Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sunday Ship History: Grog and "Bob Smith"

I don't know why, but Super Bowl Sunday reminded me of the former navy tradition of "grog."

Perhaps you've heard this old tale
- ''The U.S.S. Constitution, as a combat vessel carried 48,600 gallons (184,000 L) of fresh water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (fresh water distillers). However, let it be noted that according to her log, "On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons (184,000 l) of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds (5,250 kg) of black powder and 79,400 gallons (300,500 L) of rum."''
-''Her mission: "To destroy and harass English shipping."''
-''Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum. Then she headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds (250 kg) of beef and 64,300 gallons (243,400 L) of Portuguese wine. On 18 November, she set sail for England. In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchantmen, salvaging only the rum aboard each.''
-''By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, and though unarmed, she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and transferred 40,000 gallons (151,400 L) of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn.''
-''The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, with no cannon shot, no food, no powder, NO rum, NO wine, NO whiskey and 38,600 gallons (146,100 L) of stagnant water.''
Now, as with most tall tales, there is little bit of truth in the logistics of feeding a ship's crew:
One begins to understand the enormity of the feeding problem faced by the Secretary of the Navy in 1798 when one takes the ration provided per man per week and works it out, for example, for a single frigate with a crew of four hundred officers and men. In one year there had to be provided some 310 barrels of salt beef, the same quantity of salt pork, 1220 gallons of molasses, 15,840 pounds of rice, 1930 pounds of butter, 1500 pounds of cheese, 1730 of vinegar, 240 bushels of dried beans, 53 barrels of flour, 49 barrels of Indian meal, over 56 tons of hard bread, 19,470 pounds of salt fish, 730 bushels of potatoes, and 8650 gallons of rum!
Background about why grog was necessary from here:
Humans discovered long ago that they could not drink sea water, and required significant quantities of fresh water on extended voyages. Since they were unable to desalinate sea water, fresh water was taken on board in casks but quickly developed algae and became slimy. Stagnant water was sweetened with beer or wine to make it palatable which involved more casks and was subject to spoilage. As longer voyages became more common, the task of stowage became more and more difficult and the sailors' then-daily ration of a gallon of beer began to add up.
Following Britain's conquest of Jamaica in 1655, a half pint or "2 gills" of rum gradually replaced beer and brandy as the drink of choice. Given to the sailor straight, this caused additional problems, as some sailors would save up the rum rations for several days, then drink them all at once. Due to the subsequent illness and disciplinary problems, the rum was mixed with water. This both diluted its effects, and delayed its spoilage. A half pint of rum mixed with one quart of water and issued in two servings before noon and after the end of the working day became part of the official regulations of the Royal Navy in 1756 and lasted for more than two centuries.
Citrus juice (usually lime or lemon juice) was added to the recipe to cut down on the water's foulness. Although they did not know the reason at the time, Admiral Edward Vernon's sailors were healthier than the rest of the navy, due to the daily doses of vitamin C that prevented disease (mainly scurvy).[1] This custom, in time, got the British the nickname ''limeys'' for the limes they consumed.
It is very widely believed that the name "grog" came from the nickname of Admiral Edward "Old Grog" Vernon (pictured at left), but since the word appears in a book written by Daniel Defoe in 1718, well before Admiral Vernon's West Indian career began, and 22 years before his famous order to dilute the rum ration, this cannot be so. Significantly, it is in the 1718 book (The Family Instructor, Part II) a little former slave boy, Toby, from Barbados, who is the character using the word, stating that "the black mans" in the West Indies "make the sugar, make the grog, much great work, much weary work all day long." Since Defoe had trading interests which gave him connections at the great seaports of the day, it is likely that he had heard the word used by similar visitors to Britain from the West Indies. At any rate, the word seems to definitely have entered English from the West Indies - it may have an African origin. It is likely, therefore, that "Old Grog"'s nickname came from the drink, rather than from his cloak and that his family put about the story about the grogram cloak to cover up this minor shame. However, while the word "grog" referring to rum antedates Vernon's rations, the use of the word to refer to diluted rum may post-date him.
Although the American Navy ended the rum ration on September 1, 1862, the ration continued in the Royal Navy. The temperance movements of the late 19th century began to change the attitude toward drink and the days of ''grog'' slowly came to an end. In 1850 the size of the tot was halved to a quarter of a pint per day. The issue of grog to Officers ended in 1881, and to Warrant Officers in 1918. On January 28, 1970 the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons, and on July 31, 1970 the last pipe of "Up Spirits" in the Royal Navy was heard and is referred today as ''"Black Tot Day"''. (Although all ratings received an allowance of an extra can of beer each day as compensation.)
Until the grog ration was discontinued in 1970, Navy rum was 95.5 proof, or 47.75% alcohol; the usual ration was an eighth of a pint, diluted 2:1 with water (3:1 until World War II). Extra rum rations were provided for special celebrations, like Trafalgar Day, and sailors might share their ration with the cook or with a messmate celebrating a birthday.
Over time the distribution of the rum ration became encrusted with elaborate ritual. At 11am the boatswain’s mate piped 'Up spirits,' the signal for the petty officer of the day to climb to the quarterdeck and collect (1) the keys to the spirit room from an officer, (2) the ship's cooper, and (3) a detachment of Royal Marines. In procession, they unlocked the door of the spirit room, and witnessed the pumping into a keg of one eighth pint of rum for every rating and petty officer on the ship aged 20 or more and not under punishment. Two marines lifted the keg to the deck, standing guard while a file of cooks from the petty officers' messes held out their jugs. The sergeant of marines poured the ration under direction of the chief steward, who announced the number of drinking men present in each petty officer's mess. The rest of the rum was mixed in a tub with two parts water, becoming the grog provided to the ratings.
At noon the boatswain's mate piped "Muster for rum", and the cooks from each mess presented with tin buckets. The sergeant of marines ladled out the authorized number of “tots” (half-pints) supervised by the petty officer of the day. The few tots of grog remaining in the tub ('plushers') were poured into the drains (“scuppers”) visibly running into the sea.
The petty officers were served first, and entitled to take their rum undiluted. The ratings drank their grog in one long gulp when they finished their work around noon.
In the early stages of British settlement in Australia, the word grog entered common usage, to describe diluted, adulterated and sub-standard rum, obtainable from sly-grog shops. In the early decades of the Australian colonies such beverages were often the only alcohol available to the working class. Eventually in Australia, and New Zealand, the word grog came to be used as a slang term for any alcoholic beverage.
In the modern civilian world, a drink that is somewhat similar to grog is the fashionable mojito. Starting with the basic recipe for "navy grog" and adding mint plus substituting carbonated water in lieu of plain water creates a basic mojito.
A little history from here:
Grog. A mixture of rum and water, introduced into the Royal Navy on 21 August 1740 by Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. The word is a corruption of his nickname, "Old Grog," given him by the sailors in recognition of his well-known boat cloak made of grogram,a coarse material of silk and mohair. In his original order, a man's daily ration of a half pint of rum was mixed with one quart of water, and was issued in two servings before noon and after the end of the working day. The practice of serving grog twice a day was carried over into the Continental Navy and later the renascent U. S. Navy. Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith, experimented with substituting native rye whiskey for the imported rum concoction, and finding the American sailors preferred it, made the change permanent. It is said his sailors followed the practice of their British antecedents and took to calling it "Bob Smith" instead of "grog." (Constance Lathrop, "Grog," U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Mar 1935, pp. 377-380; letter, Robert Smith to Keith Spence, 11 Nov 1808, RG 45 (M209, Vol. 9), DNA; Tyrone G. Martin, "Bob Smith," Encycopedia of the War of 1812, New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1998)
An interesting connection to American history here:
There are few beverages in the world so uniquely maritime as grog. Little more than watered-down rum, grog seems an inseparable part of life at sea in the Age of Sail. In 1739, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) of the Royal Navy issued a decree that the crew’s normal ration of rum (plentiful in the Caribbean, where Vernon and his fleet were stationed) would be diluted with water. The new drink would consist of a half-pint of rum and a quart of water. Though they were drinking something less potent than straight rum (which, in the Caribbean, tended to be very strong), the seamen of the Royal Navy did not put up too much of a fuss. Vernon was a capable and much respected leader, and his men dubbed the concoction “grog” in his honor. While pacing the deck of his ship, Vice Admiral Vernon was rarely seen without his old grogram coat, leading to the nickname of “Old Grog.”

