Monday, April 16, 2012

Was Paul Revere Tipsy?

Medford, Massachusetts, is well-documented as the rum capital of the colonial era. Distilleries thrived here and the drink was a major export. It was, in fact, the very backbone of the colonial economy and, some even say, the only thing that brought enough money in to keep the fledgling colonies going. "Medford Rum" was the very first American brand and resounding success story. It was so successful that other distilleries began using branding irons to stamp the label "Medford Rum" onto the oak barrels of their own rum to capitalize on it's popularity, also making it America's first knockoff.

This is the approximate location in Medford Square where shipbuilding and rum distillation took place. Rum was big business and historians all concur that colonists were quite the boozehounds with an average per capita consumption of five glasses a day including women and children! It was probably even higher as some religious colonists completely abstained. Because of the poor sanitary conditions at the time most people refrained from drinking the local water supply. Cider and rum were clearly the alternative choices. In any case, they drank far more than today's average American.

A mural depicting the early shipbuilding days in Medford, which was an important port city in colonial times. If you remember your american history lessons you'll recall the "Triangle Trade" - slaves to molasses to rum. Well, Medford was the rum stop in that triangle. A bustling, successful colonial city with many taverns, sailors and all that rum. The Medford Militia served as the loosely-organized yet elite police force that came to assist when the combination of those three led to public dismay. The head of the Militia, which, together with other similar, local militias formed the Minutemen, was none other than Isaac Hall, the second generation owner of the distillery, and that was why Revere stopped at his home on his now famous ride to Lexington. Again, historians agree that Revere was probably invited in and given rum to fortify himself for his night-long ride in pitch darkness, although it is not specifically documented. In his 2004 book RUM, historian Charles Coulombe wrote that Captain Hall was entertaining his sixty Minutemen who were "liberally imbibing" in his rum. He also writes: "After he told them of the advance of British regulars, they set off for Lexington; alas, they were too befuddled to find the place and never did make the battle."

The Isaac Hall house on High Street, built in 1703, is still a stop along the annual reenactment of Paul Revere's ride on Patriot's Day. The building is now the Gaffey Funeral Home. In his book THE FOUNDING FOODIES, author Dave DeWitt quotes Barbara Kerr of the Medford Historical Society on the unsubstantiated rumors of Revere's wobbly ride: "It's much more likely that the Halls gave him a drink of the rum that they themselves would have been drinking instead of water. So I think it very likely that Paul Revere had a reasonable amount of Medford Rum."

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