Puritans drinking

Strong drink

It is said that the Pilgrims loaded more beer than water onto the Mayflower for their trip to the New World, and they began brewing immediately upon arrival. Our Ipswich forefathers consumed malt beer and other alcoholic drink, but the production and sale was carefully guarded. A colony statute in 1637 read: “Every town shall present a man to be allowed to sell wine and strong water made in the country, and no other strong water is to be sold.”

Samuel Appleton operated a malt-kiln near his home, which stood very near the railroad track on Topsfield Rd. The Town Record under date of December, 1641, reads: “Mr. Appleton promised to have a malt house ready by April next, and to malt such corn as shall be brought from the people of the Town at such rates as shall be thought equal from time to time, and no man (except for himself) is to have any made elsewhere for the space of five years next ensuing.” In 1648, Appleton was permitted to cut 12 loads of ash in the Commons for the malt fires. In 1665, his neighbor John Whipple was also engaged in the malt business, licensed to sell “not less than a quart at a time and none to be drunk in his house.”

The Andrew Burley house, Ipswich ma, 1899
The Andrew Burley house, Ipswich ma, 1899

Beer and plain food were served at the ordinaries, which were closely monitored less they engage in illegal sales to the town’s young men, and they were permitted to open only during the day. The earliest recorded license was granted to Robert Roberts by the Court of Assistants in 1635. In 1639, Richard Lumpkin opened the second ordinary in town, to which the congregation would rush for warm food and warmer cheer after a long sermon in the cold meeting-house. In 1643, the widow Lumpkin was reimbursed “for the provisions she had furnished the soldiers.” Robert Payne, Mr. Bartholomew, and Jeremy Belcher received licenses in 1652. Daniel Ringe was licensed to keep an ordinary in 1661 but “not to draw beer above a penny a quart, and to provide meat for men and cattle.”

Licenses were granted to the town’s most important leaders and men of good character, including John Wainwright, Francis Wainwright, Jr., Capt. Daniel Wilcomb, Abraham Perkins, Michael Farley, Andrew Peters, Mr. Symonds and Jonathan Wade. They were bound “not to sell by retail to any but men of family, and of good repute, nor sell any after sunset; and that they shall be ready to give account of what liquors they sell by retail, the quantity, time and to whom.”

In 1668, Quartermaster Perkins bought an eight acre lot from William Hubbard with house, barns, and stables on High Street north of Mineral St. Observing that business at the nearby White Horse Inn was profitable, he sought license in 1668 to keep an ordinary, and received permission to open his house and draw wine, but not to sell to townsmen to be drunk in the house.

The White Horse Inn, High St., Ipswich
Two rooms from the White Horse Inn are incorporated into this house on High St.

When Corporal John Andrews, the innkeeper at the White Horse Inn on High Street was found guilty of disturbing the public peace for sundry offences, Deacon Pengry was instructed by the court to begin keeping an ordinary to replace the service provided by Andrews.

Cases of drunkenness frequently came before the Court. In 1689, the Ipswich Town record shows the following: “The Town doth refuse to receive Humphrey Griffin as an inhabitant, to provide for him as inhabitants formerly received, the town being full.” They had their reasons, for Humphrey Griffin would be indicted by the Grand Jury for ‘being drunk, as it appeared “by his evil words, falling off his horse twice (or oftener) and his breath scenting much of strong liquor.”

For overindulgence and “ribaldry speech,”the woodworker Shoreborne Wilson was sentenced to half an hour in the stocks. Mark Quilter appeared before the courts frequently, with the consumption of liquor as the probable underlying cause. Jonas Gregory, Symon Woods and Peter Leycross, the servant of Rev. Hubbard, were found guilty of stealing gallons of wine from the minister’s cellar, and were sentenced to be whipped or pay a fine.

8 North Main St, the Ebenezer Stanwood House (1747)
8 North Main St, the home of John and Mary Sparks c.1671-1710

One of the most popular ordinaries was operated by John Sparks, “Biskett Baker” on North Main St. He received his license in September, 1671 to sell “beere at a penny a quart, provided he entertain no Town inhabitants in the night, nor suffer to bring wine or liquor to be drunk in his house.” Francis Crompton’s hostelry near the South Green was another popular destination near the present location of the Whipple House.

In 1719 the Selectmen approved an application by Matthew Perkins for a license as an innholder in this house, “at the sign of the blue anchor.” By 1723 Capt. Matthew Perkins was known as “Taverner Perkins.”


On May 27, 1696, the ministers of the town proposed that the number of houses for the retail sale of strong drink be limited by law and expressed the wish that “ye Young Men & Maids, ye Children & servants, might be totally inhibited from tipling in ye towne public houses by law…and are trayned up in a Way that they will not forsake when they are old!” A Committee was appointed to find offenders.

By the 18th Century, rum was the beverage of choice. All we know of Benjamin Wheeler who lived at 67 Turkey Shore Road is that in 1750 he was fined for selling rum without a license. When Rev. David Kimball was hired as pastor in 1806 for the First Church, his payment included “Best West India Rum” calculated at $ .84 per gallon.

John Heard (1744-1834) became rich importing molasses and rum from the West Indies as a privateer, and established a distillery on Turkey Shore. His elegant Federal-era home is now the Ipswich Museum.

Abner Day bought the Burnham-Patch house in 1814 and kept a well-known tavern.
The Swasey Tavern, facing Poplar St. In the distance you can see the Cogswell School on Payne Street, and the historic Lakeman and Hodgkins houses at the intersection with Turkey Shore Road.

Facing the South Green is a large house known as Swasey’s Tavern, named after the town moderator General Swasey who famously fell dead at Town Meeting in 1816. In 1725 Increase How purchased this “good mansion house” built by John Ayres in 1693. How kept an inn in the house, and after he died in 1754 at the age of 74, his daughter Susanna ran the inn.The Swasey Tavern in the 19th Century was a dormitory for the Ipswich Female Seminary, one of the early schools which provided young women with a rigorous academic education.

Horse on Market Stret
Looking down Market Street from the foot of Town Hill, Jewett’s Store is on the right, and was the local source for rum.

Despite their protests to the contrary, the ministers and doctors, his mother, and nearly all the town’s citizens had a line of credit with Dummer Jewett, Esq. whose establishment was on Market Street. Jewett was the son of the Rev. Jedediah Jewett of Rowley. He graduated from Harvard College in 1752 and was a noted lawyer, Representative in 1776, and of very estimable character.

In October, 1788, Dummer Jewett “died in consequence of injury received by leaping thirty feet from a garret window, while deranged,”leaving a wife and children. His books revealed the purchase of 14 barrels of rum in 1761, 19 barrels in 1762 and at least 50 barrels in 1763, of which a large portion was sold in bulk to the various innkeepers, and a significant quantity sold over the counter. The account of one citizen for rum alone was £52 for 35 gallons in eight months.


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