The Flowing Bowl: Part 2


Gentlemen Socializing Around the Punch Bowl


Boy, bring a bowl of China here,
Fill it with water cool and clear:
Decanter with Jamaica right
And spoon of silver, clean and bright.

Sugar twice-fin’d in piece cut,
Kni[f]e, sieve and glass in order put,
Bring forth the fragrant fruit and then
We’re happy till the clock strikes ten.
(Franklin, 1737)

 Punch in England

With so many sailors returning from Eastern voyages with little else but the memories of drinking punch, it’s unsurprising that the docks and ports of Europe’s biggest seafaring harbors played host to the arrival of punch into European society; quickly becoming just as associated sailors, as weevils, wenches and dysentery. Continue reading


THE FLOWING BOWL: A short history of punch


Three Gentlemen making a bowl of punch

Three Gentlemen Making a Bowl of Punch


You may talk of brisk claret, sing praises of sherry;
Speak well of old hock, mum, cider, and perry;
But you must drink punch if you mean to be merry.

A bowl of this liquor the gods being all at,
Though good we should know it by way of new ballad,
As fit for both ours and their Highnesses’ palate.
(Purcell, Blow, & Walsh, ca. 1730)

Open just about any book written in English between the late 1600s and the mid-1800s that deals with daily life, more than likely someone is going to make or consume a bowl of punch.  For almost 200 years, punch reigned as the mixed drink of choice in the English-speaking world.

The Origins of Punch

No one really knows, nor are we ever likely to decide who concocted the first bowl of punch.  Many people of an etymological bent are of the common belief that the word ‘punch’ can be traced to the old Hindustani “paunch” meaning five, a reference to the five classes of ingredients in punch recipes; distilled spirits, water, sugar, citrus, and spices.  Sustaining this interpretation is that there are many references to punch in the East India Trading Company’s correspondence, and the reports of travelers to their factories (the period word for trading posts) on the Indian subcontinent.  The earliest English reference to punch is found in a letter sent on September 28, 1632 by Robert Addams, one of the companies men-at-arms wishing Thomas Colley, a factor, good luck on an upcoming trip to Bengal.  Addams wrote, Continue reading

The War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent

American and British Representatives at the Signing of the Treaty of Ghent

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent

On 21 February 2015, the Norfolk (VA) Historical Society will sponsor a series of events to commemorate the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by the US Congress in February of 1815 and 200 years of peace and friendship between the United States and Great Britain.  The capstone to events will be the Treaty of Ghent Bicentennial Gala.  Held at the Norfolk Yacht Club, this will include dinner, a 19th-century dance demonstration, a short talk on the Treaty of Ghent, and a chance for the public to try their hands at 19th-century dances. For reservations, please go to the event webpage

In honor of this anniversary, we will take a short look at the War, the Treaty of Ghent, and the aftermath of this last conflict between the US and the UK.

 The Causes of the War of 1812

The real origins of the War of 1812 were in the conflict that raged in Europe for two decades following Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power.  Britain gained mastery of the seas from Nelson’s naval victory at Trafalgar 21 October 1805.  On 21 Nov 1806, Napoleon ordered a blockade (the Berlin Decree) of shipping aimed at crippling British trade.  He ordered all European ports under his control closed to British ships.  He further decreed neutral and French ships seized if they visited a British port before entering a continental port (the so-called Continental System).  Britain responded with a series of Orders in Council (1807) that imposed severe restrictions on vessels trading with the continent, including requiring all neutral ships to get a license before they could sail to Europe.  Because of Nelson’s previously mentioned victory, Great Britain had the sea power to enforce its blockade. Continue reading


Twelfth Night Party

Today’s post is the last installment for Christmas Season 2014.  It is not about celebrating the New Year, but rather about the traditional celebrations of Twelfth Night, the last big party of the holiday season in the Georgian Era.  Before we go into the period traditions of the celebrations of this holiday, let us begin by talking about what Twelfth Night is, and how Christmas season celebrations have changed over the years.

The origins of the Twelfth Night celebration go back to pre-Christian traditions in Europe.  The Roman winter celebrations of Saturnalia and the Celtic Yule feasts continued even after Christianity began to dominate in the region.  Many Celts believed in the  “Sacred King” who would be sacrificed to the land.  His spilled blood anointed and fertilized the land.  Catholic priests preaching the Gospels to the Celts discouraged such sacrifices, but allowed the people to continue their celebrations.  The “Sacred King” to be sacrificed became the “Lord of Misrule,” who ruled over the village/tribe for the celebration.  This notion, that one of the commoners could rule, was part of the Twelfth Night tradition of turning things upside-down. Continue reading