Recent Acquisition: A Ledger with a Story to Spill

December 5, 2022

2019.035.001, Gift of Warren Davoll, Collection of the Newport Historical Society.

Here at the NHS, there are few things we like more than a good historical mystery- and we are ale the more intrigued if that mystery involves beer.

In 2019, a ledger was donated to NHS: other than writing at the top of each page pointing to a 1770 date, little was known about the volume, which was found in the safe of a general store in Massachusetts.

Looking through its pages, NHS staff found references to gallons of “strong beer”, bushels of barley, and pecks of malt, and deduced that the ledger was likely associated with a brewery. Further investigation of scribbled marginalia revealed numerous references to Clothier Pierce[1] and other Pierce family members. From there, the mystery no longer had us second gueuze-ing.

Giles Hosier (1724-1806) was a Quaker merchant and brewer operating in Newport in the late 18th century; in partnership with another Quaker merchant, Thomas Robinson, the pair produced so much beer that in 1770, they petitioned the General Assembly to lease the basement of the Colony House for cask storage.

Reference to “Father Pierce” for “1 bushl Tirnips”. 2019.035.001, Collection of the Newport Historical Society.

The ledger’s connection to Hosier is apparent from the Pierce family references: Hosier was associated with the Pierce family, possibly by marriage (his son from his first marriage to Elizabeth Fry, William Hosier, is named as Clothier Peirce’s grandson in the latter’s will, dated 1772).[2] In fact, the Hosier-Pierce family connection is recorded in the ledger itself: the first entry lists a bushel of “tirnips” sold to “Father Pierce”, an honorific that implies a familial relationship between Pierce and Hosier.

The ledger is illuminating for another reason: across its pages, there are numerous references to beer and other products being conveyed to enslaved people, who were likely collecting these consumables to bring to the homes of their enslavers. While these individuals are unnamed, the names of their enslavers are recorded above each transaction. This volume will be added to our BIPOC Biographies from the Archives of the Newport Historical Society research project, in the hopes that the identities of these unnamed individuals can be revealed through further research in our archives.

This fascinating ledger illustrates the interconnectedness of 18th century Newporters through the lens of a brewing establishment. While we may no longer be able to purchase a gallon of strong beer for a pound, the legacy of Hosier’s brewery lives on: his home, the site of his brewery operations, is now the FastNet Pub, situated at the corner of Hozier Street and Broadway.


[1] Clothier Pierce was a Newport merchant mariner: research in NHS archives has revealed his shared ownership of an enslaved person, elaborated in this post by 2022 NHS Buchanan Burnham Fellow Maureen Iplenski:

[2] 1 June 1772; PR 1:137-138 City Hall