Monday, November 24, 2014

My People Have Been Pro-Booze for a Long Time

A little something about me or, rather, one of my ancestors, William Cowdery.

William wasn't on the Mayflower. He arrived ten years later and was one of the founders of what is now Wakefield, Massachusetts. For many years, he was the town clerk.

In 1654, the General Court of Massachusetts "empowered and ordered" William to "sell wine of any sort, and strong liquors, to the Indians, as to his judgment shall seem most meet and necessary for their relief in just and urgent occasions, and not otherwise, provided he shall not sell or deliver more than one pint to any one Indian at any one time upon any pretence whatever."

You're welcome.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Dan A. Root said...

That's mind blowingly awesome...

Michael S said...


Native Americans in our area were killed by conflict or disease; or deported. They are unlikely to thank your ancestors for selling them booze.


Unknown said...

Hope William printed "Distilled in.,." and not "Produced and bottled by..." on his labels! ;-)

Eric Z said...

Hi Chuck,

I'm guessing you intend this as a lighthearted post for Thanksgiving but I'm going to differ with your interpretation of the section you quoted.

Yes the order of the General Court of Massachusetts gave William Cowdery the authority to sell alcohol but that doesn't make it "pro-booze". The language of the quotation reflects a common paternalistic attitude towards Native Americans that believed they were incapable of moderating their alcohol consumption and therefore needed Europeans to ration and control how much they drank.

The entirety of your post reflects a simplified storybook understanding of the interactions and relationships between Europeans and Native Americans. Your simplification of the past reminds me of the many historical fictions found on the back of whiskey bottles that you rightly call out. Your simplification of the past also does a disservice to William Cowdrey because it leaves the most important questions unanswered. How did he execute this policy? Was he simply a man of his time who shared the paternalistic view of Native Americans illustrated in the order of the General Court? Or, was he an iconoclast who challenged and/or subverted the discourse of his time and acknowledged the equal humanity of Native Americans? That would have been an interesting post to read.

Also, I'm not sure what I or Native Americans are suppose to be thanking you for.