Abbott

Jesse Abbott - "Without Skill in Inebriation": Problematic Drinkers in the War of 1812

In the British army of the early nineteenth century, drink was ubiquitous. Officers indulged in expensive Portuguese port, enlisted men enjoyed daily rations of rum or whisky, and “limey” sailors drank their grog. While some could bear the intoxicating effects of spirituous liquors quite well – the product of a lifetime of heavy drinking – others, like poor Johnny Newcome (seen above) had, as Dr. Johnson would say, “no skill in inebriation.” In the minds of these seasoned commanders, this set men like Newcome apart. He was seen as less of a man, and worse yet, as less of a gentleman. In this way, the drinking habits of the officer class informed the way they perceived those around them. Officers saw their ability to act politely whilst drinking heavily, as confirmation of their superior military rank and their position in society as white British men. As a result, they saw any inability to tolerate liquor amongst the enlisted men, Indigenous allies, and even other officers, as confirmation of supposed inferiority. The poor, the Scottish, the Irish, “Indians,” and all unmanly men were thus cast as problematic drinkers in the eyes of their commanders. These perceptions have informed ours today.

 

Jesse Abbott is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Canadian history at the University of Waterloo. He is interested in eighteenth century Anglo-Canadian drink culture, and how it informed perceptions of the other. His MA research at Brock University focused on drink culture among British officers in the War of 1812, in particular. During his time at Brock, Jesse spent the summer months working as a historical interpreter at Old Fort Erie.