Was It a Beer Shortage That Brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock?

“We could not now take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer, and it being now the 19th of December” – *

gotbeerBeer was a dietary mainstay in 1620. Chances are the beverage in question was “ship’s beer,” a not-very-alcoholic concoction that, along with the even weaker “small beer,” was drunk in formidable quantities during the colonial era (upwards of a quart per day seems to have been a typical ration).

Undoubtedly an advantage was that, unlike more perishable foodstuffs, ship’s beer would keep during long voyages and, having been boiled, was likely purer than ordinary water. Instead of continuing on to Virginia, they landed at Plymouth Rock, and set the settlers ashore to drink local water, so the crew could have what was left of the beer. About half the original settlers perished the first year.

Turkey_Drinking_Beer_Funny_Clipart_Large-1 However, the ship’s stock of beer ran out shortly thereafter, and the colonists could not find the needed ingredients to make more for quite some time. There was no beer, in fact, at the first holiday feast. Probably no turkey either. And the Wampanoags reportedly “crashed” the first harvest festival when, fearing a battle was underway,  they came to investigate the shooting of guns and cannons by the colonists. Since the warriors outnumbered the colonists two to one, it seemed like a good idea to invite them to dine with them and partake in the revelries. But no beer was served.

The feast we largely know as Thanksgiving happened some 16 years later,  a result of the defeat of the Pequot tribe and the ensuing proclamation by a “thankful” Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, William B. Newell. In more recent times it is a simply a day set aside to reflect on our bounty, our trials and triumphs over hardships, and be close to those in our family who stand by us throughout the year.

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful we have so much good beer to share now!!!

* – (Mourt’s Relation, 1622, commonly attributed to colonists William Bradford and Edward Winslow).

Bob Shoemaker

Grew up in Renton, WA. Writer. Photographer. Homebrewer. Woodworker. Beer lover. UW grad. - 14 years in Marketing and Advertising communications - 16 years in technical product support, quality, loyalty, support analyst - 12 years as communications business owner