Jupiter Evans looms large in American cider culture. His name is increasingly included in cider-related articles. For over a decade he’s had one cider named after him, with a second one just released.1 And his association with Thomas Jefferson rarely goes unmentioned. Of course, that association was forced. Evans was an enslaved African American at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation.
Until relatively recently, Jefferson eclipsed Evans as Monticello’s resident ciderist, but more detailed observations of the records has brought Evans into sharper focus. Born the same year as Jefferson, Evans was Jefferson’s personal servant, stabler, stonecutter, and cidermaker.
This increased awareness of Evans has inspired some to search for other cidermakers of African descent elsewhere in early America. Unfortunately, since so little was recorded about American cidermakers and cidermaking, and much of what was written down remains difficult to access, it can seem nearly impossible to find others. While it may be true that there are not many other African American cidermakers as well documented as Evans, there is plenty of evidence that African Americans were actively, if not freely, making cider throughout early America.
Like Evans, many African Americans had training in a number of activities. Johann David Schoepf, a German doctor touring America just after the Revolution, observed that in Virginia
The gentlemen in the country have among their negroes as the Russian nobility among the serfs, the most necessary handicrafts-men, cobblers, tailors, carpenters, smiths, and the like, whose work they command at the smallest possible price or for nothing almost. There is hardly any trade or craft which has not been learned and is not carried on by negroes…
In mid-1790s Englishman Isaac Weld noted that the, “principal planters in Virginia have nearly every thing they can want on their own estates. Amongst their slaves are found taylors, shoemakers, carpenters, smiths, turners, wheelwrights, weavers, tanners, &c.” Orcharding and cidermaking, like the crafts listed above, required a reliable and, preferably, cheap pool of both skilled and unskilled laborers. As Jupiter Evans’s life attests, many planters answered that with enslaved people of African descent.
It wasn’t only Southern plantations that turned to enslaved labor. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a Frenchman living in the province of New York, noted that once farmers in New England and the Mid-Atlantic acquired land they, “must have a team [of oxen] and a negro.”
Like the South, Northern slavery was justified in terms of economics and efficiency, particularly for labor-intensive tasks like cidering. Unlike the South, Northern farms had significantly smaller populations of enslaved labor, often just one or two people. Because their presence was not as dramatic as in the South, enslaved people in the North can seem to be invisible. But there are ways to identify their work.
For example, Rhode Island’s East Bay settlements were predominantly agricultural. These farms participated not only in the local market, but also supplied the trade to the West Indian plantations (where enslaved labor was used for sugar production). Researchers looked at probate inventories (inventories of property and goods taken after someone’s death) to investigate the relationship between six types of agricultural production in East Bay and their use of enslaved labor.2 They focused on large-scale livestock raising, fishing, spinning yarn and thread, cheesemaking, shoemaking, and cidermaking. Their study found that spinning, cheesemaking, and shoemaking were largely independent of enslaved labor, while livestock raising, fishing, and cidermaking were dependent on it.3
As these surveys show, cider and slavery were ubiquitous in early America, often existing side-by-side. We are just beginning to identify their connections and what they mean to our understanding of American cider culture. As we look at our cider history with this new lens, we need to continue to learn more about Evans. We also need to find other African American cidermakers who don’t yet shine as brightly. They are out there.
- However, Jupiter apples are not named for him.
- James C. Garman, “Rethinking ‘Resistant Accommodation’: Toward an Archaeology of African-American Lives in Southern New England, 1638-1800,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 2, no. 2 (June 1998): 133-160.
- A similar study of labor at Sylvester Manor, located at the eastern end of Long Island, revealed evidence for enslaved African American cidermaking as well. See Heather B. Trigg and David B. Landon, “Labor and Agricultural Production at Sylvester Manor Plantation, Shelter Island, New York,” Historical Archaeology 44, no. 3 (2010): 36-53.