One of Edward Vernon’s subordinates was a Virginian named Lawrence Washington (1718-1753). The two became such good friends during a naval campaign in the Caribbean, that Lawrence Washington would later name his Virginia estate after his old comrade. After Lawrence Washington died, ownership of the Mount Vernon plantation eventually passed to his brother George.

Source: Lathrop, Constance. 1935. Grog: Its Origin and Use in the United States Navy. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. Vol.61, No.385: 377-80.
According to Tyronne Martin in the Encyclopedia of the War of 1812
The new U.S. Navy adopted many Royal Navy customs, one of which was the issuance of grog, a mix of rum and water twice daily. ... When Robert Smith became secretary of the navy in the Jefferson administration he noted that not only was U.S. rye whiskey cheaper than rum but also the sailors preferred it. In 1806, he ordered that rye replace grog. U.S. tars followed British practice and began calling their drink Bob Smith.
A little background on Secretary of the Navy Smith, who was in charge of a pirate fighting navy: here:
Robert Smith was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on 3 November 1757. He served in the Continental Army during the American War of Independence. Following graduation from Princeton in 1781, he practiced law and was active in Maryland politics during the next two decades.

On 27 July 1801, Robert Smith became Secretary of the Navy in the Jefferson Administration. He held that position throughout the 1801-05 war with Tripoli. In 1809, Smith left his Navy post to become Secretary of State, remaining in that office until April 1811.
Rum drinks, however, remained popular with some army officers, such as George Washington:
George Washington was partial to the legendary Fish House Punch, introduced in 1732 at the Schuylkill Fishing Club in Philadelphia.
The original recipe for Fish House Punch comes from the State in Schuylkill club in Philadelphia. It dates to 1732.
2 qts. Jamaica rum
1 qt Cognac
3/4 lb. sugar
2 qts. water
1qt. lemon juice
peach brandy, 1 wine glass

Put sugar and water in a punch bowl and stir to dissolve .
Add rest of liquids.
Put large chunk of ice in punch bowl.
Let stand for a couple of hours to meld.

Drink with caution. It goes down far too readily after the first drink.
I once served Fish House Punch at a New Years Eve party and can attest to the accuracy of the last quoted statement. If you ever serve it, make sure there are plenty of designated drivers.

Hmmm. I'm thirsty. Time to "splice the main brace" with a little "Bob Smith" - or a reasonable substitute . . .

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