Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The quality of the beer in his new colony was important enough to William Penn for him to include it in his descrip­tion of Pennsylvania to entice prospective settlers. “Our Drink has been Beer and Punch, made of Rum and Water. Our Beer was mostly made of Molasses, which well boyld, with Sassafras or Pine infused into it, makes very tolerable drink; but now they make Mault, and Mault Drink begins to be common, espe­cially at the ordinaries and the Houses of the more substantial People.” The first known brewer to establish a business in Philadelphia was William Frampton, who operated a brewery by 1685. William Penn described him in the same epistle, “In our great Town there is an able Man, that has set up a large Brew House, in order to furnish the People with good Drink, both there and up and down the River.” In order to ensure that all colonists could afford the staple beverage, prices for beer were fixed at the proprietary government’s first assembly: two pence per quart of malt beer and one penny per quart of molasses beer.

Largely because he took an avid interest in the growth of the Philadelphia brewing in­dustry and built his own brew­house at his country estate, Pennsbury Manor, Penn has had the erroneous reputation, since the late nineteenth cen­tury, for being a pioneer brewer. In fact, the majority of histories of American brewing contain a wealth of misconcep­tions about Penn’s role in early brewing activity.

William Penn did not intro­duce brewing to Pennsylvania. With the first settlement of America, colonists brought brewing traditions from their homelands. From dwellers of the earliest crude houses to owners of early plantations, all brewed their own beer. Early settlers not only believed that beer was essential to general health, but also that it pre­vented scurvy. The Swedes, who settled in the Pennsylva­nia area as early as the 1630s, had already been making beer when English colonists ar­rived. (For a concise history of brewing in Pennsylvania, see William D. Cissna’s “A Tradi­tion Brewing,” in the fall 1985 edition of this magazine.)

The significance of Penn’s role in the brewing field may well have been exaggerated, because when the first histo­ries of beer were being written in the nineteenth century, a structure at Pennsbury Manor known as the brewhouse was touted as the only remains of the Penn residence.

Pennsbury Manor, located twenty-six miles north of Phil­adelphia on the banks of the Delaware River, was the hand­some country estate of William Penn and his family. Penn, who purchased the land from the Lenape Indians and farmers who had settled there, supervised construction of the estate from England through correspondence to his over­seer. While he may have in­spected the site on his first visit to the colony in 1683, he did not live there until 1699 to 1701, when he made his sec­ond and last trip with his family. The manor, encom­passing some eight thousand acres, included a house, at least one outbuilding, which possibly contained a kitchen and brewhouse, a stable, pas­ture for a number of farm animals, and flower and vege­table gardens. The estate was maintained by Penn’s staff, some twenty-five servants and slaves, who lived there through­out the year, from as early as 1683 to as late as the 1740s.

In the 1930s, Pennsbury Manor was reconstructed by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission based on information gleaned from archaeo­logical digs, letters written by Penn and knowledge of seven­teenth century English culture. Today, after considerable re­search on colonial and early English brewing practices and a careful analysis of the Penn documents, the validity of the interpretation of this brew­house developed a half­-century ago is being questioned.

The Penn family’s brew­house was not built in 1683, as most historians believed. In 1685, Penn requested that a brewhouse be constructed, writing to his steward or overseer, James Harrison, from London: “I would have a kitchen, two larders, a wash house, a room to Iron in, a brew house, & in it an oven for baking, a stable for twelve horses … and all but ye stables 9 ft high … & overhead, half story.” Two months later, Penn repeated, “A Kitchen washouse brewhouse & stable will be wanted, but I know how to shift [ make do) …. ”

With letters in April and November 1686, Penn – apparently in exasperation – sent more builders to Pennsbury with the demand, “Lett their be good Out houses for servts kitchen, washous, Brew house, stable, &c …. ” Throughout the next year, Penn requested information on the progress of the construc­tion.

