Over 230 years ago, delegates from the 13 America colonies met in Philadelphia in May to begin the deliberations about becoming a separate nation from Great Britain. If Great Britain knew, the delegates would be found guilty of treason and be put to death, so they voted to keep the meeting secret by closing the windows to the meeting room. By July, the small room had become hot, humid, and bug-infested. After 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer and seven bowls of alcoholic punch the 56 delegates finally signed the Declaration of Independence, setting into motion the United States’ independence from Great Britain.
During colonial times, clean water was hard to come by, especially in a big city, like Philadelphia. In the days before an understanding of bacteria and purification, water that was found in the city was usually tainted with disease. Many had the notion that water was unhealthy since they would often end up sick after drinking it. Could you imagine?
Many colonists chose the safer choice of hard cider or whiskey to stay hydrated and disease free. In fact, your average colonist guzzled about seven gallons of alcohol per year. Which is a lot compared to the average American today which is just over two gallons each year. However, if you were lucky enough to be wealthy, you could get water delivered to your house. “Tea-water” was clean water that was found on the outskirts of a city. It was primarily used for making tea, hence the name, and many felt it was also safe to drink. Workers, known as tea-water men, drew the water, sealed it in kegs, and then transported to the city. Tea water cost about 45 shillings a year, or about $310 a month, which would have been about a month’s worth of salary for an average tradesman. Though the water may have been clean, it certainly would not have been cold.
Many of the delegates were most likely dehydrated by drinking the warm delivered water or hard cider as their only options. Studies have shown that even with mild dehydration that people can have a harder time concentrating and can get confused easily. Just imagine how much more efficient the delegates could been if they had an endless supply of cold, clean water on-demand, maybe we would be celebrating our independence on June 4th instead!