Who Else Misses Georgian Mass Drinking Events?

A year ago
, we read about certain Georgian era drinking habits of the early decades of the colony of Upper Canada – what is now Ontario. It includes my favorite observations included in Ontario Beer – in fact, one of my favorites in the entire history of drinking in Canada. It is from the events of 12 and, I suppose, 13 August 1827 at Guelph on the celebration of the King’s birthday:

…all sat down and enjoyed a hearty meal. “After the cloth was removed,” toasts were drunk to everybody and every conceivable thing, the liquors, of all imaginable descriptions, being passed round in buckets, from which each man helped himself by means of tin cups, about two hundred of which had been supplied for the occasion… those who remained continued to celebrate the day in an exceedingly hilarious manner, most of them, who had not succumbed to an overpowering somnolency, celebrating the night too, many of them being found next morning reposing on the ground in the market place, in loving proximity to the liquor pails, in which conveniently floated the tin cups…

A particular achievement in Pete Brown’s book on the history of the origins of IPA, the excellent Hops and Glory is how in contextualizing the history of the beer in the history of, you know, history – a rare enough thing in itself – he describes how the Georgians were quite unlike their grand-children, the Victorians. While they were cultural imperialists, they were not exactly racists. Leadership of the East India Company would intermarry into the royal classes of India just as how in mid-1700s upstate New York a man of the status of William Johnsonwould partner with a woman of the status of Molly Brant. We are in a sense as much or more the inheritors of Georgian free-spirited materialism as Victorian clenched paternalism. Maybe. One thing, however, we now definitely miss out on is the Georgian officially sanctioned staggeringly plastered public celebration.

Consider the celebration described in the newspaper report from 26 May 1766 as set out in the New York Gazette. If you click on the image you will see a bigger image of the first paragraph. A pdf of the whole article is here. A great dinner is described celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act, that most sensible piece of imperial legislation aimed at helping the American colonies pay the cost of their own protection. Ingrates. Anyway, after the dinner twenty-one 
separate toasts were given. No wonder the article begins with the statement that the evening didn’t devolve into the riot and the mob “as is common on such Occasions“! My favorite toast is the fourth one: “may the illustrious house of Hanover preside over the United British Empire to the End of Time.” Not a long time. To the end of time. Such ingrates. The list is important in itself as it arises just before the interests leading to the Revolution are fully severed but what is also interesting is the last bit of the paragraph just below the toasts.

The Cannon belonging to the Province, being placed in the State-House Yard, the Royal Salute was fired on drinking the King, and Seven Guns after every succeeding Toast. The whole concluded in the Evening with Bonfires, Ringing of Bells, and Strong Beer to the Populace, and gave general Satisfaction to every Person concerned…

How was riot avoided? Free smashings of strong beer to the populace? What a time! What a splendid form of government!! And it was not just at state events or events of general public importance. Click on that thumbnail to the left. It’s from the New York Gazette of 12 August 1751 but it describes a celebration of another sort of birthday in England, a twenty-first birthday party held on 25 May that year for the Marquis of Rockingham at Wentworth House in Yorkshire. I grew up in Nova Scotia – first made a British colony just two years before this celebration – where both Rockingham and Wentworth are place names. Look what happens at the party:

Liquors drank that Day were three Hogsheads of Small Beer, 13 Hogsheads of Ale, 20 Hogsheads of Strong Beer, 8 Hogsheads of Punch, and 4 Hogsheads of Port Wine; besides 8 Hogsheads of strong Beer drank the Day following. There were 10,000 Guests in the whole; 3000 of which, or upwards, were entertained in the House; and after they had dined, the Victuals were carried out into the Booths to the Populace who had strong Beer and Ale much as they pleased… The strong Beer was most of it brewed in the Year 1730…

A few years ago, Martyn wrote about these coming of age, twenty-first birthday celebrations and their massive 21 year old beers brewed in the year of a child’s birth to celebrate their future adulthood. In fact when I came across this story I was just going to send it to him… until I read him “there is little or no evidence of 21-year-old ales before the 1770s or 1780s.”* It seems the news of these celebrations at Wentworth House for Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham** might represent a wee advance in brewing history. Maybe. Martyn might already know this. Probably does.

