 711.  All the fun would have ended but for the heroic Charles “The Hammer” Martel and his band of plucky Frankish and Burgudian troops who fought back the invaders (then called Moors) at the Battle of Tours in 732.  The heady celebration that followed is known as the Dark Ages.[14]  Scottish Friar John Corr invented proper scotch whisky in 1494 to treat a wide variety of ailments, not the least of which was sobriety.  Not to be outdone, the Germans passed the Reinheitsgebot law of 1516 regulating what ingredients could be used to make beer.[15]  Beer, wine and other alcoholic brews had become an important staple in every aspect of life and was afforded such status.  William Shakespeare made copious use of alcohol in the popular entertainment of the day creating characters like the tippler Sir Henry Falstaff who would come to define western culture.[16]

In 1620 the Puritans decided to make landfall when their supplies were running low, “especially our beere.”[17]  The fifty-five signers of the Constitution celebrated the birth of our country with fifty-four bottles of Madeira, sixty bottles of claret, eight bottles of whiskey, twenty-two bottles of port, eight bottles of hard cider, twelve beers, and seven bowls of an alcoholic punch so big that ducks could swim in them.”[18]  Benjamin Franklin was, as usual, on to something when he said, “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”  There was rampant prejudice against drinking water in colonial America, even going so far as to print handbills warning of the dangers of drinking water.[19]  As our modern drink-deity Frank Sinatra pronounced whenever a waiter brought him water… “Get that stuff outta here; you could drown in that stuff.”[20]

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase and ran up a Presidential wine bill of $10,835.[21]  He preferred wine, but it was whiskey which fuled the migration west.  By 1825, three million American had migrated west of the Alleghenies and took their stills and whiskey barrels with them.  The first counties they founded covered vast regions. One of these original, huge counties was Bourbon, established in 1785 and named after the French royal family. While this vast county was being carved into many smaller ones, early in the 19th century, many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon. Located within Old Bourbon was the principal Ohio River port from which whiskey and other products were shipped. “Old Bourbon” was stencilled on the barrels to indicate their port of origin.[22]   As Mark Twain, no stranger to a stiff drink noted, “How solemn and beautiful is the thought, that the earliest pioneer of civilization, the van leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railway, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary – but always whiskey!  “Not only was whiskey ubiquitous in [the Ohio settlements], it was considered to be a sacred substance that no democratic government should contaminate with taxation.”[23]

The hearty souls who settled Ohio and made a life along the river were a hard class, “renowned for their physical strength and their hard drinking and brawling, both ashore and afloat.”[24]  They banded together to fight vicious Indian Wars and establish rough-hewn outpost towns.  Breweries were a staple of towns in the frontier of Ohio from the beginning.  In Dayton, Ohio, Col. George Newcom, an early settler, had a tavern and a brewery established by 1810.  Whiskey, particularly bourbon, was king!  “By 1810 federal statistics show that the six main whiskey-producing states (Ohio among them) together distilled twice as many gallons of whiskey per annum as there were people in America.”

In 1810 the average American man, woman and child downed whiskey.  Beer, wine and hard cider were left in the dust.[25]  According to Iain Gately in his fantastic book Drink, nine million women and children drank twelve million gallons of whiskey per annum and three million men drank sixty million gallons per annum.  Our love of whiskey led to yet another American contribution to the world: the cocktail.  The cocktail was invented for those timid souls who did not want to stomach their whiskey solo in the morning.  Breakfast in the frontier was said to consist of “three cocktails and a chaw of terbacka.”  Our reputation throughout Europe was hard-drinking dawn-til-dusk tippling brawlers with a taste for the hard stuff.[26]

The best example of what life in frontier Ohio was like is captured at the opening of the Greene County Courthouse on May 1, 2003.[27]  Benjamin Whiteman was appointed an associate judge and reached the log cabin “courthouse” where he was met by an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers.  The only disappointment was that the new court had no cases.  There was, however, a barrel of whiskey and a goodly supply of tin cups.  As the whiskey barrel became emptier songs were sung low and the settlers became high.  “One bleary-eyed settler squinted at another and for some obscure reason mumbled, ‘you know s’mthn… you’re no bett’r n’ a hog thief.’  The man so accused reached into his pocket and took out his purse.  He turned to Whiteman with a tight smile, ‘How much will it cost me, Judge, to beat the hell out pf a damn liar?’  Immediately a wild melee broke out and the first court day in Greene County turned out to be a roaring success after all.  Eighteen cases of assault and battery were tried.”[28]

