Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Historical Archaeology

First Advisor

Nedra K. Lee

Second Advisor

David B. Landon

Third Advisor

John M. Steinberg


Studies of alcohol consumption have shown alcohol’s role in defining social boundaries based on class and ethnicity, but few have interrogated alcohol in the context of race. During the early-19th century, free black communities were encouraged to refrain from alcohol as part of a larger project of racial uplift. Black societies and churches perceived intemperance as not only immoral but a threat to community survival. Excavations of the Nantucket African Meeting House noted a considerable lack of alcohol bottles, but it was unclear whether temperance was equally observed at the neighboring Boston-Higginbotham House. This research uses a minimum number of vessels analysis and probate records to characterize alcohol consumption between two generations of the Boston family. Newspaper editorials are also referenced to gauge the white response to black temperance. Cross-site comparisons show that the rate of drinking between Nantucket and other 19th-century free-black sites was similar. Further comparison to the working-class Irish community in New York’s Five Points, shows that drinking rates were higher in Nantucket. Yet the Boston family uniquely abstained from liquor. These findings demonstrate that the Bostons adhered to the temperance standards of their time. This adherence was largely enforced by women who held ambitions towards “respectability” for their family.