So there you are. Three mass gatherings of Georgians well prepared for and well able to meet the demands of massive public intoxications celebrating joy. I don’t think I could survive even a few hours of it. Damn Victorians.

*Being a wee bugger, I kept it for myself. Well, really, I kept it for this story. I would otherwise have sent it to Martyn, the very best sort of colleague in this beer writing game.
**A man who, if listened to, may have altered history to a greater degree.

The Best Advice A Brewer Was Ever Given

The winner hands down is Joseph Coppinger, from his book The American Practical Brewer and Tanner from 1815:

The common mode of keeping malt is in bins situated on upper lofts, often injured by leaks from the roof, and at all times liable to the depredations of rats, which in the other way can be effectually guarded against, and is a highly important object of precaution to be taken by the brewer. Should weevils at any time get into, or generate in your malt, which is common when held over beyond twelve or eighteen months, the simplest and easiest way of getting rid of them, is to place four or five lobsters on your heap of malt, the smell of which will soon compel the weevils to quit the malt, and take refuge on the walls, from which they can be swept with a broom into a sheet or table cloth laid on the malt, and so taken off.

Not three. Not six. Only four or five will do. Best advice. Ever.

The Sale Of Porter In New York City, 1750 to 1783

On 2 December 1783, James Hearn had a noticed placed in the New York Morning Post for his new business, opening the next day in Maiden Lane. Hearn’s Porter-House would offer wines, spirits and porter as well as a variety of dishes hot and in any quantity the single gentleman might desire. He even offered take away meals to anyone “sending their servants for the same.” A particular point is made about his soup. And then you notice the hours of operation. The soup is available from 11 am to 1 pm. The meals will be served from 12:30 noon to 3:30 pm. There’s a certain level of constraint at play.

One of the great things about researching through newspaper archives is how everything is contextualized for you. It is easy to think, read and write about beer in a bubble if all you look at is information about beer. The notice for Mr. Hearn’s new business is placed in the newspaper one week after New York’s Evacuation Day, the day when the last of the British troops left the City after months of evacuations of the Loyalists who became one of the foundations of the nation to the north, Canada. Just two weeks before the proposed opening of the Porter-House, the Governor of New York placed a Proclamation in the Royal Gazette on 19 November 1783, the last edition, confirming how the withdrawal of British troops would occur. Notice that the Governor placing the ad was George Clinton and not Royal commander Sir Guy Carleton. The notice was published on page three.

So, why was it a porter-house? Porter was certainly prized in the years after the end of the American Revolution. As we saw a few weeks ago, in 1798 Caleb Haviland’s porter vault in what is now Lower Manhattan stocked both London porter and American porter. It was “in the best possible order” – ripe and brisk. But the relationship with the drink started at least half a century before that. In the New York Gazette of 5 February 1750, an extract of a letter was published from a new colony at Nova Scotia, written the previous August, praising the provisions… except the lack of “a Pot of good London Porter and Purl.” The earliest advertisement that I have seen for porter in New York City was published in the same paper on 23 December 1751 in a mixed cargo from Scotland* containing cloths and linens, steel and writing paper… plus usquabaug – aka whisky. It appears late in quite a long list of goods. One year later on 18 December 1752, an ad is placed again in the Gazette which places the porter right to the forefront in a range of sizes from butts to five gallon barrels:

