Drinking vs. Quaintness


Rockport, Massachusetts, a dry town for the last century and a half (except for a brief period right after the repeal of Prohibition), may go partly wet. At a town meeting on Monday, an overwhelming majority of the 1,000 or so attendees endorsed a petition asking the state legislature to approve a ballot measure that, if passed by local voters in April, would allow alcohol to be served in restaurants. Bars and liquor stores still would be banned.

A.P. reports that critics of the plan "say the sale of alcohol will erode the quaint New England character that gives Rockport its appeal." This is an odd complaint, since old-time New Englanders were big drinkers.

The Puritans–who, like most Englishmen, were leery of water as a beverage–brought beer with them on the Mayflower and started brewing their own within a few years; they also drank hard cider, wine, brandy, and rum. In colonial New England, settlers of all ages and both sexes drank alcoholic beverages throughout the day, and taverns ("ordinaries") were commonplace. The popularity of drinking during this period is reflected in the estimate (cited in Mark Edward Lender and James Kirby Martin's Drinking in America) that Americans in the late 18th century consumed something like six gallons of absolute alcohol per capita, compared to around two gallons nowadays.

There's little danger that allowing pre-dinner cocktails or wine and beer with meals will make Rockport that quaint.

[Thanks to Jeff Schaler for the tip]