In a 1824 Gazeteer of the State of New-York, Horatio G. Spafford gives a sharp portrait of the state’s “sections”. In delineating its agriculture and industries, inevitably in this period distilleries arise.
Spafford was an early promoter of temperance, which meant for him, beer and cider: good, whiskey: bad. So, not total temperance – t-total – but partial.
Still, his enthusiasm for apple orchards that could turn juice to wine was met by an equal resistance to the charms of strong liquor. You can hear him gritting his teeth when enumerating the number of distilleries in localities.
Sometimes he gives an entertaining aside, as above (via HathiTrust) where he can’t restrain himself from commenting how whiskey is ruining people in Penn Yann. Penn Yann today is a bucolic village, known for nothing very remarkable apart from tourism connected to the beauty of the area and the adjacent wineries.
He notes that the strange-sounding name, Penn Yan, is a contraction for Pennsylvania Yankee, meaning (he writes) that the town was founded by approximately equal numbers of Pennsylvania incomers and Yankees (from New England states that is).
Hence his melodious phrase, “land of whiskey, land of pumpkin pie”, a sardonic-jocular reference to the Yankees’ proverbial favourite dessert and the Pennsylvanians’ famous hard tipple, rye whiskey. He extends it to Penn Yan by dint of its ancestry.
Elsewhere in the book he states that whiskey in New York is made from “rye and other grains” and could be easily had “fresh from the distillery”. Hence there is no doubt he is speaking of white or young rye whiskey, before the era it was long-aged or of course transmuted in Kentucky to bourbon.
Many Loyalists came to Ontario from New York and Pennsylvania and made and drank the exact same whiskey, a subject I explored in-depth earlier this year. I will return to this soon, in fact.
But here we see the U.S. side of the equation, in the 1820s when whiskey was still a normal pioneer commodity but starting to be looked at askance by the moralists.
Spafford was the father of a noted son of the same name, a lawyer and well-known hymnist. We find the son of interest due to his career, the family tragedies that afflicted him, and how he dealt with them.
Spafford fils was deeply religious, no surprise when you read his Gazetteer father. He ended by leaving formal Protestantism, establishing a faith-based colony in Jerusalem, and adopting a Jewish son! More here.
Note: Pictured is Penn Yann, NY early in the 1900s. The image was sourced from the town website, here. All intellectual property belongs to the lawful owner or authorized user. Used here for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.