One year on, in December 1753 the same William Wright** has a store open. It’s at the city’s docks near the Royal Exchange a store called the London Porter-House. These initial offerings are a few years before the boom in ads about Taunton ale that appear to be concurrent with the 1754 start of the French and Indian War, the North American campaign within the global Seven Years War, and particularly the boosting of the troops in 1757-58. By that point, others are selling the beer not only in New York but also up in Albany nearer the battle front against New France. By the end of the 1750s, the cross-ocean trade in porter and a variety of English ales is well established with literally hundreds of notices for porter appearing in New York newspapers over the following years.

nyroygaz20nov1779porterJumping ahead, we find this ad from 1779 – the middle part of the war – which sets out some very interesting things. If you read it carefully, you will see it is not an ad for porter but an ad for a beer that is claimed to be as good as London’s porter. Imported porter is the standard to be met in the marketplace. The brewery is the one in Maiden Lane which has been taken over from the Revolutionary Rutgers clan of brewers. It’s brewed with English grain, which would be reasonable given how the city was surrounded by fields better known as “no man’s land.” War is bad for beer. But maybe not so bad for beer importation. Even in the middle of 1781, porter was being imported and made available along with other pleasures such as double spruce ale and coffee. By the summer of 1783, well after the impending surrender is inevitable, things are not as pretty. The Royal American Gazette of 7 August 1783 shows that everything is for sale: the billiards table in a house being advertised for leave, plenty of mess beef and pork in barrels, passage for your family to Canada and – yes – still those bottles of porter. All offered in return for cash or, as one notice states, “light and foreign gold taken in payment.” A few weeks later, the British are gone and Mr. Hearn has opened his Porter-House.

Why a porter-house? It was a last luxury of the previous regime. It is stored in cellars and is best when left to age down there. It needs to ripen if it’s going to be brisk. So, in the weeks and months after the peace breaks out and folk like the hatters Bickers* and Son  are returning from the war triumphant, the goods in storage needed to be put to use. The porter still needed to be drunk. Mr. MacPherson had the same idea and opened his porter house a few weeks before the British left. Folk were making do as the new nation had just begun to make its way.

*I did not know until today that a “snow” was a sailing ship somewhat similar but distinct from a “brig.”
** presumably.
*** a rather capable man for a hatter, Colonel Bickers.

Are We Approaching Peak Hard Cider?

The All About Beer column by John Holl posted today begins “[h]ard cider continues to climb in popularity and now the largest producer in the country, Angry Orchard, has its own place to welcome customers….” This is odd because of the following news as reported by The Motley Fool a few weeks ago:

Similar to last quarter, Boston Beer’s founding chairman, Jim Koch, opted to be the bearer of bad news: “Our total company depletion trends of 6% in the third quarter of 2015 matched our year to date trends, but represent a slowing from our expectations, primarily as a result of weakness in our Samuel Adams brand due to increased competition and a slowing in the cider category”… Boston Beer CEO Martin Roper elaborated: “During the third quarter, we […] saw a slowing of the cider category, but believe Angry Orchard maintained its share even as competitors continue to enter or increase investment. We remain positive about the long term cider category potential, but short term growth is less certain. We are planning continued investments in advertising, promotional and selling expenses, as well as in innovation, commensurate with the opportunities and the increased competition that we see.”

I’ve heard a bit about cider in the lead up to American Thanksgiving like this piece on NPR’s Science Friday that focuses on Albany’s Nine Pin Cider. Like the All About Beer column, however, there was nothing indicating that the market for hard cider is softening in the way that Boston Beer has admitted. While most stories last year were all about the boom in cider, The Motley Fool saw clouds on the horizon as early as in May of 2014. That concern continues:

Total U.S. cider sales were down 3.4 percent in the 13 weeks ended Nov. 7, and the rate of decline accelerated to about 7 percent over the past four weeks, according to Nielsen. Four and five years ago, the rate of growth was in the heady triple-digits. Even a year back, the pace of growth was nearly 50 percent. “It’s been getting a lot of attention, because of all the huge growth rates in the past three to five years,” said Danelle Kosmal, vice president of the beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen. “It’s obviously difficult to sustain those triple-digit growth rates.”

