Father’s Day event ties America’s pastimes of yesterday and today

By Nate Hilli
Citizen Chronicle Writer
📸 Old Sturbridge Village photos from the Baseball, Brews & BBQ Festival.

STURBRIDGE — Everybody knows that baseball, cold beer and sizzling tangy barbeque are the greatest parts of summer, but a rare question is where these American classics hail from, and whether that place is American at all.

This Father’s Day, Old Sturbridge Village hosted their first-ever Baseball, Brews & BBQ Festival from on the Village Common. The recreation of rural 1830’s New England offered visitors the chance to immerse themselves in living history by taking part in early American games while sampling a palette of beers from local breweries, all to the constant bustle and rhythm of live music acts from the surrounding area. Everybody will be getting caught up in the brews, sports and good times, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that the centerpiece of the event is a position in the family that was as vital as ever during the 1830’s — that of the father.

The first thing to understand about the 1830’s is that the phrase “family is everything” was pretty literal, to the point where the family was the “principal unit of society,” according to Tom Kelleher, curator of mechanical arts and chief historian at Old Sturbridge Village.

“In 1830 New England, the average household was eight people, with both a female head, who cared for the home and family itself, and a male head that was the face of the family to the outside world,” Kelleher told The Citizen Chronicle.

Essentially, fathers were the unelected official of the household and hence were the only individuals given a vote, which represented the vote of the entire family.

Aside from being the head of the household, it was the father’s job to pave the way for his children to enter the outside world, specifically his sons, by teaching them valuable work and life lessons through their actions and eldest children.

“Boys often followed [their fathers] once they were old enough to be of real help and learned work and social skills from working with their fathers and older brothers,” said Kelleher. He continued to explain that if there was a skill the father didn’t possess but the children had to learn, he would often “give up their labor” by dolling them out as apprentices to tradesmen, such as blacksmiths and printers, to learn profitable skills which will allow them to be financially stable on their own, not very different from the way things are now.

Professional and financial assistance aside, fathers still loved and cared for their children in much of the same way they do today, parenting might have been a bit sterner and more autonomous, but the love beneath the discipline was still as palpable and emotional as ever.

“From diaries and letters I have read, it seems that father-son relations were often not too different than today, with some close, some strained or even broken,” said Kelleher.

Now to the secondary topic: beer. With the new craft beer movement in America currently forming and about a billion gallons of beer imported annually, to say that beer is popular is an understatement. Back in the 1830’s though, not many people cared for the hoppy beverage that now lubricates the cogs of society. In fact, in the 1830’s Massachusetts only had one brewery — Boston Beer Company — with a total of eight employees.

“In early America, especially New England,  beer consumption was negligible, and by the early 1800s it was well under a gallon per person annually,” said Kelleher, who continued to explain that beer only grew in popularity with the help of more advanced brewing technology, which “arrived with large numbers of German immigrants in the mid-1800s, beer remained a rarely-consumed and difficult to store or ship beverage for most early Americans.”

If beer was more of a German beverage at the time, then the drink of rural North America had to be good ole fashioned hard cider. Hard cider was “considerably cheaper, simpler and easier to make than beer, and required less specialized equipment,” according to a paper that Kelleher authored in 2015 titled “Beer in Early 19th Century New England.”

“Crushing and pressing apples at a local cider mill and letting the juice ferment in home root cellars was a relatively quick and simple process that yielded a tangy apple wine of up to 8 percent alcohol,” Kelleher asserted.

Even at the pubs beer had no home in 1830’s New England, where according to Kelleher the primary choice of drink was rum: “either cheap, light, and potent New England rum, or dark, flavorful, and even higher-proof West Indies rum.”

As for baseball, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., officially considers the sport to have been invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday, who became a Union Major General in the Civil War. The story of Doubleday’s invention of America’s pastime has been proven to be completely false. Historical documents affirm Doubleday was enrolled at West Point in 1839, and never claimed any relation to the sport of baseball. Though the exact origin is debated heavily, Kelleher explains in another paper of his, “Baseball Before 1860,” the game has many ties to England and closely resembles two English games — Rounders and Cricket.

All of the stories mentioned here are worth more than the three pages of an article, but are merely a microcosm of all the information one could hope to find at Old Sturbridge Village’s inaugural Baseball, Brews & BBQ Festival.

In addition to the games, beer, and food that highlighted Old Sturbridge Village’s inaugural Baseball, Brews & BBQ Festival on Father’s Day, live music was performed throughout the day by Jeff Warner, Members of Full Gael, and Chuck and Mud and the MudChukkers.

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