Although it didn’t become an officially celebrated federal holiday in the United States until 1863, shoddy records indicate the “First Thanksgiving” was held in Massachusetts in 1621. It was said to have been attended by 90 Native Americans and more than 50 Pilgrims.
Whether or not those almost 400-year-old details are entirely accurate, we like to think perhaps at some point during that time the Natives and Colonists were able to put their differences aside and enjoy a beer together. If you’re wondering if this was possible, the answer is a resounding absolutely.
People have been fermenting beverages for thousands of years, and by the early 1600s some were petty good at it. With that in mind, we decided to dig into the history of beer in America--around the time of the first Thanksgiving--to give you a few facts worth sharing with Great Aunt Mable at the table this Thursday.
1. Pilgrims were not the first brewers in America, Native Americans were
Some reports claim that Native Americans’ first taste of alcohol came through trading with the Europeans. Others--specifically, entries from Columbus’ journal--indicate natives already knew how to brew a beer-like beverage made from corn.
Relatively recent archaeological findings support the latter. A 2007 research study found residue on 800-year-old pots and jugs used by the Pueblo tribe highly consistent with that which results from corn-based beer production.
2. The first non-native beer was brewed in Roanoke, VA
Before the 1600s, beer was incredibly hard to come by in Colonial America. This was for a few reasons. First, there weren’t any breweries yet. And second, any beer that was on its way across the Atlantic was probably drunk by sailors. In fact, many people--not just sailors--believed it to be more sanitary and nutritious than water at the time, so it was a preferred drink.
According to the record books, colonists in Roanoke brewed the first batch of non-native beer in 1587. It’s hard to say if it was any good or if the colonists knew what they were doing, though, because people in America continued requesting shipments of beer from England for decades.
3. Colonists took out “help wanted” ads in a London-based paper, asking brewers to come to America
By the early 1600s, research shows the English had already been brewing beer for well over 1,000 years. But when it came to the American colonization, opening up a brewery wasn’t one of the priorities in the early stages.
Consequently, the consumption of beer in America was mostly reliant on shipments from England. The first official shipment landed in Virginia in 1607, but as more people made the trip, this, of course, became inefficient.
And so in 1609, Virginia colonists took out out an ad in a London-based paper looking for brewers interested in coming to America.
4. The first brewery was opened in Manhattan (and possibly all of the New World) by Dutch explorers
In 1612, Dutchmen Hans Christiansen and Adriaen Block, who is attributed to discovering the Connecticut River and also determining that Manhattan and Long Island are in fact islands, opened the first brewery in Colonial America.
Although it was only open for twenty years, it happened to be the birthplace of the first non-native born American in Manhattan, Jean Vigne. Whether it was driven by nature or nurture, it’s hard to say, but Vigne grew up to be a brewer himself.
5. The Mayflower trip was cut short because of a beer shortage
Interestingly, the Mayflower’s original endpoint was supposed to be the Virginia colony, but the ship made an unexpected stop in Plymouth in 1620. So, to what can everyone in the Northeast today attribute that requisite family vacation to Plymouth Rock? Beer!
Apparently, en route to the Virginia colony, the Mayflower started running low on beer. With the fear of God on their minds, but an even greater fear of running out of beer, the seamen forced passengers to the shores of Plymouth.
A quote taken from the ship’s logbook says it all: “We have no time for further search since our provisions, especially beer, are dwindling.”
What Are You Thankful For?
Our biggest challenge today isn’t finding beer, it’s figuring out which beer to choose from the often dozens—sometimes hundreds—of types at the store. 21st century problems, right? So, when everyone’s going around the table this Thursday, saying what they’re thankful for, don’t be afraid to raise your glass to the colonials and natives of the 1600s.
It may have taken the colonials a while to get up and brewing, but you could be bottling before the New Year. Take a look at our new brew kits here.