A Continual Fever: A Summer’s Day in Revolutionary Williamsburg

It is a balmy 67 degrees this morning in Williamsburg as we start another day preparing for the summer season. The forecast calls for a high of 79 with the welcome addition of rain later this afternoon.  And I can assure you that there are plenty of recreational beverages to be found in our taverns.  But on this date in 1777, it was quite a different matter, as this entry from 33-year-old Ebenezer Hazard’s journal suggests.  Heat, counterfeiting, and an absence of beer and cider made Williamsburg seem a less than hospitable locale.

“The Water at Williamsburgh is very bad; — no Beer or Cyder in town – Grog or Toddy, or Sangaree, made with vile Water is the only Drink to be had, which, with the Heat of the Weather is sufficient to keep a Man in a continual Fever. … The Virginia Money, supposed to be counterfeit is so well done as to induce a general Doubt whether it is counterfeit or not.”

But perhaps the fever of which Hazard complained was from a rather different source.  In fact, he might have enjoyed Williamsburg just a little too much the night before, when he attended a ball at the Capitol.  Of that he wrote,  

“The Entertainment last Night was very fine, the Music excellent, the Assembly large & polite, & the Ladies made a brilliant Appearance. A Mr. Blagrave (a Clergyman), his Lady, & a Mrs. Neal, performed the vocal Parts; they sang well, especially Mr. Blagrave.  His Lady played excellently on the Harpsichord.  After the Entertainment was over, the Company went up Stairs to dance.  I think a Mrs. Cuthbert (formerly Mrs. Blair, a Daughter of Dr. Eustis of New York) made the best Appearance as a Dancer.”

Certainly a tale of two rather different days in the revolutionary capital.

“Eating seems to be the predominant passion of a Virginian.” (c1775)

From the Rev. Mr. Thomas Gwatkin, Williamsburg, Virginia, c1775, to a friend in England.

“A short account of their manner of living may afford you some entertainment.  Their breakfast like that of the English consists of tea coffee and chocolate; and bread or toast and butter, or small cakes made of flower and butter which are served to Table hot, and are called hoe cakes, from being baked on a hoe heated for that purpose.  They have also harshed meat and homony, cold beef, and hams upon the table at the same time, and you may as frequently hear a Lady desiring to be helped to a part of one of the dishes as a cup of tea.  Their tables at dinner are covered with a profusion of meat: And the same kind is dressed three or four different ways.  The rivers afford them fish in great Abundance: and their swamps and forests furnish them with ducks teal blue wing, hares, squirrels, partridges and a great variety of fowl.  Eating seems to be the predominant passion of a Virginian.  To dine upon a single dish is considered as one of the greatest hardships.  You can be contented with one joint of meat is a reproach frequently thrown into the teeth of an Englishman.  Even many of the fair Sex would be considered as Gluttons in England.  Indeed I am inclined to believe more disorders in the Country arise from too much eating than any other cause whatsoever.  In the afternoon tea and coffee is generally drank, but with bread or toast & butter.  At supper you rarely see any made dishes, Harshed and cold meat roasted fowls, fish of different kinds, tarts and sweetmeats fill up the table.  After the Cloth is taken away both at dinner and supper; Madeira, and punch or toddy is placed on the table.  The first toasts which given by the master of the family, are the King; the Queen and royal family; the Governour and Virginia; a good price to Tobacco.  After this if the Company be in a humour to drink, the ladies retire, and the Gentleman give every man his Lady; then a round of friend succeeds; And afterwards perhaps each of the company gives a sentiment; then the Gentleman of house drinks to all the friends of his company and at last concludes with drinking a good Evening according to the time of day.”