And so it was! This period from 1800 through 1850 represented the high (or low?) point of whiskey drinking on the frontier.  With no radio, television, theatres and precious few books, booze was the entertainment.  The Civil War did nothing to stop the flow of alcohol.  A ration of whiskey was an expectation of serving in the Union forces.  Confederate soldiers gave hooch the nickname of “Oh-be-joyful” and set up barrels of whiskey in the middle of their camps.  Ulysses S. Grant was a known tippler and when folks complained of his drunkenness to President Lincoln, he famously said he would ask, “the quartermaster of the army to lay in a large stock of the same kind of liquor, and would direct him to furnish a supply to some of my other generals who have never yet won a victory.” As the war drug along supplies of alcohol grew scarce amongst Confederate soldiers and may have contributed to the very low morale.[29]

The Civil War had lasting effects on Americans and Ohioans drinking habits.  Before the War, there were only 1,269 breweries in the United States.  After the War total output exceeded one million barrels and by 1873, 4,131 breweries produced nine million barrels of beer.[30]  Civilization, domestication, and a good water supply and plenty of German immigrants combined to produce lager – the true American beer.  The “good water” landed on fertile soil and beer once again became king.  Replacing the common beer, ale and porter, lager had an effervescent quality that people loved.  Dayton was typical of cities of the day and had several breweries: Dayton Brewing Company, Stickle Brewing, Wehner Brewery, Riverside Brewery and the Third Street Brewery.[31]  By 1908 more than 200,00 barrels were being brewed in and around Dayton with over $300,000 being paid each year in wages.[32]  As the forces of temperance gathered strength after the Civil War, beer makers touted lager and the national drink and the beverage of moderation.[33]

[1] The only downside was the probability of violent food poisoning.

[2] What’s the definition of mixed emotions? When you see your old mother-in law backing off a cliff in your new Mercedes.

[3] Steven Johnson’s  “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

[4] Steven Johnson’s  “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

[5] There is no evidence that Sumerians worried about the carb content of their beer however they may have pioneered the practice of having their labels turn blue when the beer was just cold enough.

[6] This is not a joke but an actual inscription as quoted in Alcoholica Esoterica by Ian Lendler.

[7] This also may have been the origin of the evolutionary need of most men to require a beer to do any work requiring them to be in the sun for more than 15 minutes.

[8] The controversial requirement of a 20% tip for parties over 6 was removed from the final stone tablet.

[9] This idea is currently being considered by the Obama administration and would definitely make C-Span more interesting.

[10] Even miracle wine was not enough to satisfy wedding guest Simon of Snobbor who noted that the wine lacked a certain “substantiality of bouquet” that characterized a fine Gallilean vintage.  He was promptly and properly stoned by twelve of the carpenter’s friends.

[11] John 2:1–11; with a tip of the hat to Frank Kelly Rich’s Modern Drunkard: A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century.

[12] Beer (as liquid bread) did not count as food for fast purposes which may account for the lack of women monks.  Only dudes could spend their days drinking beer and hanging out with other dudes.

[13] “Shaitân (Satan) wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allâh (God) and from As-Salât (the prayer). So, will you not then abstain?”Qur’an 5:91

[14] Many scholars now believe that this period was rich in history, but the drunken historians of the day were too wasted to chronicle the events.  Just like that twenty-something receptionist in most law offices, they were hung-over and called in sick.  Except in their case the called it the Black Plauge.

[15] The law dictated that beer could be made from only four ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water. What no rice? The Anheuser and Bush families promptly fled the country.

[16] Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom

[17] Angry Puritans blamed frat guys who wasted beer on a disastrous game of beer pong which lasted the entire voyage.

[18] Frank Kelly Rich’s Modern Drunkard: A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century, pg. 166

[19] Drink, Iain Gately, pg. 230.

[20] Sources: Drink by Iain Gately, Gotham Books, 2008; various sources of the Sinatra quote and Ambitious Brew, Maureen Ogle, Harcourt; and Good Spirits, Gene Logsdon

[21] That’s at least $103,000 in today’s dollars, Frank Kelly Rich’s Modern Drunkard: A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century, pg. 167

[22] Cowdery, Charles K., Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, p. 25

[23] From Drink, by Iain Gately, pg.217.

[24] Drink by Iain Gately, pg. 228

[25] Drink by Iain Gately, pg. 231

[26] For a visual imagine a group of MMA fighters in Stone Cold Steve Austin tee-shirts who have a picture of Calvin pissing on the English flag attached to the back of their mule-drawn wagons.

[27] This account is taken from many sources the best is set forth in Allan W. Eckert’s The Frontiersmen.

[28] Allan W. Eckert’s The Frontiersmen. It should also be noted that the author is from Greene County, Ohio and things have not changed all that much.

[29] Yes, I’ll say it…Booze saved the union!

[30] Drink, Iain Gately, pg. 315

[31] Breweries of Dayton, Curt Dalton, pg. 4

[32] Breweries of Dayton, Curt Dalton, pg. 4

[33] Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, Maureen Ogle,

Charles Rowland


Charles M. Rowland II has been representing the accused drunk driver for over 20 years. Contact him at (937) 318-1384 if you find yourself facing a DUI (now called OVI) charge.

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