So is it a case as I tweeted earlier today just that, “basically, Sam Adams bought a pretendy farm to suggest their cider-like product isn’t industrial” or is it worse? Is the farm one form of “the new packaging and advertising expenses taken on in the second half of 2015” in an effort to retain sales in a shrinking cider market? We get no guidance from the All About Beer column other than the oblique observation that the “vast majority of the company’s main brands will be produced at the Boston Beer facility in Ohio, with the focus of the new location being experimentation and small-batch only recipes.” As Jeff found in June 2014, getting a straight answer about Angry Orchard can be difficult. But at least he asked the questions. If the market for cider continues to shrink, it’ll be interesting to see how long it takes for the farm to be re-purposed or even sold off.

A Few More Thoughts On Craft Brewery Buyouts

I quickly wrote this over at the beer blog’s Facebook page* and thought it was clever enough to repeat:

With respect, the main point is being missed. The disassembling of the US craft beer market is itself the bursting of the bubble. The “big macro v. tiny craft” paradigm failed a long time as the BA’s failed “crafty” campaign illustrated. Continuing to suggest that the path of craft is being validated ignores the greater underlying realities. Big craft bought into scale a long time ago. Craft as brand regardless of what’s in the bottle is market reality. The brewery isn’t being bought. A battle with craft is not being waged. Macro is buying brands and markets to use for other purposes. The rump BA will appear to be quaint soon. Then pointless.

Some interesting comments ensued. I suppose it is related to the posts about how craft will kill itself from a few years back but this is really another thing. Craft being killed off by macro simply eating it after paying billions for the opportunity. We are likely not at mid-meal yet but that’s what’s going on. What we haven’t heard about yet, when you think of it, is how those brewers wanting to be bought but not getting offers are doing. You know, just because they are not worth buying doesn’t make them any less the traitors to the cause… if you are into that whole “cause” thing. What I expect we do know, however, is the guys at Goose Island must be really pissed off unless they took a deferred part of their $39 million chump change payment in the form of percentage share of future brand growth as part of their deal. That stuff is brewed everywhere and sold everywhere now and someone is making buckets of cash.

*…which reminds me of a pet cat having a pet hampster.

E.& J. Burke And A Barrel Of Straw And Stout

ejburkebaseballThis post is just an excuse to post this picture from 1889. Careful readers will know that I play a game or two of 1860s base ball each summer. One of the players on our team, Jordan Press, forwarded this post from MLB historian, John Thorne, on baseball – and even base ball – in art. An early sports themed brewery endorsement, the man on the left is Buck Ewing catcher for the New York Giants. He was one of the first six players to be entered into the Baseball Hall of Fame fifty years after this ad was first produced.

But notice a few things. He is drinking stout. And not just any stout but Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Jess Kidden has a bit of the story about the relationship between Guinness and its NY importer, E.& J. Burke. But notice a few other things. Five bottles lay about the ground. The beer is being enjoyed. And it’s been delivered packed in a barrel of straw. Over on Facebook, Ethan asked about the use of the word “hamper” in an ad from 1774. In another recent post, I discussed a 1790s ad for a NY porter vault where the drink was available by the “tierce” of quarts. I understand in both these cases the thing being described in the barrel of bottles which is stuffed with straw to keep them from breaking in transit. I think Buck Ewing is working his way through a tierce. Or at least having his fair share.

My favorite quantity of beer… well, after the pottle.

New York: Har(r)ison and Leadbetter, The 1760s Odd Couple

What an odd story. As we know from our history as well as right up to today, brewers usually go in the direction from rags to riches – starting out in sheds and garages to become multimillionaires all the while pretending they are still small operators working on the level of a craft industry. Oh, how we laugh when that old fib is rolled out, don’t we? Well, it didn’t work out that way for Har(r)ison and Leadbetter, a brewing concern which operated apparently briefly but seemingly quite splendidly in New York City in the last half of the 1760s. It was located on that wee point sticking out in the Hudson River. Click on the image for a bigger version. As you will see, there is a bit of biography involved as well as a bit of mapping if I am to explain this so bear with me.

