Chapter II. Brewing in New York

While the exact date of the beginning of brewing as a distinct calling cannot be ascertained, there is an abundance of historical evidence that among the very earliest acts of the Colonial governments, those tending to encourage the establishment of public breweries were deemed of the greatest importance. It is no less certain that whenever such encouragement did not sufficiently stimulate private enterprise to bring about the desired end, or when other reasons (hereafter to be explained) made it desirable, the rulers of some of the Colonial settlements seized upon this source of income themselves or granted monopolies to those private persons who intended to establish breweries. Thus Van Twiller, Governor of New Netherland from 1633 to 1638, erected a brewery on the West India Company's farm, which extended north from what is now Wall Street to Hudson Street, and the Patroon of Rensselaerwyck (the present counties of Albany, Columbia, and Rensselaer) established a brewery at Beverwyck (the present Albany), reserving to himself the exclusive privilege of supplying all licensed retailers.

As this Director Van Twiller, mentioned above, is reputed to have been a hard drinker, ever intent on finding or creating a suitable occasion for indulging in his weakness, it is not hazardous to surmise that in erecting a brewery, he consulted his own tastes quite as much as the needs of his little community. His example is said to have influenced the drinking habits of the colonists to such an extent that drunkenness became a very common occurrence in the community. Captain De Vries narrates a number of incidents illustrating the weakness of Van Twiller, and among them is one which appears to deserve a place in this little sketch. Cornelius Van Voorst, the stem from which grew a numerous family famous in Manhattan and Jersey annals, was the superintendent of the colony of Pavonia, established by Pauwn. He was a man of hospitable inclinations, and had just imported a hogshead of Bordeaux wine. The rumor of its excellent quality reached the ears of Director-General Van Twiller, who, in company with Dominie Bogardus and Captain De Vries, paid the superintendent a visit by means of a rowboat. Van Voorst received the representatives of Church, State, and Navy with a princely welcome. The cask was broached and the contents approved. After some hard drinking, a furious dispute about a recent murder arose between the host, the Governor and the Dominie. De Vries, the man of war, in this instance proved to be a man of peace, for by the exercise of his mediation and more claret, a truce was finally effected and "they parted good friends." This is not the dull ending, but merely the prelude to something more brilliant. Just as his guests were entering their boat to depart, Van Voorst, to show his good will, caused a swivel, which was fixed on a pillar near the house, to be fired. It was a fine salute, but a piece of wadding fell on the Van Voorst mansion, set fire to the roof. It was impossible to check the flames and the house burned to the ground, presumably destroying the hogshead of wine.

The business of the tapster necessarily preceded that of the brewer; for before the colonists could raise a crop of the cereals necessary for brewing---which they did, by the way, according to Isaac Jogues' description of Novum Belgium, in the very first year after their settlement---they had to depend upon the supply of liquors shipped to them from the mother country; and from all accounts, we learn that the quantities thus imported were very large and, to modern minds, entirely out of proportion to the very scant population of the colony. In the earliest times, the condition and surroundings of the colonists was such that all available means of subsistence had to be treated very much like common property. Thus the West India Company undertook, at first, to furnish the settlers with what they absolutely needed for their sustenance, the understanding being that the value of goods so furnished must be returned by the borrower as soon as the product of his labor enabled him to do so. This accounts for the fact that the first taproom on Manhattan Island was located in the first warehouse erected by Minuet, then Governor of New Netherland (1626-1633).

Governor Kieft's Curfew

The number of tapsters, under Van Twiller's administration, increased rapidly; but there is no evidence that brewing kept pace with this growth---probably because the importation of wines and liquors from the mother country still sufficed to satisfy the demand. When, however, in the fist year of his administration (1638), Governor Kieft forbade the retailing of wines and spirits by tapsters (virtually restricting the liquor traffic to the selling of beer) the brewing trade expanded to such an extent that a few years later an excise upon its product yielded a considerable revenue. From this time onward, brewing and retailing formed the subjects of frequent legislation both in New Netherlands and in the New England colonies. The law makers not only regulated and taxed the manufacture and sale, but they also prescribed minutely the quality and price of beer, the time when, and circumstances under which, it could be sold; the duties of the tapster and the obligations of the drinker. Kieft forbade the tapping of beer during divine service and after a certain hour at night; and, in order to remind the burghers and tapsters of the latter inhibition, he cause the town bell to be rung---an imitation of the old European custom of announcing the hour for retiring. His object in introducing the curfew (the Norman couvre feau) [1- The old German night watchman's hourly song began with the announcement of the hour of the night and the admonition to guard fire and light.] was probably not confined to these things; it is quite likely that he intended thus to force upon the honest Dutch burghers the conviction that a man of strong will had come to assume the powers and functions which the licentious Van Twiller had permitted to be disregarded. Doubtless Kieft honestly endeavored to correct the evils which had grown up under his predecessor's rule; but his motives were probably not always of a purely moral character. In forbidding the retailing of wine and confining its sale to the Company's warehouse---"where," as he stated in his proclamation, "it could be obtained in moderate quantities and at a fair price."---he intended no doubt to create for himself a monopoly on this traffic; and in establishing a distillery on Staten Island, the first in New Netherland, he very likely sought to enlarge the scope of his monopoly. Fortunately, brewing had by this time grown too strong as an independent enterprise to be absorbed by the Company in this singularly arbitrary manner. It had become a favorite occupation, as a local historian justly says; and many of the best and most respected citizens engaged in it.

