From Women's Province to Men's Domain: Gender, Technology, and Alcohol in the Chesapeake, 1690 to 1800

Meacham, Sarah Hand, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Onuf, Peter, Department of History, University of Virginia
Aron, Millicent, Department of History, University of Virginia
Wagoner, Jennings, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

In medieval England, women shared alcoholic beverage production tasks as a community, assigning each woman various days to brew for the village. In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Chesapeake women made raw fruit alcohols for their households and purchased distilled liquors from wealthy planters. By the late eighteenth century, men had assumed control of the alcohol beverage trade in the Chesapeake. From Women's Province to Men's Domàin explores these shifts, focusing on the roles of science, technology and gender.

The Chesapeake was a most anomalous place. In the rest of the western world, men had assumed control of alcohol production by or during the seventeenth century because of new technologies. Chesapeake colonists, instead, returned to relying on women's cider because of their tobacco monoculture and resulting lack of technology.

Small planter households had cider only from July to December because they had no way to preserve it. The rest of the year small planter households depended on large planters' distilled liquors. Until the 1760s large planters dominated the early Chesapeake because they alone had the technology to preserve alcohol. Taverns were not an alternative source to large planters for alcohol. Court records demonstrate that only small planters favored by large planters received tavern licenses. Many of these taverns were operated by women, as the wives of men with licenses.

Large planters lost economic control over their small planter neighbors after 1760 because of the dissemination of new technologies. The spread of distilling knowledge and the needs of the patriot armies in the American Revolution cemented men's assumption of alcohol beverage production. When the Quartermaster's department changed the patriot armies' alcohol rations from beer to rum in 1781 and prohibited women from selling alcohol to the army, it confirmed men's notion that alcoholic beverage production was a field of science and belonged under men's domain.

In the late eighteenth century alcohol became a problem in the Chesapeake. Most studies of temperance are Northern-focused and examine the impact of New England moralists. This usual story does not suffice for the South where white planters' anti-alcohol activities focused on slaves.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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