The Antediluvians were all very sober
For they had no Wine, and they brew’d no October;
All wicked, bad Livers, on Mischief still thinking,
For there can’t be good Living when there is not good Drinking.
Around 1745, Benjamin Franklin penned these draft lines of a song on the virtues of drinking. “October” refers to hard apple cider – in that month the apple orchards growing on every farm began to drop their fruit, and farmers carted them to the local mill to process them into cider.
After mostly failed experiments with planting vineyards in New England, big thinkers like Benjamin Franklin promoted the development of “cyder” making instead. In 1754 Franklin ordered 3 copies of a manual on the art from his friend William Strahan, a printer in London. He gave a copy to the New Jersey printer James Parker, who probably published and distributed it as a pamphlet.
The work, A Treatise on Cyder-Making, is an anonymously authored guide to perfecting the drink’s production, with an introductory essay by an English connoisseur on his favorite varieties of apples.
The art of cyder-making was quite sophisticated in some circles. In 1769, the early Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, of which Franklin was president, enumerated among that distinguished group’s investigative goals, “what improvements may be made in the art of fermentation, making of wine, cyder, vinegar, &c.”
While artisans and philosophers quibbled over the details of process and profitability, the basics of brewing were widespread as folk knowledge. In The compleat housewife: or, Accomplish’d gentlewoman’s companion, printed in 1742 in Williamsburg, Virginia, a no-nonsense approach to cider is presented among the “several hundred of the most approved receipts” contained therein:
PULL your Fruit before ’tis too ripe, and let it lie but one or two Days to have one good Sweat; your Apples must be Pippins, Pearmains, or Harveys, (if you mix Winter and Summer Fruit together ’tis never good;) grind your Apples and press it, and when your Fruit is all press’d, put it immediately into a Hogshead where it may have some Room to work; but no Vent, but a little Hole near the Hoops, but close bung’d; put 3 or 4 Pounds of Raisins into a Hogshead, and two Pounds of Sugar, it will make it work better; often racking it off is the best Way to fine it, and always rack it into small Vessels, keeping them close bung’d, and only a small Vent-hole; if it should work after racking, put into your Vessel some Raisins for it to feed on, and bottle it in March.
Growing the apples and processing them to make a good product was part of a young man’s education, too. The American instructor: or, Young man’s best companion, printed in 1753 in Philadelphia, contains a section on grafting and cultivating fruit trees, as well as its own instructions for fermenting the fruit. Its recipe is quite similar to the above, with some improvements: it calls for adding yeast, spicing with ginger and adding isinglass to clarify the cider.
Cider was the refreshment of choice for the colonists, who believed that drinking in moderation was good for body and spirit. In England, where polluted waterways made drinking water risky, people had come to drink beer and cider to quench their thirst. The early settlers continued the custom, despite the clean springs of the countryside, and industrial pollution soon justified the habit.
In the Puritan era in Connecticut, drinking was understood as necessary, but drunkenness was a headache for the colonial government. Laws pertaining to the sale of cider were imposed, then repealed, and then revisited. The court limited liquor sales and the constables fined frequent tavern-goers for wasting their precious time in the pub. If they couldn’t afford the fine, they had to sit in the stocks for an hour.
But the times were changing and the Puritan ethos was losing its grip. In 1752, John Green of Norwalk found himself facing the death sentence for uttering terrible words against the Almighty God. He appealed that he was drunk at the time, and the court commuted his death sentence to a mere fine and an hour of public humiliation in the pillory.
It would be more than a hundred years before the town of West Hartford was incorporated, encompassing the area known as the West Division of Hartford, in 1854. But in the meantime, the living and the drinking were good. The people raised horses, cattle, pigs and sheep, and grew the corn they learned to cultivate from the Indians and the flax and hemp that made them less reliant on English imports. In the sloping upland west of the meadows where their animals grazed and their crops grew, they grew lots of apples, and brewed lots of cider.
While the colonists ate their fair share of fresh apples, the fruit’s real utility lay in processing and preserving it. When turned into cider, apples could be used for a variety of purposes, like making vinegar and molasses.
Fermentation and the basics of cider production were common knowledge, but producing exceptional cider could be a profitable enterprise. For both the commercial and home brewer, the first step was always to crush and press the fruit. While most farmers in the West Division had apple orchards, not everyone had their own cider mill.
A cider mill consists of the mill, for crushing the fruit, and a press, for squeezing the juice from the mash.
In the West Division of Hartford in the eighteenth century, the cider mill was an important social hub for the farmers and craftsmen in the colony. Neighbors and family hauled their apple harvests to the mill, in wagons or sleighs, along with their own produce or goods for trading.
