J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Breakfast with John Adams

A lot of books and articles describe John Adams as drinking hard cider each morning. Not many, however, cite a source for that factoid.

Cider researcher Mark Turdo looked into that statement and expressed skepticism on his Pommel Cyder blog because Adams mentioned cider in his diary only twice:
July 26, 1796
In conformity to the fashion I drank this Morning and Yesterday Morning, about a Jill of Cyder. It seems to do me good, by diluting and dissolving the Phlegm or the Bile in the Stomach.

July 28, 1796
I continue my practice of drinking a Jill of Cyder in the Morning and find no ill but some good Effect.
The first of those entries shows Adams drinking “a Jill of Cyder” for his health as something new and noteworthy. Two days later he was trying to “continue my practice” and make it a habit. And if it became a habit, he would no longer have had cause to write about it. So I’m not sure these entries say anything about Adam’s hard cider habits except that he did not commonly drink it in the morning before July 1796.

The source of the statement about Adams’s habitual cider-drinking was his great-grandson Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s local history, published first in D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Norfolk County (1884) and then in his own History of Braintree (1891). He stated:
In the cellars of the more well-to-do houses a barrel of cider was always on tap, and pitchers of it were brought up at every meal, and in the morning and evening. To the end of his life a large tankard of hard cider was John Adams’ morning draught before breakfast; and in sending directions from Philadelphia to her agent at Quincy, in 1799, Mrs. [Abigail] Adams takes care to mention that “the President hopes you will not omit to have eight or nine barrels of good late-made cider put up in the cellar for his own particular use.”
Charles Francis Adams, Jr., was not born until nine years after John Adams had died. His father knew the former President and edited his papers, so he could have passed on this information about cider-drinking in later life. By the late 1800s, prominent statesmen’s drinking habits were caught up in the cultural debate over temperance. But I think the statement seems reliable.

(The image above is a portrait of John Adams distributed in boxes of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, and 40% Bran Flakes in the mid-1940s. It comes courtesy of the Willard Digital Collections in Battle Creek.)


Charles Bahne said...

And a gill (or "jill" as JA spells it) is not "a large tankard", it's 4 fluid ounces or half a cup.

Mark A. Turdo said...

It was quite a surprise to find my cider work on your blog today. Not only that but you provided another source for the Adams cider story. Thanks for both.

MaryJeanAdams said...

Habit or not, I do not doubt the health benefits. These days, many people drink a small amount of apple cider vinegar everyday. I tried it but could not keep up the practice. I'm sure, the hard cider route would be much more enjoyable.

J. L. Bell said...

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., dated the former President's cider-drinking at "the end of his life," when his father would have known the man, so it's possible that John Adams worked up from a gill over the years. Also possible that the quantity became exaggerated in the telling.

John Adams lived to an older age than any former President of the U.S. of A. until this century, so I can't impugn his health habits.

And I was glad to draw on Pommel Cyder for this posting. Its seed was the picture of Adams from the cereal box, which I stumbled across while looking for something else. That reminded me of the hard cider anecdote, so I went looking for the source of that.