Although historians know a great deal about what Penn desired at this country estate from his letters, little is certain about what actually was built. Even though historically sensi­tive individuals perceived the value of saving the letters of a famous personage such as William Penn, they generally did not consider the letters of ordinary people to the famous (or to anyone else for that matter) to be valuable. Conse­quently, few of the letters from Penn’s steward remain today. An inventory taken in 1687, at the time of Harrison’s death, mentions the “ould kitchen,” implying that a new one ex­isted or was in the process of being constructed. The room contained two copper fur­naces, kettles, a pail, brass skimmers, a stone “mallter,” and hair sieves – all equipment which would be used for brew­ing. William Markham, deputy secretary, wrote to Penn in July 1688, “now wee are about the finishing the outhouseing.” He added that the two carpenters he had hired to do the job had been ill, but were recovering. “I will do what possible to finish it before winter,” he promised.

In 1693, “the new buildings at Pensberry” were surveyed and measured by Andrew Griscone (or Griscom), a Phila­delphia carpenter. Letters written throughout the next decade reveal that the out­buildings were never finished to Penn’s satisfaction, although they may have proved func­tionally adequate.

From the evidence of pre­-reconstruction archaeological digs, it appears that two out­buildings of similar size were constructed, which, given their proximity to the manor house and the artifacts found there, likely accommodated the domestic functions of cooking, washing and brewing. These buildings were connected by foundations, making one large building, which would explain the refer­ences from 1700 on, that Wil­liam, his wife Hannah and son Thomas make to the “out­house” (that is, outbuilding) or the “kitchen house.”

In September 1701, Penn wrote to his secretary James Logan from Pennsbury Manor, requesting, “A runnel [proba­bly rundle or a small wooden vessel] of ale from Philadel­phia or Burlington should be brought us: we make our own small beer.” The commercial ale would probably be for the Penn family and visiting digni­taries, while the homemade small or weak beer was typi­cally consumed by servants. This practice would be charac­teristic of Penn, who, a gentle­man at heart, desired the best of everything, including food and drink.

Cashbook entries reveal much about the beer-drinking habits of both the Penns and their workers. A large quantity of beer and ale for the Penn family was purchased from Henry Badcock of Philadel­phia. Badcock (or Babcock) was one of the finest brewers in the city and, in fact, was largely responsible for Phila­delphia’s reputation for quality beer. Between December 1699 and March 1701, Penn spent one hundred and sixty-six pounds on beer from Badcock – about one hundred and sixteen barrels or more than sixty-two hundred gallons!

In his description of Penn­sylvania, Penn described a beer made from molasses. Judging by cashbook entries, some of the Pennsbury beer may well have been made of molasses. Between 1690 and 1693, approximately three hundred gallons of molasses were purchased. Molasses was commonly used in cooking in this period, but since, for affluent families, white sugar was the main sweetener and since the amount of molasses is so large, it likely was used for brewing as well. Penn noted that molasses beer was a favorite among the poor and middle-class Pennsylvanians.

The bulk of the beer was made from malt, most of which was made at the estate, a practice typical of large households of the period. Barley, from which malt is made, was one of the three main crops grown at Penns­bury. Before 1688, Penn wrote to Harrison that he was hop­ing to send him a maltster, an individual who made malt. In 1690, he sent John Philly, a Quaker husbandman and maltster, to Pennsbury as suc­cessor to steward James Harri­son. A stone mallter appears in the 1687 inventory of Penns­bury, which probably refers to a handmill used for grinding malt. Penn carried the tradi­tion for making malt from his English home, Worminghurst, where he owned a steel malt mill.

Malt was also bought to supplement that which was produced. From 1690 to 1693, about eight bushels of malt were purchased, enough to brew one to two hogsheads of beer. Although no entries appear in account books, much more malt may have been purchased once the Penn family moved to Pennsbury in 1700. From the end of January to October 1701, most of the food and drink appears to have been bought by Ann Nichols, the manor’s cook. During this time, entries read­ing “By Ann Nichols for the house” total more than fifty pounds.

