Drinking Laws in the Early Colonies
Evidence of fermented beverages existed as early as 10,000 BC, and may have even predated bread as a staple of a person’s diet. So, drinking alcohol is not a new concept by any means. In colonial America, alcohol played an important role for even the earliest settlers. In contrast to many modern beliefs, the Puritans did consume alcohol. In fact, when the Puritans set sail to Massachusetts on the Mayflower, they carried 42 tons of beer and 10,000 gallons of wine in contrast with only 14 tons of water. However, it should be noted that drinking beer and wine was seen as safer than water because of the unsanitary sources used for drinking water in colonial times.
Shortly after arriving to the New World, the colonists passed laws concerning alcohol. For example, in 1633 the Plymouth Colony prohibited the sale of spirits "more than 2 pence worth to anyone but strangers just arrived," while in 1637 Massachusetts ordered that no person shall remain in any tavern" longer than necessary occasions." The general attitude toward alcohol in the colonies emphasized moderate consumption and an increased concern over the negative effects of drunkenness. But the reality was that colonists drank their fair-share of alcoholic beverages.
By the turn of the 18th century, the government quickly realized that liquor laws could provide a large source of money for the government through the use of taxes, fines, and license fees. During the Civil War taxes were increased on alcohol, and from 1863 and 1868 taxes went up from 20 cents per gallon to $2.00 per gallon. However, there was no attempt to prohibit the manufacture, importation, sale, or consumption of alcoholic beverages. And there was no national minimum drinking age. But this all began to change toward the end of the 19th century.
Next, let’s take a look at the national movement to prohibit alcohol – The Prohibition Years.