America’s First Whiskey

As we all recover from Independence Day, I am going to give you the story of America’s first whiskey.

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We're all ears. Photo by João Silas

First, let’s look at that guy.  You know the type: the nice guy, the next door neighbor, the smug so-and-so with the wife and the kids and the real estate business he runs (thanks to some money from family and friends).

That guy is George Thorpe, and he — and the drink he may have made — is the focus of our story.

However, I would love to give you this story not as it comes from a long line of historians with access to the Ferrar Papers and other documents from the Virginia Company of London, but through the eyes — the odd, indigenous eyes — of a man named Opechancanough.

Yeah, it’s a tough name. But Opechancanough is a tough fellah.

You also know him.  Maybe you have been him.  You’re a local, you do your thing, and you are damn good at it.  And by the way, your thing, as Opechancanough, is warfare.

Now, you’ve been living in the shadow of your brother, or half-brother, whose name, Powhatan, is also the name of your whole tribe.  In fact, it’s the name of like thirty tribes.

Now he’s passed on and you, friend, are in charge of foreign relations.

And in moves George Thorpe.

Not only does he move in, no, he says he gets ten thousand acres that you can’t use anymore.  Which, I mean, these settlers have been doing for a while. They don’t really get farming.  They don’t get occasionally moving to let the land recover.  They’re kind of religion nerds.  And they’re struggling.

But this guy George Thorpe, sure, he’s fine, whatever, but he’s that new neighbor who Loves You and that thing you all do, and he Wants You to Join Him at Church.

He’s making a school, he says.  He wants to introduce your kids to Jesus, he says.  He invites you over to dinner every Sunday. And I mean, every Sunday, and oh, do bring those kids.  He had one in England, you know, an indian kid.  Yeah, it knew Pocahontas.  Poor thing.  It got sick or something.  These savages just can’t handle the english rain, eh?  No offense.

George, now, George loves real estate.  He has his hands, his money, you know, in few ventures here and there.  Oh, and he likes you so much, by the by, he wants to give you, personally, your own house.  As a gift, you know.  Which he can give you.

Oh, and by the by, you have to try this new distilled corn stuff he made, in a still, isn’t it the craziest?  I mean, he’s never really made this stuff before, but like, try it, man, it’s a fun thing he’s trying – better than beer!

So you are Opechancanough.  What do you do?

You get a party together.  You go over to Thorpe’s on March 22, 1622.  You laugh, you schmooz, you try out that distilled stuff, America’s first whiskey, you know. Then you kill George Thorpe and 347 of his friends. You go home.

Because you’re Opechancanough, and, like the rest of us, you could not stand that guy.

– K

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