Let’s start with the man who was born into this world as George Harison but died as George Harrison – adding another “r” to the family name. This guy was exactly the sort of guy the Revolution was all about. Fortunately, he ended up at one point as the Grand Master of the Masons of the Province of New York, as a story in the New York Journal on 24 October 1771 shows – which means there is a reasonable amount written about him and his by, you know, my brothers… if my brothers would, you know, have me… being as lapsed a Mason as one can be. George (b.1719, d.1773) was born to Francis and father to Richard. His father and his son were great political leaders of their day. Francis was an Oxford trained lawyer who comes to New York in 1708 and, in 1720, was made a member of the New York Governor’s Council; in 1721, becomes Judge of the Court of Vice-Admiralty in New York and, in 1724 is Recorder or Clerk of the City of New York. He returns to England in 1735 and dies in 1740. Big time Loyalist power holder and lackey. Two generations later his grandson Richard (b.1747. d. 1829) is a New York born, Oxford trained lawyer who, after the Revolution ends in 1783 is a New York state legislator, a member of constitutional convention, the first US federal attorney under Washington at New York – and also Recorder or Clerk of New York City. Like grandpa, big wig.¹

Sandwiched between Francis and Richard? George.* What can we say about George? It is clear he is very rich. His father dies in 1740 when George is just twenty-one. That same year, George sells off a 1400 acre farm “six miles above of Newborgh” or what is now Newburgh. Later that decade, he sells off more than ten times that much land. In the New York Gazette of 25 April 1748 a notice is placed for the gathering of creditors who owe money to the estate, to meet George as heir and also to sell 15,000 acres of land which have been divided into 100 and 200 acre lots. In 1750, he buys 2,000 acres of Ulster County, NY. Suffice it to say, George as heir is loaded.

What then of Leadbetter? No so much about Leadbetter because he is not a big wig and might not even have been a wig at all. From 1764-65, he appears to be in a brewery partnership at Brooklyn Ferry with Thomas Horsfield brewing English ale, table and ship beer. The Horsfield’s Long Island Brewery was created in the early 1750s and continued into at least the 1780s… but that is for another post.













Enough about these people. What about the brewery? The partnership is described in the Masonic history of the George this way: “In 1765 he went into the brewing business with his father-in-law and James Leadbetter, a professional brewer.” Hmm… father-in-law. In the 12 May 1766 edition of the New York Mercury, to the upper left, a notice of the opening of the new brewery is announced, stating that only ship and spruce beer were to be had as yet but that ale was coming. To the upper right is the one from 7 July 1766 from the same paper stating that their ale was for sale. Notice that Harrison is located on Broadway. The next April, we see he has moved. The New York Gazette announced on 9 April 1767, as we see in the lower left above, that George moves from Broadway to the brewery lands. Ale, ship and spruce beer are sold and – interestingly – folk are told to be mindful about returning their empty casks. Was this a sign of problems? Whatever it was, things do not last. As we see in the 12 October 1769 edition of the New York Journal to the lower right, James Leadbetter announces that he is leaving for England and is selling his three-eighths interest in the brewery. The notice has a wonderfully detailed description of the site. There is a brew house of 60 by 30 feet with both a 15 and a 50 barrel copper. There is a mill house for grinding malt and pumping water that is 30 by 25 feet. The malt house of 60 by 31 feet is four stories high with two kilns and two lead cisterns for steeping barley. The store house is 70 by 23 feet and comes with an underground vault. There are stables and a cooperage and four dwelling houses along with land including 18 fenced acres. A significant industrial scale brewing operation. And the brewer is leaving.

