Upcoming Walking Tour Focuses on Colonial New Englanders’ Drinking Habits

Colonial New Englanders drank roughly three times as much alcohol as Modern Americans, and an upcoming walking tour will explore this phenomenon before making its way to the Green Dragon, one of the city’s most historic watering holes.

The program, called “Fox’d and Fuddled: Colonial Cocktail Walking Tour,” takes place on Saturday, Feb. 19, with proceeds benefitting both of its sponsors – Historic New England and the West End Museum.

The tour begins at 3 p.m. at Otis House, located at 141 Cambridge St., with a brief, spirited illustrated introduction to the drinking habits of colonial New Englanders presented by Michael Maler, Historic New England’s Metro-Boston regional site administrator.

Jeremy Bell as Ambrose Gosling.

Maler’s presentation will examine why colonial New Englanders drank so much, as well as what and where they drank, specifically  taverns.

“Taverns played a big part in the whole progression of how much they drank and became really the center of social, business, and political life,” he said. “They encouraged more drinking to the point where there were laws enacted based on consumption for economic reasons and moral reasons – one of the most famous is the tax put on whiskey, which led to the Whiskey Rebellion.

What’s particularly surprising is how much they drank on any given occasion, said Maler, where it was a birth, a death, the reading of a will, the founding of a new country, or any other “excuse.”

“Then came temperance, which was the backlash against this, but that’s another walking tour,” added Maler.

Following Maler’s presentation, the walking tour makes it way to the Green Dragon, where guests will meet Jeremy Bell, whom Maler describes as a “Beacon Hill celebrity.”

Bell, now in his mid-50s, immigrated to the U.S. from Scotland around 30 years ago, and has lived on Pinckney Street for the last five or six years. During the pandemic, he was dubbed the “Pinckney Piper” for his habit of roving the neighborhood’s streets while playing his bagpipes – something he did on 80 consecutive Saturday nights.

A multi-instrumentalist, Bell has returned to his steady gig, singing and performing Irish songs solo on acoustic guitar from 3 to 6 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at Emmets Pub & Restaurant on Beacon Street. He also plays banjo on the occasions when he joins his son, violinist Calum Bell, as the younger Bell leads five or six other fiddlers for weekly sessions, which take place at Emmets every Saturday from 9 p.m. to midnight.

For the upcoming walking tour, however, Bell will adopt the persona of Ambrose Gosling.

Ambrose Gosling, who died at age 70 in 1757, was, along with his brother, James, one of the sons of William Gosling, an English wine and spirits merchant, and together, they helped build the company that would become Bermuda-based rum manufacturer Gosling Brothers Limited.

For the past 24 years, Bell has worked for Gosling Brothers while adopting Ambrose’s guise for appearances at events, such as boat shows and stops on the PGA tour, where he talks about the history of the rum while donning 18th-century attire.

“As the costume shows, Goslings is an old Bermudian company, and there’s so much history around rum, which links perfectly to Boston because there’s so much history between rum and Boston – remember rum made Paul Revere fall off his horse,” said Bell.

Gosling Brothers now operates under the leadership of Malcom Gosling, the seventh generation of his family to  run the company to date.

At the Green Dragon, Ambrose Gosling will be serving Dark ‘n Stormys, the Goslings’ patented drink comprising its dark rum mixed with ginger beer, among other colonial cocktails, while offering up a pinch of George III’s snuff, which was commonly paired with rum during colonial times.

Ambrose will also be serenading tour-goers with what Maler describes as “tastefully bawdy” colonial songs on concertina, a small free-reed instrument from the same family as the accordion.

“It’s really fun of bringing history to life and learning about the history of colonial times by starting at a museum and ending up at a tavern,” said Bell. “I love that Michael and Historic New England have moved out of the lecture hall and into the public tavern to bring colonial history alive with this fun event. The Green Dragon is also just a classic, very famous Irish bar, and if it goes well, we’ll be doing more of these.”

In the meantime, Bell was on hand playing his bagpipes for a scotch tasting on Jan. 28 at the Union Club, and an upcoming “Rum on the Hill” program with Bell as Ambrose Gosling at 1928 Beacon Hill is now in the works as well.

“Fox’d and Fuddled” also marks a return to in-person programming for Historic New England, which has gone largely virtual since the pandemic struck.

“Given the limited number of attendees and the protocols in place, it seemed like a good segue way into the things that people might be more comfortable, especially since we’ll also be walking outside and [gathering in] places not filled to capacity,” said Maler.

In 2011, Historic New England in Newbury sponsored a program called “Ales and Tales,” with participants taking on the role of the accused for recreations of the quarterly court trials from the 17th century. Dinner, with beer and ale, was also served as part of the program.

“This will be the same the same type of fun environment and interactive experience with Ambrose leading them in songs, and he’s a storyteller akin to tavern entertainment that would’ve been commensurate with the colonial period,” Maler said of the upcoming walking tour,

The “Fox’d and Fuddled: Colonial Cocktail Walking Tour” takes place Saturday, Feb. 19, from 3 to 5 p.m., starting at Otis House, 141 Cambridge St. Guests must be at least 21 years old, masked, and provide proof of vaccination, as well as ID. Admission is $55 per person and includes one complimentary drink at the Green Dragon. Visit https://my.historicnewengland.org/12656/hgo-cocktail to purchase tickets, or call Historic New England at 617-994-5959 for more information.

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