Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stone Fences

   Recently I was doing some reading in a Civil War magazine and came across a letter to the editor taking an author to task for asserting that Confederate General Jubal Early created and named the rum and hard cider drink called the "Stonewall". The writer stated that, in fact, both the name and the recipe for the drink date back at least to the American Revolution. He related an anecdote about Benedict Arnold, prior to the taking of Fort Ticonderoga, encountering a contingent of Green Mountain Boys in a "smoky taproom" at Castleton some twenty miles from Ticonderoga who were "flushed with that Green Mountain concoction of rum and rock-hard cider called a 'stonewall.'"

   The "stonewall" or, as more commonly referred to in the colonial period, the "stone fence" was indeed a favorite drink of the Green Mountain Boys and other colonials. Benedict Arnold, on his way to Fort Ticonderoga,  did encounter a contingent of Green Mountain Boys, and some Connecticut militia, in a tavern in Castleton, New York where he attempted to assert his authority over them. (See my posts on the Arnold/Church confrontation for a discussion of Arnold at Ticonderoga.) The drunken Green Mountain Boys, well lubricated from their "stone fences", scoffed at Arnold who, affronted, stormed out of the tavern in search of Ethan Allen who was several miles further north on Lake Champlain. The Green Mountain Boys probably quaffed quite a few "stonefences" the night before they "stormed" Ticonderoga.

  Rum was the distilled beverage of choice during colonial times. Almost every American household had a cider barrel outside which would ferment and freeze over in the long New England winter, turning into hard cider. The original Stone Fence, during Colonial times, would have been rum cut with a bit of hard cider to take the edge off of the harshness of the rum. It was a very potent drink, for hard drinkers.

  The "Stone Fence" was enjoyed throughout the Northeast during the Revolution. But by the early 1800's, rye had replaced rum—much harder to get in the post-Revolutionary period—in the drink. The inevitable presence of both apple trees and alcoholic cider across the Northeast and the Midwest kept the drink accessible and popular. As westward expansion began and settlers began to move into the Ohio Valley, German and Scottish settlers brought their knowledge of distilling with them and began to experiment with distilling corn. These early distillations were the precursors of what we now know as bourbon whiskey. By the time Jerry Thomas’ wrote the first cocktails guide in 1862, “How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” the Stone Fence had evolved with the times into good corn whiskey and non-alcoholic apple cider. This was an extremely popular drink in America during the Civil War era and  it remained so through the end of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth. One of the most famous Stone Fence aficionados was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (he preferred it with a twist of lemon.) After the Temperance Movement and Prohibition did its damage to America, the drink was virtually forgotten, but has made somewhat of a comeback recently.

  Here are two recipes for a "stonefence' - one colonial and one modern:

  Here's a colonial one from Esquire Magazine:

            -2 ounces dark rum
           - hard cider
          -  pint glass

  Pour the rum into a pint glass, add 1 or 2 ice cubes, and fill with hard cider. This drink, otherwise known as a Stone Wall, can also be made with, in order of authenticity, applejack, rye whiskey, or anything else in place of the rum. The name "Stone Fence" alludes to the effect produced by getting outside too many of these, which is not unlike that produced by running downhill into one.
  Here's a modern one:
  • 2 oz Eagle Rare bourbon
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 4 oz good quality non-alcoholic apple cider
       In a double rocks glass (also called a bucket) add first two ingredients.

           Fill glass with ice.
           Add cider to top.
           Stir briefly to incorporate flavors.

 I am not sure as to why the drink was named "Stone Fence" in colonial America, but the most plausible explanation, to me, was that it was named so because imbibing it made it so much easier to build those stone walls that dotted the New England countryside.


  1. I'd love to see some contemporaneous sources or first-hand recollections about the drinks at the Arnold-Allen meeting. Washington Irving is credited with the first to put "stone fence" into print in 1809, alongside "cock-tail." But of course it could have been put into drinking cups earlier.

  2. One of the problems in dealing with Ethan Allen's drinking habits is that a number of stories which purport to describe them have to be classified as folklore and some, quite frankly, are hardly plausible. After Ticonderoga, Allen lost command of the Green Mountain Boys to his cousin Seth Warner, his second in command, when the New Hampshire Legislature voted to raise them as a regiment for the Continental Army. Allegedly, Allen failed to get the command because of his fiery disposition and impatience. Legend has it that Allen's drinking habits also played a part but there is little or no evidence that they did.
    That Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys were hard drinkers is of little dispute; but was Allen an alcoholic or just another hard drinker? The evidence is inconclusive.
    In any event, in any drinking contest between Arnold and Allen, my money is on Allen.