On the north side of town, near present-day Still Rd, a cider mill was operated by a man named Jonathan Cadwell in the last decades of the colonial era. After his death, the business was run by Cadwell’s nephew Zacheus Butler, and continued by Butler’s son Jonathan through the middle of the nineteenth century. Account books belonging to this business are found in the Butler Collection at the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society. They provide a unique window into the rural economy of the West Division.
Everyone with apples had need of a mill, and the owner profited as a middleman.
Every autumn, there was a rush to make cider before winter.
We do not know exactly when Jonathan Cadwell began his cider business, but on “Desember” ye 6th, 1754, he started using the earliest of the account books in the museum collections.
Two weeks later, he recorded credit for John Hoskins’ labor to haul a worm tub from Hartford. A worm tub is an apparatus used in distilling strong liquor, and they used it to distill cider brandy.
Cider brandy was a local competitor to rum imported from the West Indies. By 1749, Jonathan Cadwell was licensed to sell brandy in larger amounts, by the barrel.
By 1767, the shop was also selling rum.
But cider production was the mainstay of the business.
Those farmers whose cider didn’t last the year, or who favored Jonathan Cadwell’s brew, bought “cydr” at retail year-round.
Besides the cider he brewed and the brandy he distilled, Jonathan Cadwell and his family sold other things they grew and produced on their farm, including candles, butter, cheese, beef, veal, mutton, tallow and suit, turnips, onions, Indian corn, flax, and wool.
He traded with merchants, many on ships in port returning from trading missions, for imports like wine, rum, tea, and chocolate, and for fabrics and fastenings for clothing.
Most farmers paid for the use of the mill and press to process their apples with “country pay,” their own produce, rather than silver money or bills of credit issued by the colony. The shop naturally filled with whatever grew in the fertile soil of their farms.
Some of his patrons worked on the farm at odd jobs, making hay or plowing corn, to pay off their tabs.
There were many jobs to be done. In 1755, Jonathan records owing a patron for killing a cow for him.
On quiet days or when a customer was running the mill with his own horses or oxen, the proprietor might lease out his team to transport friends to town, or farther, to New Haven or Rhode Island.
Sometimes he charged by the mile.
At other times the team hauled wood down from Avon mountain, or helped in clearing the highways.
Jonathan Cadwell and the Butlers also sold livestock, which was pastured in adjoining meadows. The owner records charging his patrons for the grass in his lot, and rates for each head of livestock pastured each week.
Sometimes he let out credit for “Bull Service”, thereby increasing his own herds through the bounty of his apple business.
He also took in boarders, some of whom offered their own services, like shoeing horses, at the shop.
In his book he listed all the days these workers were absent, mostly for elections or militia training.
Most of the West Division residents were farmers, but some were artisans. The account books record credit for Moses Cadwell weaving cloth.
And for Simeon Grimes making shoes.
The cider mill proprietors also seem to have acted as de facto local bankers. Orders from patrons to pay a third party some amount on the customer’s account were pinned into the account book pages.
The accounts record loaning cash on credit as well as receiving it for payment. As early as 1762, Jonathan Cadwell took payment in dollars – probably Spanish silver dollars, which circulated widely in the colonies – valued at 6 shillings in his book.
The accounts also include transactions of Continental dollars, cash of the “new emission”, and certificates of credit from the state.
In 1797, a U.S. dollar was also valued at 6 shillings.
To adapt to the dearth of coins in the colony during the eighteenth century, the colonial government collected taxes from farmers at the “country rate,” which prescribed that if not in money, the amount could be paid with the fruits of the harvest. In Jonathan Cadwell’s account book, he records a debt of 5 shillings for 2 bushels of “Ingon corn for the town” in 1757.
Jonathan Cadwell’s estate inventory, taken by his nephew at his death in 1769, suggests an idea of his lifestyle near the close of the colonial era. He dressed in leather breeches and black stockings, with a coat made of blue serge twill, a checked shirt, and a black vest. If the weather was warmer, he wore striped linen breeches instead of leather. For winter, he had a beaver hat, a great coat, and woolen shirts and stockings. For accessories, he had a silk handkerchief, gold cuff links, and a pair of silver “bow’d” spectacles.
Jonathan was a communicant in the 4th Church of Christ of Hartford, which later became the Congregational Church of West Hartford. In his estate inventory, among his books are a large Bible, a Communicant’s Companion, and a psalm book.
His parents were founding members of the congregation at its inception in 1712, and in 1722 his son was baptized there. But the son did not survive childhood, and in 1740 Jonathan’s wife also perished.
