Yankees, Whisky, Broken Heads, and Amity in Old Ontario

In a series of posts last month, I made what I consider a comprehensive argument that whisky in Canada has an American origin both as to the social custom of drinking it and the materials entering its manufacture.

Whisky of course is ultimately of British origin, Irish and Scottish*, but it implanted in the American colonies early and received in particular a boost from Ulster Scots immigration in the 1700s.

The page set out below (via HathiTrust)provides further support and context for this view. It is authored by John Mercier McMullen, an Irish immigrant of the 19th century who is often termed Canada’s first historian. It is from his History of Canada, issued in multiple editions in the 19th century. One may note its compressed but forceful explanation of the immense importance of “Yankee ways” in the early development of Ontario.

McMullen confirms what I inferred earlier, that the British settlers who arrived after the initial Loyalist and other American influx did not alter the social fabric of society. While McMullen speaks of “rural” society, it must be recalled that almost all Ontarians lived outside of Toronto then – the majority still do – and the province counted numerous regional centres of importance.

Rather than impose their customs, the British incomers adapted easily to “Yankee ways”. McMullen notes this was facilitated by a common ancestry (British) and language. Further in the chapter he mentions the numerous varieties of the Protestantism these peoples shared while noting some Catholic presence as well.

McMullen was almost certainly born Irish Protestant, probably in Ulster. In any event he understood well the cultural unity of the Anglo-Saxon groups he described.

He was born in 1820 and, unusually for his time, lived all the way to 87. He lived in Brockville, ON, a heartland of Loyalist settlement. The first edition of his History was published in 1855, and further editions appeared into the 1890s. Thus, he lived through the period when much of the history he wrote took form or followed upon events still within living memory.

For example, some Canadians who were, say, 80 in 1855 arrived as children with their Loyalist parents in the 1780s. And many Americans came here after the 1780s Loyalist migrations, so some were first-generation even in the 1850s.

A portrait of McMullen and some further biographical detail appear in this source, a webpage maintained by Doug Grant who is a local historian in Brockville.


*There may be a Germanic component to the first American whiskeys in the form of rye in the mash. I discussed earlier the theory that German-origin whiskey-makers influenced bourbon, see here.



5 thoughts on “Yankees, Whisky, Broken Heads, and Amity in Old Ontario”

  1. Alan McLeod over at A Good Beer Blog has drawn my attention to Professor Jane Errington’s book “The Lion, The Eagle and Upper Canada: A Developing Ideology” (2012) as a source to understand further competing American and British influences in early Upper Canada (today, Ontario). She is an academic at Royal Military College in Kingston, ON (where Alan resides).

    I’ve now perused extracts of the book available online. She suggests a wider general American influence in early Canadian affairs than is generally supposed in our popular culture. This is fully in tune with my own conclusions from other sources. I note she states that various commodities, including whiskey, were exported to Canada within 10 years from the end of the American Revolution: this means before 1800.

    In early newspaper accounts, say 1815-1830s, I’ve seen numerous references to American whiskey being sent to Canada. Some of these accounts concern Canadian attempts to place a duty on its importation. But the fact that whiskey came in almost immediately following the American Revolution is further evidence that the taste for whiskey followed the Loyalists to Canada, and was not a pre-established preference of the British in Canada, military or other, or introduced to Canada by later whisky moguls known to be of British origin, e.g., Corby, Gooderham, Worts, or Joseph Seagram (son of English immigrants). See in particular here in Errington’s book.

  2. I think you mean “For example, some Canadians who were, say, 80 in 1855 arrived as children with their Loyalist parents in the *1780s*. And many Americans came here after the *1780s* Loyalist migrations, so some were first-generation even in the 1850s.”

    And I would also like to note that the Loyalist migration to Canada and esp. to Pper Canada from the new States continued well into the 1810s (Phileas Wright arriving in Hull at that time) and 1820s, lured by a return to British lawa and order AND free land for Loyalists (even late-comers), so there were certainly first-generation Yankee Loyalists alive in Ontario still in 1900; I knew some second-generation ones myself.

    • Excellent, many thanks Andrew (all corrections now made). Nothing like hearing it from a descendant! Stand by as, in a second reply to your note, I will link to a settler account you would enjoy reading.


      • Andrew, I found this early settler account of great interest, particularly as the memories go back to the time even before a mill was available in the area. It is from another historical webpage maintained by Doug Grant of Brockville, whom I mention in the text above.

        • Thanks, Gary. I’m not a descendant of United Empire Loyalists, but many of my friends are and my wife is as well!

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