Saturday, November 17, 2007

Correcting the record: Franklin and Pilgrims

In an issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News last year, writers Alexander D. Mitchell and Phil Sides did some investigative beer journalism: they debunked the attribution to Ben Franklin of the quote:

Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Not only did Franklin not write that, Mitchell and Sides wrote, he apparently was not a lover of beer, but of wine. What Franklin actually wrote was:
Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

In lieu of Franklin's many other contributions, we may forgive him this trespass.

Now comes author Bob Skilnik to debunk the idea of Pilgrims and beer at Thanksgiving.

Here's the oft-repeated passage from a 17th century collection of recollections by William Bradford and other settlers:

... we returned again a-shipboard, with resolution the next morning to settle on some of those places; so in the morning, after we called on God for direction, we came to this resolution: to go presently ashore again, and to take a better view of two places, which we thought most fitting for us, for now we could not take time for further search or consideration, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer,

But what often is omitted is the very next line:
and it now being the 19th of December.

Ah well, there goes the Thanksgiving timing.

Skilnik continues that it was the settlers, through their dilly-dallying, who ran out of beer. The ship's crew didn't, and sailed back the following spring, avoiding a perilous winter sail.
So what we have here, my friends, is NOT a party of starving Pilgrims who simply pulled up to Plymouth Rock because they were out of beer, had no water and no "victuals" on hand. No, what has been described instead was a group of naive individuals who called a little bit too much on God for direction, failed to heed the philosophy that "God helps those who help themselves," took too long to pick a spot to settle down, even if it was to only to be for the winter, and as a result of indecision, watched as more than half of them died through the winter.

Contrast that with current Georgia governor Sonny Perdue. Earlier this week Perdue timed his public prayer session - calling upon God to bring rain to his drought-ridden state - with stated meteorological predictions of rain for a few days later. And it did, rain. "God helps those who..."

The entire piece is available on Skilnik's blog: Beer (and more) in Food. By the way, Skilnik has also - as did Mitchell and Sides above - corrected the record on Franklin and beer. And he is the author of the book, Beer & Food: An American History.


  1. Thanks for the plug, Tom, however, I have to say that the correcting-the-record I do isn't anything like as risky as Bob Skilnik is attempting - messin' with the received wisdom on the Pilgrim Fathers and Benjamin Franklin looks highly dangerous to me. Next he'll be trying to tell you George Washington never chopped that cherry tree down ...

  2. Say it isn't so. Will your next target be Santa Claus? Original research, on topics serious to frivolous, seems to be in short supply in these days of the 'interwebs'. Thank you for your work.


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