Brewers Revolt Against a Tax

Naturally enough, the rapid growth of brewing suggested to Governor Kieft the expediency of levying a tax upon beer, and he imposed this all the more readily because, in consequence of the Indian War which he had provoked by a "shocking massacre of savages," the treasury was totally depleted. In 1644, he levied a tax of three guilders upon every tun of beer manufactured by a brewer, and of one florin upon every tun brewed by private citizens for their own use. Aware that the imposition of this or any other tax without the consent of the "Eight Men"---a sort of assembly representing the people---would meet with little favor, he endeavored to propitiate the brewers by permitting them to sell beer to tapsters at twenty florins per tun, an increase over the old price almost covering the amount of the tax. The brewers, nevertheless, stoutly refused to pay the excise, and based their refusal upon the ground that the tax was imposed against the will of the representatives of the people and, therefore, contrary to what they conceived to be an inalienable right every burgher. While their opposition to a government without the consent of the governed may not have been very clearly defined, the stout burghers of the colony fully understood that taxation without the consent of the taxed was an absolute wrong.

The best historians accord in the opinion that the attitude of the brewers, at that stage of the political development of the Colonies, deserves the utmost praise and reflects all the more credit upon them, because the inducements held out to them by Kieft in the form of a permission to increase the price of their product, might have prompted them to yield, if they had valued their profits more than the political rights of their fellow citizens. The historian O'Callaghan, in his History of New Netherland, expresses this view in these words: "Kieft had no idea of being thwarted by such constitutional scruples. Judgment was given against the brewers, and thus another victory was achieved in New Netherland over popular rights."

In all likelihood, the brewers expected that the protest which the Eight Men had openly raised against the excise would enable them to maintain their refusal to pay; but while this expectation may have had the effect of inspiring them with a degree of temerity which would otherwise not have been aroused so readily, it detracts no a particle from the praiseworthiness of their action. At all events, if they calculated upon any leniency on Kieft's part, they reckoned without their host; for that arbitrary ruler not only disregarded the remonstrances of the Eight Men and insisted upon payment of the tax, but he even confiscated the whole stock of beer in the cellars of the recalcitrant brewers and gave it to the soldiers---partly as a prize and partly, no doubt, as an incentive to effective execution, on their part, in the event of a popular demonstration. The brewers lost their beer and their case, but they were lauded and they made a memorable bit of history as the champions of popular rights.

Men of Worth and Substance

We may be permitted to digress a little (though such digression must necessarily carry us beyond the period of Kieft's administration) in order to mention a few of the many Colonial brewers whose names are familiar to every New Yorker, even to this day. William Beekman, brewer, was successively schepen, burgomaster of New Amsterdam for nine years, vice director of the Colony on the Delaware, sheriff at Esopus, alderman, and again sheriff under English dominion---holding office, with some interruption for forty years. He continued the brewery of George Holmes, built in 1654, and died in 1707 at the age of 84. Beekman Street is named after him, and also (it is claimed) William Street. Peter W. Couwenhoven, brewer, was schepen in 1653 and 1654, and again in 1658-59 and 1661-63. Nicholas and Balthazar Bayard, brewers, held office between 1683 and 1687; the former as alderman and mayor, and the latter as alderman. Petrus Rutger, brewer, was assistant alderman from 1730 to 1732. The Rutgers were a family of brewers. Jean Rutgers, their forefather, had a brewery in 1653, built probably earlier. Alice, daughter of Anthony Rutgers, married Leonard Lispenard, and one of the latter's sons (Anthony) owned extensive breweries. The name of Lispenard, says a local historian, is merged in the families of Stewart, Webb, Livingstone, Winthrop, etc. John DeForrest, brewer, was schepen in 1658. Jacob Kip, brewer, was schepen from 1659 to 1665, and again in 1673. His ancestors, the DeKypes, belonged to the oldest nobility of the Bretagne.

Oloff S. Van Cortlandt, brewer, was burgomaster from 1653 to 1663 (thirteen years of continuous service), and alderman in 1666, 1667, and 1671. If certain genealogical charts (usually considered reliable) may be trusted, Van Cortlandt was a descendant of the Dukes of Courland, Russia. He had a brewery in Stone Street, which in Dutch days was appropriately named Brouwer, i.e., Brewer, Street. His daughter, Maria, married Jeremiah Van Rensselaer---lord of the colony of Rensselaerwyck who also was founder of a brewery, namely, the one at Beverwyck, before adverted to. Aert Teunison, a most influential man in his days, established the first brewery at Hoboken, and made beer for his neighbors until 1648, when he was killed by the Indians. Michael Janson, the progenitor of the large Vreeland family, was the first brewer at Pavonia, in 1654. Jacob Van Vleck, brewer, was alderman in 1684, 1685, and 1686. Martin Cregier, captain of the military company---a man of considerable importance, who commanded several exploring parties and subsequently became burgomaster---was the proprietor of a tavern opposite Bowling Green in 1653, and doubtless also practiced brewing.

We may now close this very incomplete list of prominent Colonial brewers with the mention of one whose name is, and always has been, of uncommon interest to historians, seeing that he was the first white male born in New Netherland. Jean Vigne held the office of schepen during three terms. He followed the threefold occupation of brewer, miller, and farmer, and owned a tract of land, the site of his brewery, near Watergate (present Wall Street).

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