What happens next? James Leadbetter appears to become a man of leisure and a bit of the lord of land himself – and he doesn’t leave for England. In 1770, Leadbetter becomes on the the original grantees of the Wallace Land Patent, a group of land speculators getting their hands on 28,000 acres along the Susquehanna, a strip two miles wide. In the New York Gazette of 26 November 1770 he is offering organ and harpsichord lessons to gentlemen and ladies. In the early part of the Revolution, Governor Tryon enlists Leadbetter to spy on the Revolutionaries. A James Leadbetter – late of New York with lands in America – has his will proven in 1799 in England** leaving a son in London and a daughter in New York.












The brewery and the Harisons went on, still playing with adding the
second “r” as they do. Though one for a bit more time than the other. Upper left is the obituary for George in the New York Gazette of 26 April 1773. He was only 54 when he died. Before he left us, he seems to have sold the debts of the partnership to a shopkeeper, David Jones of Broadway, who according to this notice in the New York Gazette of 10 Aug 1772 wanted creditors to show up or he was sending the lawyers after them. The upper right image above is a map from 1776 which shows the brewery on the point but does not name it. The map at the very top of the page was printed in France in 1777 from data collected in 1775 – it names it. Notice how the brewery appears to be strategically placed. Not only is it on the river so able to ship out directly, it is just north of the original site of Vauxhall Gardens, a privately run park for outings. It is just south of the Lispenard brewery also on the Greenwich Road. The area was described in testimony in the 1824 court case Bogardus v. Trinity Church in which the actual ownership of lands in the district were being disputed. One witness Benjamin M Brown described his recollection of the area:

At the period of his earliest recollection, there were but few houses in Chambers, Reade, or Barley (now Duane) streets, or in the lower part of Warren street, where it intersects the Greenwich road, now Greenwich street. North of Warren street was a hill, over which this road passed. After rising the hill, the first building on the west side was Harrison’s brewery, close to the North river, and in or about the block between Jay and Harrison streets. On the east side of the road, nearly opposite the brewery, was Speth’s oil mill, in or near Harrison street. The next improvement was Lispenard’s place of several acres of land, lying along the Greenwich road. His mansion house was east of and at some distance from the road, and near to what is now called Desbrosses street. North of Lispenard’s, was a tavern, a place of public resort, called Brannan’s Garden…

A near rural area of both industry and recreation it seems. The thumbnail to the upper right up there is another map, this from 1789 which again shows the facility to the south of Lispenard’s. The site continues to be associated with the family as noted in their Masonic history where we read that Harrison Street was among the streets named by the Vestry of Trinity Church in 1790, laid out by the Common Council in 1795, and deeded to the City by the church in 1802. The brewery and the lands was put up for sale in 1776 (actually 1775 – see below) but probably stayed in the family as they sold several lots at the site in 1824. In that last thumbnail to the lower right up there you can see that by 1803, the district has been leveled, regularized around the surveyor’s 90 degree angle with just an ornamental rectangle on the shore around where the point of land would have been. Quite charmingly, a Harrison Street still exists, crossing Greenwich at the site of the old brewery, now further inland with the fill from the Hudson river docklands. Houses on the street from the first decade of the 1800s still stand.

Update: A little more research a few days later tells a bit more of the story. Here is the notice in the New York Gazette from 27 March 1775:

But the property wasn’t sold. It stayed in family hands throughout the Revolution… well sort of. On 21 March 1788, a letter was published in the Daily Advertiser out of New York which set out a number of defences related to the character of various officials and in particular, Richard Harison, son of George. The anonymous author described how Richard took a neutral stance during the Revolutionary War. While he opposed the taxation imposed on the colonies, he feared the power of Great Britain and feared war would be a disaster. On the other hand he publicly declared early on that

“…he would take no part against this country… This conduct drew on him the resentment of the British, before the arrival of General Carleton, who with-held his house and brewery, at the North-River, for a long time, without paying for the same…

nyindjournal15sept1784ghAfter the peace breaks out in 1784, there was one more kick at the can, one more attempt to make a go of it. Click on that thumbnail. Richard leases the brewery to Samuel Atlee who takes up brewing porter there. In the first weeks of 1785 he adds a pale “transparent” table ale. One of the principals behind the porter operation leaves in June 1785. The malthouse burned in October 1786 and Atlee’s enterprise comes to an end in late 1787 as this notice in the New York Packet of 11 December shows.