He made a fresh start, and in December of 1740 was married for a second time, to Bethiah Butler. In November, they announced their intentions to marry in the church. This draft manuscript of the announcement is one of the oldest in the collection.
Paper was scarce. Connecticut would not have its first paper mill until 1766, and in the meantime paper was imported from outside the colony. People in the West Division did not waste paper. In fact, perhaps the oldest manuscript in the Noah Webster House collections is the receipt on the reverse side of the draft announcement, dated 1734. The bill under it shows us Cadwell was selling butter and cheese, as well as lumber, by 1738.
Jonathan and Bethiah had no children, but took in Jonathan’s nephew, John, who lived with his new wife Joanna in Jonathan’s south chamber. He helped out at the shop, taking his uncle’s team of oxen on day jobs to mow fields or haul wood.
Joanna likely milked cows, made cheese and cider, cooked for their patrons, and spun thread of the wool sheared from their sheep. In September of 1759, Joanna and John had twin baby girls, but they tragically died two months later. The next June, John also died, at the age of 26, perhaps a casualty of the French and Indian War. He is buried in the Old Center Cemetery. A distinct handwriting in the account books between 1759 and 1760 is probably his.
After John’s death, Jonathan Cadwell decided to leave his estate to his other nephew, Zacheus Butler, who went by Zach (or Zack, or Zac – spelling was fluid then.). In 1763, Zacheus married the widow, Joanna. They inherited the business from Jonathan, and would run it throughout the Revolutionary period.
Jonathan left them his household property, including two great chairs, six chairs around the cherry-wood table, and a crown chair for lounging. For the table they had three pewter serving plates and six place settings, plus a tea table with six teacups and saucers.
Drinks were doled out in a quart decanter, two pint size decanters, and one at a pint and a half. They had two tumblers and six punch bowls. The kitchen was outfitted with brass utensils including a skillet, ladle, skimmer, and tongs, as well as iron pots and pans.
We can get some idea of Zacheus’ wardrobe a few years later from an accounting between him and a tailor, Cotton Murray, dated 1774. The tailor made him a pair of buckskin breeches and a coat and vest, which he paid for with 78 pounds of cheese, 8 1/2 pounds of pork fat, and 7 3/4 pounds of butter, plus 7 shillings and a penny in cash.
Zacheus served for a time as a lieutenant in the state’s first regiment of light horse. Back at the shop, he did business with Revolutionary War captains, including Captain Abraham Sedgwick.
During the war, cider was an important provision for soldiers. One of the early acts of the new state government, in 1777, was to prohibit the distillation of cider brandy, out of concern that its manufacture would make ordinary hard cider scarce and expensive. At the same time, the government began licensing distillers of gin, or Geneva.
Among the shop records is a 1783 bill for dinner and drinks. David Little had a rum toddy and a glass of gin, and John Spencer had a gin toddy.
But despite the wartime prohibition, cider brandy remained popular. In July of 1797, Jonathan Butler paid tax duties to operate his still for a month.
In August of that year, he records serving brandy a gill at a time. A gill is about 4 oz., and was likely enjoyed on the spot.
In 1800, he received a printed license to distill more domestic liquor.
Although official charges were in dollars and cents, for several years Jonathan Butler recorded values in sterling in his account book, and exchanged dollars at a rate of six shillings each.
By 1823, he regularly used U.S. dollars for accounting.
As the country moved west in the first half of the nineteenth century, apples and cider preceded them in the wave of orchards planted by Jonathan Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Hailing from Massachusetts, Chapman traveled west to Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, planting apple nurseries along the way and selling the young trees to the frontier settlers. He made a living of it and became one of the first American folk legends.
In 1871, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine published a tribute calling him a “pioneer hero”. As a follower of Emmanuel Swedenborg he was said to believe grafting seedlings was a cruel practice, and so always grew his trees naturally from seeds. For the frontier settlers who bought them, however, most would only be suited for cider.
Like many Connecticut natives in the early nineteenth century, three of Jonathan Butler’s children left home to go west, and we will feature their stories in future blog posts. With the new postal system and steam boat lines, staying in touch was easier than ever, and hundreds of their letters are preserved in the Butler collection.
In their letters, they asked their father about his business, and how much cider he made for the year. And they brought their Connecticut taste for cider with them: one had a brewery in Ohio, another made cider on a farm in New York, and the third shipped “choice old boiled” cider, from a family friend producing it in Indiana, by steam boat to Michigan territory.
The cider mill and still run by Jonathan Cadwell and later by Zacheus and Jonathan Butler is long gone, but stored in the museum, the records that survive tell its story. We hope you enjoyed it. Let us know what you think in the comments, and stay tuned for more of Webster’s West Hartford history.