Here’s What Revolutionary War Soldiers Were Eating on July 4, 1776

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Fourth of July, in addition to fireworks, is a day marked by eating to excess. Some doing it professionally, like the literal gluttons for punishment competing in Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. Others doing it only in an amateur space, but still testing the limits of their own personal gastronomy. 

But what about the diet of the Revolutionary War soldiers we honor every July 4th? Would they have been eyeing our generous portions of potato salad with jealousy?

While looking for answers, I was fully prepared for tales of single shards of hardtack, maggots shaken off and softened with spit, but according to records of Revolutionary rations, American soldiers weren’t particularly lacking for food. Some historians even point to the Americans’ fuller bellies as a key contributor to their victory over the calorically-deprived Brits. In fact, not only were the rations perfectly reasonable for keeping American forces sated, they were remarkably similar to the intake of the modern Independence Day celebrant.

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Now, obviously this was all a best-case scenario, and as the war went on, substitutions were made, but here’s the basic daily ration as approved by Congress on November 4, 1775:

  • One pound of bread
  • Half a pound of beef and half a pound of pork, or if no pork, a pound and a quarter of beef
  • One pint of milk, or without milk, half a cup of rice
  • One quart of good spruce or malt beer or cider
  • Half a cup of peas or beans
  • Six ounces of good butter (per week)
  • One pound of good common soap (per six men, per week)
  • Half a pint of vinegar (per week)

So you’re telling me that the daily meal of a Revolutionary War soldier was a bunch of beef and pork with bread, beans and two tall boys? 

That’s practically the same plate most people are making for themselves at a barbecue. Hell, take that half-pint of vinegar, scrounge up some sugar, and you’re halfway to a decent barbecue sauce. 

Honestly, multiplied per person, this isn’t a terrible start for a shopping list for your own festivities tomorrow. Because it turns out, if the ghost of George Washington showed up in your backyard, he might walk up to the grill and ask for the usual.

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