Patsy Young – American Brewer, Fugitive From Slavery – Happy Beer Hunting

Young’s success was all the more remarkable as beer brewing was a much less developed business than the distillation of spirits in the early 1800s in North Carolina. In 1808, grocers from Fayetteville and Wilmington advertised in the Raleigh Registry to advertise a stock of “linens, banners, cutlery, hardware… Also on hand, Fifteen STILLS, Philadelphia made”. The 1810 census counted 5,400 stills in North Carolina, more than any other state. They produced 1.4 million gallons of spirits from distilled fruit and grain, valued at $ 758,000.

Yet North Carolinians also enjoyed wine and beer, in addition to spirits. Other grocer’s ads detailed the varied tastes and greedy thirst of customers around the time Patsy Young was starting to brew as a free woman. “I just received directly from new York“, announced a Raleigh grocer in 1813,” Wine, Rum, and London Brown Stout. “In 1818, another grocer announced the availability of the” 4th Proof J[amaican] Rum, Cogniac [sic] Brandy, Holland Gin, Malaga Wine, LP Tenerife [Wine], old Madeira [Wine]», All acquired in New York. A third grocer sold in 1824 “London and Philadelphia Porter”, the latter “selected for medical uses”.

As these advertisements indicated, much of the beer available in the early 19th century in North Carolina was imported from New York, Philadelphia, or Great Britain. Home-brewed beers were unworthy of newspaper mention. Although a handful of professional breweries opened in North Carolina in the late 1700s, they were either short-lived or too small to attract the attention of authorities. The federal census of 1810 did not identify any breweries in the state. Of the 132 breweries nationwide, 103 were concentrated in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio. Ninety breweries produced 75% of the nation’s professionally brewed beer. Even much later in the century, North Carolina would continue to lag behind in this regard. In 1870 and 1880, The Western Brewer counted only one brewery in North Carolina. In 1890 and 1900, there was none.

Brewing in the early United States got off to a slow start for several reasons that underscore, once again, the skill with which Young had to brew to build a reputation. American brewers suffered from a shortage of “strong bottles” in which to store their beer, wrote an economist in an essay accompanying the 1810 US Census reports. There was also a shortage of cork stoppers to seal these bottles. [sic]”—And even the wire to secure the plugs.

Beyond a general difficulty in procuring barley, a distinct challenge was “The absence or scarcity of malting,” continued the economist, “[which] also operated against brewing in small and in families. Plus, distilled spirits were simply easier to produce and store than beer, he admitted. And cider was “particularly convenient” for Americans living in more densely populated parts of the country, such as New England or the upper Mid-Atlantic, since “orchards allow cultivation of the soil.” A greater amount of cider and other crops could emerge from a small patch of land than beer from a barley field.

There was also the “particular American taste for strong or frothy beer, which our summers do not favor.” The Americans of 1810 wanted the “head or top of mousse (or cream, as it is popularly called here),” the economist observed. But such a request was silly, for it had been a “main cause[e] inconsiderable progress in malt liquors. Forget the moss, he growled.

Still, the economist endorsed Americans’ growing taste for beer and encouraged its popularity. “[P]Orter, pale ale, brown ale, strong ale and small ale, and even spruce and molasses beer “- American brewers in 1810 were already able to brew” for all tastes and to suit all climates and to all consumers ”. The choice of beer was also a moral choice, suggested the writer. With less intoxicating power per sip, beer, wine, cider, and perry offered “healthier” alternatives to spirits.

Best, perhaps, from an economist’s point of view: The growth of the US brewing industry would push the country’s nascent economy toward independence. American breweries and distilleries should serve as a market for “our grain, our hops, our orchards, our wood and our fuel,” he considered. Taxes on beer brewed in the United States, in addition to increased taxes on imported beer, wine and spirits, would fill government coffers and encourage the growth of the domestic brewing industry.

In short, according to this economist, beer made sense to American health, agriculture, industry and economy.

Patsy Young probably learned how to brew beer from another slave, perhaps on Nathaniel Hunt’s plantation or in the kitchen of a Halifax tavern. What kinds of beers did she brew as a free woman between 1808 and 1823? What grains and other ingredients were available to him? American cookbooks published in the late 1700s and early 1800s included recipes for beer flavored with spruce essence; sage; ginger and lemon; the “sassafras root shavings “and” crushed allspice; ” as good as sweet fern, horseradish and wintergreen. A midwife from Maine wrote in her diary on April 5, 1805, that she “ha[d] drank a beer made from hops and Gilliad balm [sic]. ” molasses, ground and toasted bread, brown sugar, wheat bran and Rye flour offered hungry yeast sugar when malted barley was not available for beer.

Young people may have reached some of these ingredients, depending on availability and local tastes. These details must be extrapolated or imagined. The simplest and most important fact is for sure: she brewed well enough to survive for almost 15 years of freedom, and possibly more.

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Paul Cox

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