How many times have we heard the Expedition drank the last of their grog on the 4th of July 1805 at the Upper Portage Camp? The Corps had just completed the portage around the falls of the Missouri and was putting the finishing touches on the iron boat. The Captains allowed them a little time off to relax and celebrate our nation’s birthday, but did they drink grog?
The unspoken second statement about the last of the grog is that they had no more alcohol on the journey until they were nearing St. Louis in September of the next year.
All six of the journal keepers made note of the event. Clark simply said the “gave the party a dram.” The other five all referred to “spirits” or “ardent spirits” and they drank the last of their supply. Ordway and Whitehouse added, “except a little reserved of sickness.”
Grog, as it was originally devised in 1740 by Admiral Vernon of the British Navy, was a mixture of one quart water with a half pint of rum. Diluting the rum with water was an attempt to reduce the widespread drunkenness on board ships that resulted from the Captain issuing straight rum to the men. (Website www.contemplator.com/history/grog.html has a detailed history of grog. Interesting, but I do not vouch for its authenticity).
Since the Corps of Discovery’s records show the only spirits they took was 120 gallons of whiskey using the term grog as it originally meant would be wrong. However we know that word meanings change over time (use it wrong long enough and you will become right). A check of the dictionary today shows grog can mean any alcohol, even beer.
Between May 14 and June 29, 1805 the journal keepers made seven references to grog, and of course we have grog spring between Loma and Fort Benton that was visited and informally named during that time. These are the only times grog is used during the entire journey.
The consideration for using the term grog should reflect its meaning in 1803-06. I suggest grog would indicate a mixture of spirits and water. In May and June of 1805 the men were refreshed with a drink of grog. However on July 4 Clark gave them a dram. Others referred to the last of their spirits. A dram is an eighth of an ounce. If it was grog mixed to Admiral Vernon’s standard, that’s not much alcohol. If so little alcohol made several of the men “very lively” or “a little sensible of its effects” their reputations as drinkers suffers immeasurably.
I suggest grog refers to a drink of whiskey and water while a dram or spirits would be straight whiskey. On the 4th of July they drank the last of their whiskey, not grog, would better reflect the situation.
After the whiskey was gone the Expedition was without alcohol until October 21st when Clark noted that John Collins presented them with some very good beer made of the quawmash bread. His field notes called it “excellent beer.” They were on the Columbia near the mouth of the John Day River (River LaPage).