Beer and wine certainly weren't brewed for the geese
so let us use it to our heart's content.

- 17th century Dutch philosophy on drinking

The Drunken Couple by Jan Steen

In the 17th century the Dutch were well known for their fondness for drink.  The pair in Jan Steen’s The Drunken Couple are practicing what the Dutch admitted about themselves.  The painting is one of many the artist produced depicting scenes of inebriated mayhem in taverns, weddings and other places.  But a Dutchman didn’t require a gathering to enjoy his brew.  If he had no drinking partner, he would choose his hat or coat as a boon companion and drink himself so silly that he reached the same level of reason as the hat or the coat.

The reputation spread beyond Holland’s borders.  Englishman described intemperance as drinking in the Dutch manner.  Not just the men one English visitor argued.  In his opinion Dutch women outnumbered their men because they drank so much they couldn’t beget boys.

And when Dutchmen crossed the Atlantic, they brought their thirst with them, or so Peter Stuyvesant thought when he arrived as Director-General.  Fully one quarter of the town was brandy shops and tobacco and beer houses, he charged. As a consequence, honorable trades were being neglected and the people seriously debauched. Worse still, youth, seeing the improper example of their parents, were being set on a path toward the devil. So all clandestine groggeries were to be shut down, Stuyvesant ordered, and any legitimate tippling places would have to apply for a license.

Courtesy of Bill Greer, author of The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan (available in the NNI Shop).  For more on the bawdy world of Dutch Manhattan, see Bill's Sex and the City: The Early Years.

To learn about Dutch popular culture including the propensity to drink, see Plain Lives in a Golden Age: Popular Culture, Religion and Society in Seventeenth-century Holland, A. Th. Van Deursen, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More


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