[End of Update….]

So a bit of an odd story. A fabulously large scale brewery with seemingly a very short original operating life, a few restarts and not much longer a physical existence. A Loyalist’s dream. “Harison’s folly” maybe even. But a late 1760s brewery built to brew likely at least 250 to 300 barrels a week or 12,000 to 15,000 barrels a year is quite the thing, quite the dream. In a market already well served by the Lispenards and Rutgers as well as Faulkner and Medcef Eden. And likely others. Did it succeed? The family’s other independent wealth makes it a bit hard to know. Wonder if the beer was any good.

¹Like me, a graduate from Kings College though I was over 200 years later after the College relocated to Nova Scotia with the Loyalists. The commander of the British troops in North America, His Excellency General Thomas Gage, did not attend my graduation nor did I, with my sole classmate and pal of John Jay, entertain the audience with a debate on “the subject of national poverty, opposed to national riches.” I did, however, party.
*Note if you are hunting this out, too, that Richard’s son is also George Harison and is also into land but now farther up into northern NY. Federalists are just, after all, pragmatic Loyalists.
** at page 115.

New York: The Elusive Medcef Eden of Golden Hill


The latest project without all that much particular point is turning out to identify the brewers of New York City during the American Revolution aka the War of Independence. So far we have learned about:

William D. Faulkner;
The Lispenards; and
The Rutgers.

There are two more that I have noted so far, Harrison and Eden.¹ They are all located (if not all noted) on the clickable map above. A rather large version of the map for obsessive pouring over can also be found here. The breweries appear, as Craig predicted, to be lumped in distinct brewing areas. As we saw in Albany and is I suppose self-evident, these breweries were built near supplies of potable water. And while both New York and Albany are salt water seaports New York in the year 1775 is largely located on the lower tip of an island, Manhattan. Which means that fresh water comes at something of a premium. Important but I will get into that a bit more in a later post. Today it’s about Eden.

I hadn’t heard of this guy until I came upon this map of the Great Fire of 1776. In an essay recalling the world of New York in the early 1790s, we read:

At Number 26 Broadway, might have been daily seen the light-built but martial and elegant form of Alexander Hamilton, while his mortal foe, Aaron Burr, as we have stated, held his office in Partition street. John Jacob Astor was just becoming an established and solid business man, and dwelt at 223 Broadway, the present site of the Astor House, and which was one of the earliest purchases which led to the greatest landed estate in America. Robert Lenox lived in Broadway, near Trinity Church, and was building up that splendid commerce which has made his son one of the chief city capitalists. De Witt Clinton was a young and ambitious lawyer, full of promise, whose office (he was just elected Mayor) was Number 1 Broadway. Cadwallader D. Colden was pursuing his brilliant career, and might be found immersed in law at Number 59 Wall street. Such were the legal and political magnates of the day; while to slake the thirst of their excited followers, Medcef Eden brewed ale in Gold street, and Janeway carried on the same business in Magazine street; and his empty establishment became notorious, in later years, as the ‘ Old Brewery.’

