After it was founded on October 13th, 1775, both officers and men on Continental Navy ships were served alcohol. A weak 2% beer was the primary beverage for everyone on board the ship. However, in the wardroom, in addition to beer furnished by the government, the officers were could drink whiskey, rum and wine that as a group, they purchased with their own money. We also followed the Royal Navy practice of serving the enlisted men a daily ration of rum or grog (rum diluted with water and lime or another citrus fruit juice) provided by the government.
This tradition continued in the U.S. Navy until General Order Number 99 became the order of the day on July 1st, 1914. With the stroke of the pen, U.S. Navy ships became, at least theoretically dry. Many us who have made long cruises on U.S. Navy ships have had an adult beverage or two while at sea, but that is another story for another blog – see http://marcliebman.com/author/liquid-guest-speakers-2/ .
The Continental Navy (and the U.S. Navy) adopted many traditions and customs from the Royal Navy, many of which we still follow today. The Continental Navy was formed on October 13, 1775 and dissolved in 1785 because under the Articles of Confederation the Continental Congress could not levy taxes. It was not until the Naval Act of 1794 (passed on March 27th, 1794) that the Federal government under the new constitution could tax its citizens to pay for an army and navy.
During the American Revolution, the officers ate dinner, or supper as it was known in the Royal Navy, together. It was a “formal” event in that all those not on watch were required to attend. And, in the Royal Navy, as part of the dinner, there were mandatory toasts, i.e. to the King, the Royal Navy and to the First Lord of the Admiralty. Continental Navy wardrooms toasted “our cause,” or “freedom.”
Depending on the day of the week, in the Royal Navy, there was a special toast some of which the Continental Navy also adopted. Several were sobering, others reflect the dark, gallows humor common on warships and others the realities of life as a sailor.
On Monday’s, the officers would drink to “our ships at sea.”
Tuesdays, they toasted “our men.”
Wednesdays, the officers drank to “ourselves, because nobody else is likely to bother.”
Because in the 18th Century, England fought nine different wars and the Royal Navy was at war more than it was at peace, the members of wardroom raised their glasses “to this bloody war, may it bring us all faster promotions.”
Friday’s toast was to something that part of their life as well as a necessity when “a willing foe and always having sea room.” Because the Royal Navy was the pre-eminent navy of the 18th Century, many of its opponents were not very well equipped or capable. And, most Royal Navy captains believed if they had sea room, they could win any engagement.
On Saturdays glasses were raised to “Wives and sweethearts, may they never meet.” This one is as true today as it was in the 18th Century.
Sundays was the day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country in the toast “Absent friends who we lost.” Anyone who has served in the military for any length of time has experienced the death of a friend either due to disease, an operational accident or in combat. A variation of this toast is still made today at every U.S. and Royal Navy function.