After William Penn’s death in 1718, his heirs took little interest in the manor. Visitors, however, continued to frequent the site throughout the next two centuries when it served as both a religious and historic shrine. Several visitors’ accounts of the site refer to a malthouse or brew house as the main remnant left from Penn’s estate. The earliest, writ­ten by Deborah Norris Logan in 1800, noted that “an old malt-house and some other outbuildings still re­mained” at the manor. J. F. Watson wrote an entry in his journal during his 1826 visit, and later added a footnote which indicated that he could not decide if the building he had seen was the original brewhouse or not:

The Brew house or a house on its foundation (of boards) is the only present appearance of a house on the place. In [the brewhouse building] now dwells the Proprie­tor Rob’t Crozier who was also born in it. He & his mother say it was always called the Brew house & the Malt house was in its rear part.

This tho’ old does not seem to be the same buildings that was the Brewhouse, but it is reared on that foundation – & yet the win­dows are too small on this side & ill placed, to have been so framed for a dwelling house – it was fitted up to close all in while the man­sion should be rebuilt.

In later years Watson ap­peared to be more convinced that it was the original brew­house which he had seen. In his Annals of Philadelphia, he reflected that the frame brew­house was the only building remaining of the Pennsbury estate, the malt house having been long demolished.

A print entitled Penn’s Old Brewhouse appeared in Sher­man Day’s 1843 Historical Col­lections of the State of Pennsyl­vania. The author, judging by the paragraph accompanying the illustration, also appears to have chatted with Robert Cro­zier who related the oral his­tory which Watson heard. Other sketches date from 1855, 1858 and 1864, after which the building finally collapsed.

When Pennsbury Manor was reconstructed in the 1930s, plans were made to rebuild the outbuilding with a bakehouse in the west wing and a brew and malthouse in the east wing. Evidence from archeo­logical digs for the project supported the belief that a brewhouse once stood near the manor house. Two build­ing foundations lying parallel to each other each measured about twenty-three by forty­-one feet, consistent with the nineteenth century references. Archaeologists also found an underground cistern, a large iron hoop and a brick floor drain leading from the build­ing, all of which would have been found in a brewhouse or malthouse.

Project archaeologist Donald Cadzow reported that the brewhouse stood exactly forty feet to the east of, and in direct line with, the manor house. Nearly a century ear­lier, Watson had written that a forty-foot-wide lane stood between the end of the manor house (foundation) and the broad side of the building which he called the brew­house. Cadzow did not believe that the structure depicted in the nineteenth century views was the original Pennsbury brew house. While he did not write a formal report on his excavation (or if he did, its whereabouts are unknown), in a letter to a brewing researcher he wrote that, based on the archaeological evidence, he concluded that the original structure had burned down, and at least three buildings were subsequently erected on the same foundation.

In light of Cadzow’s investi­gations, a plausible conclusion is that the west wing of the structure was built first to accommodate brewing, baking and, possibly, laundering. This hypothesis that one wing was constructed before the other is supported by archaeological drawings which depict foundation materials of the west wing differing drastically from those of the east wing. In later years, as more beer was brewed, or commercial malt became more inaccessible, another building was con­structed to house the malting process. Since the grain had to be thinly spread to germinate, much floor space was necessary – such as that afforded by an entire wing of the outbuilding.

Regardless of Cadzow’s conclusions, architect R. Brognard Okie based the exte­rior design of the brewhouse on the nineteenth century illustrations. Okie wrote, “There are in existence, steel or wood cuts of the west wing of the Bake and Brew house showing the appearance of this portion of the building, and it is from these existing pictures that the present eleva­tions have been worked out.” Okie offered no justification for the construction of a chim­ney in the east wing, for which there was no archaeological evidence.

The reconstructed brewhouse, located within the east wing of the outbuilding, con­tains one room for making malt and one room for brewing beer. The equipment in each has remained essentially the same since the blueprints were drawn in 1938. The malt room contains a storage bin for bar­ley, a wooden “ripening vat,” one brick-encased kettle and a kiln. The brewroom is fur­nished with two brick-encased kettles, a large central cistern (partially underground) and two vats “for storing and aging the ale.”

