Dietary Changes Through Boycott
The colonists were quite dependent on their "parent" England
for imports of food and other basic products. When taxes and
British Parliamentary tariffs on products used by the American
colonists increased, the colonists were forced into paying the
taxes if they were to continue importing English and West Indian
a result, a number of colonists began to boycott imported goods in
favor of domestic goods. The boycott was not initially widespread,
especially as it could not be officially enforced, and so lacked
luster in a number of regions. Increasing support for this
boycott, however, helped generate the revolution against England.
As England imposed its series of acts upon the colonists,
changes in the American colonistís purchases and trades eventually
altered the American diet. Starting with the Molasses Act of 1733,
followed by the Sugar Act of 1760, a shift in alcohol consumption
occurred. This was more than a protest against taxation of
molasses, the main ingredient in rum production. Whiskey became
the spirit of choice for many American colonists who wished to
snub their nose at England.
In the northern colonies, whiskey was made with rye, while the
southern colonies preferred corn. Rye was seen as a more civilized
grain, while corn whiskey was presented as a more patriotic
version as it was produced from an indigenous American crop.
The production of whiskey was certainly not a norm in the
colonies in the early years. The upper echelon of colonial society
looked down upon American whiskey up until the time of the
American Revolution. Some even saw the harsh spirit as a bastion
of debauchery in the American colonies. Whatever the sentiment,
the Scottish, Irish, and Germans brought a taste for hard spirits
from their homelands to the American colonies in the 1730s. These
groups continued to produce hard spirits in imported stills, or
stills based on Old World designs, in retaliation against the
English economic controls.
The Revenue Act of 1764 that heavily taxed Madeira and other
wines led to yet another boycott, this time against imported
wines. This promoted another indigenous agricultural item of the
American Colonies, the Vitis labrusca grapes. In 1765, Benjamin
Franklin decided to use Poor Richard's Almanack to promote the
growing of American grapes in order to encourage the production of
One of Franklin's friends, Benjamin Gale, stated one evening at
one of their gatherings "We must drink wine of our own making or
none at all;" this opinion seemed to be a prevailing sentiment in
the colonies from 1764 until the Revolution. Many who supported
temperance in the colonies also supported the production of
American wine at this time since the colonial form of temperance
at the time was to drink only wine or beer instead of hard
The Quartering Act of 1765, probably more than anything else,
stripped the colonists of funds and thus the ability to purchase
imported luxuries. The Stamp Act of 1765 resulted in a boycott on
imported goods by many merchants, which was further strengthened
by the passage of the Townshend Act of 1767.
These boycotts, however, were short lived, to the dismay of
more radical colonists who hoped to take control of superficial
goods imported by the English and imports from the West Indies.
Once the Townshend Act was repealed, colonists flocked back to
markets to purchase non-essentials.
The enforcement of the Tea Act of 1773 became
a heated issue with the colonists, with the well-known
demonstration at the Boston harbor, the Boston Tea Party,
a direct reaction to the act. However, a much more important shift
occurred in the colonists' drink of choice. In 1773, John Adams
wrote a letter to his wife stating, "Tea must be universally
renounced and I must be weaned, and the sooner the better."
Thus began the American shift from tea to coffee. In a
concentrated boycott, the housewives of Falmouth, Massachusetts
publicly united, vowing to serve only coffee in their homes. This
inspired other households throughout the colonies, both in the
north and south, to do the same.