Janeway is a later story in time and an interesting one in its own right, also for another day. What is important today is that Medcaf Eden brewed ale in Gold Street. Long before I got interested in the antecedents of Canadian brewing in the Loyalist world before the American Revolution I fell for the excellent website “Forgotten New York” and, upon reading about Gold Street, I looked again to see if there was anything I could learn. Jackpot. Not only did was there a FNY a post from nine years ago about Gold Street, he had found Eden’s Alley leading from it. He even posted photos. Go have a quick look at the post.

nycforgottenedensNow, click on the excellent FNY photo of the alley so I can point out a few things. So I can review. It is narrow. It is narrower than the narrowest bit of the photos of Gold Street see that? It’s narrower than the still narrow intersection of Beaver and Green Streets in Albany where in 1776 the King’s Arms was the flashpoint of the local insurrection. Eden’s Alley is that narrow because it is very likely not a street at all but the horse cart lane from Gold Street to the actual brewery. It’s probably the driveway. You can actually see it on the map of the 1776 fire. Check the red circle to the right of the other. Notice the break in street’s buildings at the circle’s 11 o’clock position? That’s Eden’s Alley. Notice how on the photo it leads east-ish according to the sun on the face of the north side wall. Parallel to Maiden Lane to the south where the competition in the form of one of Rutger’s breweries was located. See the bullet shaped carriage wheel bumper protecting the building’s corner from traffic pulling in from Gold Street? We have a few of those still in our old town. Notice another thing. It’s an uphill climb from Gold Street into the property of Medcef Eden. Because it’s built on uneven land. Because uneven land is next to the creeks and rivers where the fresh water was. What an excellent wee photo of an unappetizing back alley in one of the world’s great cities. Look at the topography on this map of NYC from 1783. You will find Golden Hill just inland above the “E” in east river. That hill? That’s what Eden’s Alley is climbing. FNY also traces the lane’s later history.

Medcef Eden passes away on 18 September 1798 leaving two sons, Joseph and Medcef Junior who die without children of their own. The will of Medcef Sr provided for this eventuality and, in doing so, tells us something about Eden’s origins.

It is my will and I do order and appoint, that if either of my said sons should depart this life without lawful issue, his share or part shall go to the survivor. And in case of both their deaths without lawful issue, then I give all the property aforesaid to my brother John Eden of Lofters, in Cleveland in Yorkshire; and my sister Hannah Johnson of Whitby, in Yorkshire, and their heirs.

Which means Medcef is very likely a Yorkshireman who immigrates to the new world leaving his own family behind. And what does he do between immigrating and expiring? He brews.










The ad to the upper left is from the The New York Gazette of 29 September 1777. Eden is buying hops and barley while selling strong and ships beer. In the upper middle ad from a year later on 2 November 1778 he is now selling four sorts of beer: ale and strong beer, ship’s beer and spruce beer. Almost three years later, the ad to the upper right from the The New York Gazette of 22 October 1781 focuses on his strong ale which he states “exceeds both in flavour and quality, any that has been brewed since the revolution.” By the time the lower left ad is placed in the New York Independent Journal of 1 June 1785, the war has been over for over a year and a half. He is selling double spruce beer, advertising rates by the barrel, half-barrel, ten gallon or five barrel. Finally, the ad to the lower right placed in the New York Daily Gazette from 21 June 1791 informs the public that George Appleby has taken over the brewing operations and is offering spruce beer, ship’s beer and others.

The immediate thing that strikes me is that Eden appears to have managed the transition from war to peace quite successfully. He stays on in the City during the Loyalist times and stays on after they leave and are replaced by the Revolutionaries. Just two month’s before the inevitable departure of the last of the British, according to the 22 September 1783 edition of the New York Gazette, Eden is buying barley. Eden’s neighbour, the widow Rutgers on Maiden Lane, left with the rest of the “popular party” as soon as the British showed up in 1776 – according to the 1784 court case over British use of her brewery during the war. Eden stays put.

There’s more to be found out of course even if in 1920, The New York Times could find no record of the brewery. Plenty of records likely no one other than a handful of masters students might have bothered looking at over the decades. But for starters that is an introduction to Medcef Eden – Yorkshireman, New Yorker and brewer.

¹Oops. One more. Robert Appleby, a spruce beer brewer on Catherine Street near the Ship Yards on the East River who advertised in the Royal New York Gazette on 19 April 1781.