It happened in 1826.
Every Christmas, cadets at the West Point Military Academy held an annual drunken egg nog party. Then the grim Superintendent, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, imposed monastic discipline. That meant no alcohol. A cadet could be expelled for breaking the rule.
West Point in the 1800s: Wikimedia Commons
What’s egg nog without a touch of rum, whiskey, or bourbon?
It began with posset, a Medieval British hot drink made of milk curdled in wine or ale (mead), then spiced. The term “egg nog” was introduced in America, 1775.
Posset was a popular holiday grog. According to Elizabeth Dias in Time “by the thirteenth century, monks were known to drink a posset with eggs and figs.” Since only the wealthy could afford the expensive ingredients it was “often used in toasts to prosperity and good health.”
No wonder the West Point cadets wanted their share.
Shakespeare knew the power of posset when his Lady Macbeth used it to drug her husband’s guards, claiming, “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold.”
In the tragedy, she didn’t kill the king but “laid their daggers ready” for her son.
That’s a lot of posset power.
Posset or egg nog arrived in the American colonies during the 1700s. Ingredients were cheaper and more available because of many local dairy farms and a plentiful supply of Caribbean rum. It began to be associated with popular holidays and traditions. At the end of the eighteenth century, Isaac Weld, Jr. spent two years travelling in the United States and Canada. In his book, Travels Through the States of North America and Canada, Weld observed that before a trip, Americans “took a hearty draught” of egg nog.
They believed that egg nog was delicious as well as good for your health. Nineteenth century doctors often used egg nog with patients recovering from surgery or to treat everything from typhoid and dysentery to ulcers. Anne Rothfeld wrote in the Historical Collections of the National Library of Medicine that the medicinal recipe included a “tumblerful” of milk, well-beaten egg, sweetener, and a “tablespoon of brandy, whiskey, or port wine,” given to patients 6-8 times a day.
It was almost worth being sick.
Was West Point Cadets Burnley, Roberts, and Center thinking about health when they smuggled two gallons of whiskey into their North Barracks? How about Cadet Lewis who had hidden a gallon of rum?
Egg nog became an American tradition. It showed up at holiday parties like Christmas and New Year’s. In Baltimore, Maryland, it became customary for young men to call on their friends on New Year’s Day. They were greeted with a cup of egg nog.
Mike Rampton, in Mental Floss, reported that the country’s first president was known for his formidable egg nog. George Washington’s recipe included brandy, rye whiskey, and sherry – strong enough to knock down a cherry tree.
What was good for old George was good for the cadets. They had three goals – spike the egg nog, break Thayer’s rule for a dry Christmas, and get away with it.
At midnight, Christmas Eve, over 70 cadets spiked their egg nog and began to party. Military.com noted that there were drunk cadets, loud singing, and raucous celebrations. Rumors spread that an artillery unit was called in to calm them down. Cadets tore everything apart, broke windows, doors, and furniture, barricading themselves in the North Barracks. Swords, muskets and bayonets were drawn – one pistol shot was heard but no one was hurt.
One of rioters was young Jefferson Davis – the future President of the Confederacy – class of 1828.
By 6 am things quieted down. The cadets sobered up to face the damage. The Egg Nog Riot was over, but the consequences were yet to come.
Weeks later, 19 cadets were expelled and 53 received lesser punishments.
Today you don’t have to riot for your egg nog. Make it at home, buy it in a store, or get served in a bar or restaurant. You can drink it, make it alcohol-free for kids, or added to ice cream, cookies, pancakes, and smoothies. Try Mexican rompope, Puerto Rican coquito (made with coconut milk), or Israeli Maple Whiskey Egg Nog from the Golan Heights.
You can buy it traditional, spiced chocolate, even lactose-free. Just make sure the eggs are pasteurized. Enjoy. The grim old colonel will never know.