Cider Musings

John Adams 2nd President of USA and cider

It seems John Adams reputation for drinking cyder is a little over egged. John Adams the 2nd President of the US wrote just 2 entries in his extensive diaries. But then was it?

July 26, 1796
In conformity to the fashion I drank this Morning and Yesterday Morning, about a Jill of Cyder. It seems to do me good, by diluting and dissolving the Phlegm or the Bile in the Stomach.

July 28, 1796
I continue  my practice of drinking a Jill of Cyder in the Morning and find no ill but some good Effect.

(A gill is 140 mls or a teacup).
So from this it looks like he only took up the fashion of drinking cider in 1796. It is not clear how long he continued;  and a teacup was not a large amount.

Also in correspondence that he shared with his friend, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse of Harvard, on the virtues of cider and health and on his choice of alcoholic drink - “I have, habitually drank the Wines of Europe … and I have drank the mild Porter of London , but I never found any of them agree so well with my health as the Cyder of New England. It is true I Seldom drink it under a year old, and often two and sometimes three.”

But it is also noted he like Philadelphia beer better!

A lot of books and articles describe John Adams as drinking hard cider each morning. They might even include how much he drank (a tankard full being the most popular).

Not many, however, cite a source for that. The source of the statement about Adams’s habitual cider-drinking was in fact his great-grandson Charles Francis Adams Jr.’s notes of local history published first in D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Norfolk County (1884) and then in his own History of Braintree (1891).
He stated:
In the cellars of the more well-to-do houses a barrel of cider was always on tap, and pitchers of it were brought up at every meal, and in the morning and evening. To the end of his life a large tankard of hard cider was John Adams’ morning draught before breakfast; and in sending directions from Philadelphia to her agent at Quincy, in 1799, Mrs. [Abigail] Adams takes care to mention that “the President hopes you will not omit to have eight or nine barrels of good late-made cider put up in the cellar for his own particular use.”

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., was not born until nine years after John Adams had died. His father knew the former President and edited his papers, ( omitting any references John’s heavier or more sustained drinking due to the Temperance Movement at the time). He could have passed on this information about cider-drinking in later life to his son.

However, his letters which are online show a different story with more entries to his friends and esp. Dr Waterhouse.

And I extract;

Writing to his cousin and friend Zabdiel Adams in July 1763, a year before his marriage to Abigail and just as the strife of the coming Revolution was beginning to bubble, Adams gave his attitude about politics: “Give me Bacon, and Cyder, and Books and Girl and Friend, and I will frisk it.”

In a letter written on February 13, 1805 to Dr. Waterhouse, physician and professor at Harvard, Adams wrote of his disappointment in hearing from Waterhouse that cider was no longer being drunk at the same rate at the school as when he went there. He went so far as to proclaim that “I fear the decay of Health at the University is owing to the Use of Wine and Spirits instead of Cyder, at least as much as the consumption of Cigars.” ( this was in response to Dr Waterhouse's lecture on smoking. 

He then offered that “Rhenish or Rozelle Wine would be better for Us, than Sherry or Madeira: but Cider is better than either.” He then said that aged cider was the only liquor he could drink at this point in his life due to his health.

He also wrote, “During the four years that I passed at Colledge there was not a Single death among the Scollars: and I have always believed that the almost universal healh [sic] among the Students, was to be ascribed next to early rising and beef and mutton Pies at Commons, to the free Use of Cider and the very moderate use of Wine and ardent Spirits.” So, not only did he think the lack of cider drinking at the contemporary Harvard contributed to the school’s poor health, but he also believed that the use of it when he went contributed to its previous overall good health.

And - “Many of the longest Livers and healthiest Men that I have known” were cider drinkers, he used the long life of “the Reverend Mr Niles of Monatiquot” as an example. Apparently, this reverend refused to drink any other spirits beside cider and lived to a ripe old age, as did his son

As he aged, his cider-drinking habit continued. In an 1819 letter to the physician Vine Utley, he wrote that the only beverages he drank were cider, water, and lemonade. He also lamented in the letter that while overseas in France and Holland he had to refrain from cider and beer as it was not available to him. During that period he wrote to Abigail ( his wife) such things as “I would give Three Guineas for a Barrell of your Cyder—not one drop is to be had here for Gold,” “What would I give for some of your Cyder?,” and “Oh for a Bowl of your Punch, a Bottle of your Cyder, or something or other that is acid.” 

Maybe this is a more accurate picture.