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Not a single response to alcohol Some Native Americans resisted drinking altogether Others drank to excess Culture and physiology played a role But.

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Presentation on theme: "Not a single response to alcohol Some Native Americans resisted drinking altogether Others drank to excess Culture and physiology played a role But."— Presentation transcript:



3 Not a single response to alcohol Some Native Americans resisted drinking altogether Others drank to excess Culture and physiology played a role But so did proximity to supply

4 Contradictory evidence with regards to Native American genetic response to alcohol Some suggest that Native Americans have a predisposition to alcoholism Fenna et al, “ethanol Metabolism in Various Racil Group” Canadian Medical Association Journal 105 (1971) Others argue no difference to people of European descent Bennion et al “Alcohol Metabolism in American Indians and Whites: Lack of Racial Differences in Metabolic Rate and Liver Alcohol Dehydrogenase” NEJM 294 (1976)

5 However, this debate possibly misses the point with regards to Native Americans and alcohol At least in the historical context For certain Native American groups in the period of European colonialism drinking was a response to the destruction of the world they new community A response many people native and non native have The problem may be not that Native Americans drank But that alcohol exacerbated the crisis that Europeans brought

6 To understand alcohol we need to understand sugar Sugar first produced in a meaningful way in the West Indies (Caribbean) during mid 17 th C Sugar was sent to England and also turned into Rum West Indian planter created a system of production based on murderous exploitation That system of opportunity followed alcohol

7 As with the fur trade Of which alcohol became a major point There was a shift in the structure of the trade in alcohol During the later 17 th and early 18 th Century it was a local trade Indian traders not the dominant players This would later change

8 Early period Colonist gave or sold alcohol to Native Americans as they would anyone else Farmers with excess rum would drink with Native Americans or engage in illicit low level trade Local need based exchange rather then profit driven Many colonial assemblies attempted to ban this interaction Indeed the number of bills passed suggests that it was a frequent occurrence

9 Most troublesome aspect For many officials Interaction that alcohol produced

10 At the same time as officials were trying to limit or ban this activity They were issuing alcohol as part of the diplomatic process Sept 1689 proclamation banning sale on alcohol to Native Americans in the city and county of Albany Was total and complete “always Provided that it shall and may be in the Power of the Mayor alderman & commonality of the said Citty of they give any small quality of Rom to any Sachims who come here about Publick Buisinesse”

11 Official presentation and limited trade of alcohol by individuals Became small part of trade by early eighteenth century By then traders had realized the profits to be made from rum or brandy Liquor became a standard part of the goods transported to Native American communities

12 This shift was in part due to the changing dynamics of interaction Decline in population on the seaboard Due in part to death and in part to westward migration Movement led to a situation whereby it was only ‘for profit’ traders who could afford to finance the long term, long distance treks into the interior Indication of this trade can be seen in the records of trading company Baynton, Wharton & Morgan

13 European traders not only suppliers of rum in the interior Native Americans also carried on a small “internal trade” 1730 group of Iroquois purchased rum from trader in Albany Not for consumption but to pass on Transported it and exchanged/sold it among the Delaware

14 John Lawson Visitor to the south Declared that the “Westward Indians” Had no Rum until the Tuscaroras brought it to them Who carried “it in Rundlets several hundred miles, amongst other Indians” Lawson also provided one of the only glimpses into the sale technique

15 “Those that buy Rum of them have so many Mouthfuls for a Buck-Skin, they never using another measure” “for this purpose, the buyer always makes Choice of his Man, which is one that has the greatest mouth, whom he bring to market with a bowl to put it in” The seller then closely observed the man as he took the liquor in his mouth to make sure he didn’t swallow any “[I]f he happens to swallow any down, either through Wilfulness or otherwise, the Merchant or some of his Party, does not scruple to knock the Fellow down, exclaiming against him for false Measure” Then it all started again “[T]his trading is very agreeable to Spectators, to see such a deal of Quarrelling and Controversy, as often happens, about it, and is very diverting”

16 Benjamin Franklin In his autobiography Detailed his impression of Indians and alcohol one of the most enduring description of drunk Native Americans Indians “are extreamly apt to to get drunk, and when so are very quarrelsome and disorderly”

17 Treaty of Carlisle 1753 told Indians that if they stayed sober during negotiations they would get “Plenty of Rum when Business was over” Franklin described what occurred later in the day 100 Indians present were given Rum in the afternoon In the evening Franklin and fellow commissioners went to camp after hearing a “great noise”

18 “We found they had all made a great Bonfire in the Middle of the Square. They were all drunk Men and Women, quarrelling and fighting. Their dark- colour’d bodies, half naked, seen only by the gloomy Light of the Bonfire, running after and beating one another with Firebrands, accompanied by their horrid Yellings, form’d a Scene the most resembling our Ideas of hell that could well be imagin’d”

19 This then is the Stereotype But is this closer to the truth?

20 Travelers, traders and government officials all believed, expected and wrote that Native Americans drank only to get drunk And when drunk became violent But is this true Re-reading the evidence suggest not Rather that Native Americans drank for a specific, culturally based, reasons

21 1672 Nicholas Denys “There is this much certain that as long as they are able to visit the ships they never get drunk; they would not then be able to preserve the judgment which is necessary for making dupes of the sailors and captains, and for securing their bread”

22 Assumption that Native Americans got drunk because they had no experience of, or understanding of, alcohol needs to be reevaluated E.g. during the 17 th and 18 th centuries Many new words were added to native languages to describe drinking and its uses and affects Also Native Americans had long experience of drinking specific beverages


24 Made from the leave of yaupan holly Drunk to establish political and social ties Contained caffeine Stimulant Also acted an emetic Attempt to alter condition Achieving purity?

25 Looking at the historical records Historian Peter Mancall In his book Deadly Medicine Identifies three reasons why Native Americans drank A) Valued sense of power drunkenness apparently conferred B) used in hospitality rituals C) used in mourning ceremonies

26 I want to focus on the first suggestion Valued sense of power drunkenness apparently conferred Daniel Denton 1670 “They are great lovers of strong drink, yet do not care for drinking, unless they have enough to make themselves drunk” James Adair mid eighteenth century “Indians in general do not chuse to drink any spirits, unless they can quite intoxicate themselves”

27 But, If return to Duton’s quote “They are great lovers of strong drink, yet do not care for drinking, unless they have enough to make themselves drunk” And look at what follows, we get a hint “and if there be so many in their company, that thee is not sufficient to make them all drunk, they usually select so many out of their Company, proportionable to the quantity of drink, and the rest must be spectators”

28 1640 a missionary wrote “The savages have told me many a time that they did not buy our liquors on account of any pleasant taste they found in them, or because they had any need of them of need” “but simply to become intoxicated, - imagining, in their drunkenness, that they become persons of importance”

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