“A swig of Applejack a day will keep the doctor away” was more apt to be the slogan of our ancestors than the familiar one heard today. While corn and rye were among the first crops the German Settlers planted after the forest was cleared, they lost no time in starting orchards.
These were “cash crops” that could be sold by the “gallon” when necessary.
Reference is made in the Royer Family History that during the 1730’s Sebastian Royer who is credited with settling Brickerville “did a thriving business with the Indians, trading his famous ‘Ciderlung’”. The Nanticokes were then on a reservation nearby adjoining the Brubaker and Eberly tracts.
Before the still was available our first farmers would put down as much as fifty barrels of hard apple cider every fall. After the water content froze the hard stuff would be removed and the demand was constant throughout the cold winter months.
Grain whiskies were valued as medicines. While some of the old reliable Indians’ remedies were soon adopted, they were seldom used without alcohol being added to increase their effi- ciency and these became our first patent medicines. Alcohol was the one sedative available then and practically everybody drank to some degree. They got an early start for peevish in- fants were often given a soothing mixture of Paregoric and spirits. The eye-opener was quite popular among early risers. Then there would be “lifts” and appetizers during the day, finally ending with a night-cap—and all from the same jug.
Grain was hard to transport to the city markets and oft times just as hard to keep from spoiling when stored. The very survival of many of our first settlers depended on turning their crops into “liquid” which could easily be carried to the city and sold for cash.
Life was hard and short for most of our ancestors and they felt that strong drink was a necessity of life. In fact they did not live long enough to realize the effects of prolonged overdrinking as something else was sure to get them first. They knew that spirits disinfected, brought warmth as well as good humor and cheer to their uncomfortable lot.
The first commercial distillery in operation here is believed to have been built in Rome along the Lititz creek in the 1760’s. What became of it is a mystery but we do know that a thriving business was done at the Inn in the Pilgerhaus (Hershey Apartments until 2008). It can also be assumed that George Klein’s interest in large orchards was not due to an excess demand for ap- plebutter. When the Inn moved to the new Zum Anker building (Sutter Hotel), it became so popular that the Church Fathers complained that too many young people were getting drunk on Sundays. Later on it was ruled that no one should be served drinks at the Inn on Easter and Christmas “except in cases of necessity.”
In 1782 it was suggested that a brewery be started in Lititz but it was discouraged because it was doubted if the quality of Lancaster beer could be duplicated. It was nearly fifty years later that the first brewery was built on Broad Street near the creek.
Among the many popular patent medicines made in Lititz in the past was the Seneca Indian Oil (alcohol contents unknown). This was made up by the popular and troublesome Tobias Hirte in the 1770’s. Every year he would make a pilgrimage to the Seneca Indian country where he did a thriving business.
Spirits were freely used in hospitals and when the many wounded soldiers were hospitalized here in 1778 they drew their supplies from Manheim. An inventory taken in this year shows the ‘medicines’ listed as follows: 3 Hogsheads & 1/3 of Spirits, 2 Barrels Port Wine, 1 Pipe and halfe Madeira Wine, etc.
In this year fraud was charged in Lancaster that hospital wines were being adulterated and sold privately. Through lack of these medicinal agents many suffering from disease died. (From “Military Hospitals” by George Heiges)
In 1793 Christian Becker began distilling along the Pine Hill Road where he built the beautiful rambling gray-stone farmhouse that has been the home of nine generations of Beckers. Across the road the original building and dam can still be seen and the patented still (at the beginning of the article) is in the proud possession of Elam Becker (1967).
One of the first taxes imposed by the government in the newly formed USA was on distilling in 1791. It was so unpopular that is resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion in later years. An original license issued to Henry Becker in 1817 was presented the Lititz Historical Foundation by his great-grandson, Elam. This was on a 151 gallon still and the tax was eighteen cents a gallon – almost as much as he got for the whiskey which was twenty-five cents.
As the nineteenth century brought more enlightenment to our country, medical doctors came up (with) the appalling discovery that “The Water of Life” was in fact a poison unless used in graceful moderation. However this bad news did not stop drinking, but the innocence with which our ancestors drank was gone.
Then in 1893 the first temperance newspaper in the County called The Prohibitionist was printed in Lititz. It stated emphatically that the seven brewers and six distillers granted licenses in the county were too much for the preservation of morality amongst the citizenry.
And then we had “Prohibition.”
Copy of an 1817 License issued to Henry Becker for Distilling Spirits. The still illustrated is believed to have been the largest still made at that time and was the invention of Henry Becker. It is now in the pos- session of his great, great grandson Elam Becker on the Pine Hill Road. The capacity was 151 gallons and the tax was 18 cents per galloon for each month in operation. The going price to the consumer ranged from 15 to 30 cents a gallon.