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:
Stone Fence -2 ounces dark rum
- hard cider
- 2 oz Eagle Rare bourbon
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
- 4 oz good quality non-alcoholic apple cider
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.