Cider Production In 1771 Massachusetts

Cider was one of the most popular, if not the most popular, alcoholic drinks in Colonial America (despite what Rev. Acrelius said). For example, it was important enough in Pennsylvania that widows were granted an annual supply.

Just because almost everyone was drinking cider does not mean almost everyone was making it. Though orchards and barrels may have been more common, few people chose to invest in cider mills and presses. Even so, there is a belief that most households at least raised their own apples and fermented their own juice. It’s almost impossible to get a sense of how many were truly involved in producing cider.

Unless you look at the 1771 Massachusetts tax list database, which Harvard has generously put online.

MAP of MA

For an interactive map of Massachusetts counties go here.
Map of Massachusetts Proper, Carleton Osgood, 1802. Library of Congress.

The database covers 16 counties, 152 towns, and 37,938 taxpayers in colonial Massachusetts (which includes present-day Maine). The number of taxpayers does not include women (unless property-owning widows), children, or servants and slaves (though the latter two were taxable and thus represented).

Along with who is taxed, the database includes all of the taxable goods and chattels. Among them are eleven categories of land and agricultural use, including cider production. Cider is the only alcohol-related agricultural product tracked (beer does not appear in the taxes, nor does wine which was not produced in America at the time), with the total number of barrels of cider produced by county and town reported.[1]

The following table shows, in ascending order, the cider production for each county and every town within it, including the taxpayer total for each locale. County information is shown in bold.

While the comments below are by no means an exhaustive analysis, a few things jump out:

  • These figures represent production only, not presence or consumption.
  • Towns are the smallest production unit listed in the table above, though individual household production is listed in the taxes (but out of the scope of the present overview).[2]
  • Not every home, town, or county had a cidermaker in it.
  • The figures suggest that some places are more conducive to investing in cidermaking than others.
  • Some towns did not produce enough for one barrel for every household (represented by a taxpayer).
  • It is not clear what volume a “barrel of cider” represents.
  • Population was not an indication of production – some small places made large volumes, and some large places did not.
    • Boston’s 0 barrels was the biggest surprise (I would have thought they were at least fermenting there).

Like all tax-based research, the numbers are simply suggestive of much more interesting and personal stories. However, the clearest picture that emerges is that cidering was an important, but not a universal pursuit.

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  1. Cider was not the only alcohol-related presence in the taxes. Stillhouses were also listed by county and town. It’s curious to note that while three counties did not produce any cider in 1771, only one county had no listed stillhouse.
  2. An earlier version of this post suggested that the database only went as deep as towns, which is not the case. It includes the complete assessment for each individual taxpayer. I hope to expand the table to include this information in the near future.

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