Archaeology also provides information about the Muhlenberg household’s alcohol consumption. Alcoholic drinks, including wine, were the most common beverages in early America. Henry Muhlenberg’s journals include mentions of beer, hard cider, apple brandy, and wine, including Rhenish, Lisbon, and Madeira wine. Frederick Muhlenberg owned three barrels of cider, ten gallons of Lisbon wine, 95 gallons of “spirits,” and an astonishing 57 wine glasses and 20 tumblers when he died in 1801. Most of the wine drunk in eighteenth-century America was imported, although the Pennsylvania Germans did make some wine from fruit (including raisins and currants) and flowers such as dandelions. Madeira wine, a costly import that was favored by many wealthy Americans, came from the island of Madeira, a Portuguese territory off the coast of northern Africa. Wine was typically imported in large barrels or casks, then decanted into smaller glass bottles for storage.
Fragments of glass bottles have been found in abundance at The Speaker’s House. Two particularly large examples provide an opportunity to consider the specific types of bottles and their usage. The first piece is the base and partial side of a square-shaped bottle often referred to as a “case bottle” because its square form could be packed into wooden cases or crates for transport more efficiently and securely than round bottles.
Case bottles were also known as gin bottles, although other types of alcohol were stored in them as well. Square bottles were made in Europe by the mid-1600s and continued to be used through the 1800s. Earlier bottles tend to have straight sides, whereas later examples have tapered sides that narrow at the bottom. Although fragmentary, the case bottle piece found at The Speaker’s House appears to have straight rather than tapered sides, suggesting that it likely dates to the 1700s.
The second bottle fragment is the neck of a dark green or “black” glass bottle; the relatively straight sides and narrow, tapering shoulder indicate that it dates to the mid-to-late 1700s. Although this bottle dates to the Muhlenberg period of ownership, it was unfortunately found by archaeologists in a rodent burrow, out of its historical context.
Round bottles of dark green glass were commonly used for both storing and serving wine, although elite households also used clear glass decanters for serving. Frederick Muhlenberg owned eight quart-size glass decanters and four pint-size decanters when he died in 1801. Combined with the documentary and material evidence, these bottle fragments reveal the presence of wine and other alcoholic beverages in the Muhlenberg household.
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