According to Okie, the layout of the brewroom was based on the memory of an elderly German brewmaster. While the effort to base his design on historical founda­tions is admirable, the archi­tect did not consider that beer-brewing practices changed over time. No matte.r how old his consultant was, his information was at least two centuries off mark. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, beer was unlagered (what today would be called ale) and made in a completely different manner than that made in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In contrast with modern practices, beer brewing in colonial America was a trial-­and-error process. A typical example of a recipe for making beer was included in George Watkins’ 1768 The Compleat English Brewer, or the Whole Art and Mystery of Brewing:

Having filled the copper [ket­tle] with [water], make a brisk fire: when the water begins to be hot, sprinkle upon the surface of it half a peck of the malt, without stirring it in. Let it swim upon the top till the water simmers, and just is beginning to boil: then draw, or ladle it out of the copper into the mash-tub, and let it stand to cool a little … when a man can hold his head over it, and look down upon the water, so as to see his face in it, then it will be in a proper condition for the malt … While one person pours in the malt leisurely and slowly, let another stir it all about in the water with the oar, and continue stirring it some time after all is in, that the whole may be very thor­oughly and very well mashed together. .. cover the mash-tub with several sacks laid one upon another, to keep in the heat ….

When the tub is covered, let the copper be filled with water again, and bring it to boil with a brisk fire … and .. .let [it] into the mash in the tub. At the same time open the tap of the mash-tub a very little way, so as to let out a stream about as thick as a crow­-quill, to run into the receiver, or underback … When this fine first wort is in the copper, tie up a pound and half of hops in a coarse canvas bag, and put them into the copper to it … the eye will be a judge when the wort is boiled enough by its breaking; but the best judgement of all is lastly to be found by the taste.

… It must then be drawn or ladled out of the copper, and run through a sieve, that it may go clear into the coolers. Then this quantity is to stand to cool [when] … it is time to begin fermenting it [by adding the yeast] ….

When the yeast begins to fall, put up the drink into the vessel; and, when it has done working in the vessel, it will be fit for serv­ice ….

Based on Watkins’ and other seventeenth and eight­eenth century brewing trea­tises, as well as numerous descriptions and illustrations, a plan for equipping Penns­bury Manor’s brewhouse more accurately has been prepared. The only existing equipment which can be used as origi­nally interpreted are the stor­age bins, kiln and brewing kettles. Equipment and uten­sils which will eventually be added to the brewhouse in­clude a mash-tun and mash paddles, an underback, work­ing tun, cooling vessels, scoops, a sieve and a funnel.

By providing the brew­house with more historically accurate equipment, Penns­bury’s interpreters will be better able to convey to visitors how seventeenth century people made their staple drink. Visitors will not only be able to see an accurate brew­house and its equipment, but also will be able to smell the aroma of beer being made. (They will be left to their own devices to imagine the flavor, however, since state law for­bids tasting.) As part of the manor’s living history pro­gram, the brewing operation will greatly expand the ambi­tious efforts to comprehen­sively interpret seventeenth century plantation life.


For Further Reading

Baron, Stanley. Brewed in Amer­ica. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962.

Lender, Mark E. and James K. Martin. Drinking in America. New York: Free Press, 1982.

Shammas, Carole. “The Domestic Environment in Early Modern England and America,” in Jour­nal of Social History, 14 (1980), 3-24.

Wilson, C. Anne. Food and Drink in Britain. London: Constable, 1973.


Clare Lise Cavicchi is the curator of Pennsbury Manor in Morris­ville, a historic site administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. A graduate of Cornell University, she received her master of science in historic preservation from the University of Vermont. She has researched and written a mono­graph, which is pending publica­tion, on the history of the Adirondacks Mountain site where once stood a resort hotel. She served as guest curator at the University of Vermont’s Robert Hull Fleming Museum for an exhibit of photographs and writ­ings of Herbert Wheaton Cong­don, Vermont preservationist.