Placed It in a Hogshead

Jeremy M. Bell // AMH 4110.0M01 – Colonial America, 1607-1763

If you had a hogshead, what would certainly you perform via it? Would you drink out of your hogshead? How around pack it complete of tobacco to save for later? Would you fill it complete of sugar maybe? Well, if you were living in colonial America you definitely could perform any type of of the over.

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A hogshead is a unit of measurement supplied more generally in early american times than this particular day. And why is that? The basic answer is that the average perchild now does exceptionally bit through barrels. In colonial times, when you gone into a store one of the initially things to be noticed was the number of barrels existing. Barrels were the shipping containers of their time. For ease of carry, storage, and sealable freshness, barrels were the colonial Tupperware. So, what constitutes a hogshead, and also where does the term come from?

Barrels came in various sizes. A hogshead held around 1000 pounds of tobacco (or 64 gallons of liquid). Picture credit:

In 1423, the British Parliament passed the first act to standardize barrels and also their measurements.<1> A tun was set at 252 gallons. Each desigcountry of volume would certainly then be reduced in half. So, a pipe barrel would be measured as 126 gallons, or fifty percent of a tun. Following suit, a hogshead would certainly meacertain in at 64 gallons and a typical barrel at 32 gallons.<2> There were exceptions to the halving preeminence, and more barrel sizes, yet these were the primary systems of meacertain. Dry goods, such as tobacco, sugar, or salted fish, would certainly be packed right into the barrels till the net weight matched that of the very same barrel complete of water, to aid standardize weight dimensions.<3>

The etymology of the term hogshead was clarified by Wchange William Skeat of Cambridge in 1896. The term ‘hogshead’ was traditionally thought to be obtained from hog’s hide, a possible material for containers to hold wine. Skeat suggested that this simply wasn’t so. Tracing the term through the Dutch, Swedish, and also Danish languperiods, Skeat argued that in all other languages, the initially component of hogshead refers to an ox, not a hog. He concluded that hogshead was a corruption of the Swedish word oxhuvud interpretation both the head of an ox and also a barrel.<4>

A depiction of hogshead barrels on a map of early american Virginia from 1751. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division, LCCN 74693166.

A hogshead barrel would have actually been a widespread sight in early american American stores choose that of eighteenth-century shopkeeper Alexander Henderson, element for John Glassford, at the Colchester keep in Virginia. John Glassford was one of the many prominent Scottish tobacco lords until his fatality in 1783.<5> The Glassford Company was the second greatest shipper of hogsheads of tobacco to Great Britain in 1774 importing 4,506 hogsheads.<6>

It was via the transcription of the 1760/1761 Colchester ledger that I initially came across hogsheads. One of the means in which customers could receive credit was with the offering of tobacco had in a hogshead. Tobacco was the the majority of prevalent form of payment in the keep.

Joseph Power’s credit account at the Colchester save, where he paid his debt through hogsheads of tobacco (folio 059C).

Abbreviated in the ledger as Hhd or Hhds, a hogshead is still used in the wine and also whiskey markets greatly for maturing alcohol.<7> While much less widespread this day, this unit of meacertain and also the container it refers to was an facet of daily life in colonial times. From the common mercantile store to huge plantations, a hogshead barrel was an important facet of life prior to and after its standardization by the British Parliament in 1423.


<1> United States, Department of State, “Report upon Weights and Measures,” John Quincy Adams, Senate 119 and House 109 of 1sixth Congress second Session, Boston Public Library (Washington: Printed by Gales & Seaton, 1821), 27,

<2> Department of State, “Report,” 27.

<3> Ibid., 26.

<4> William Walter Skeat, A Student’s Pastime: Being a Select Series of Articles Reprinted from “Notes and Queries” (London, England: Clarendon push, 1996), 33.

<5> John Francis Hackett, John Glassford and Company type of Records: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 2000), 4.

<6> James H. Soltow, The Economic Role of Williamsburg (Williamsburg: College Press of Virginia, Charlottesvile, 1965), 47, Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library,

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<7> “Casks (barrels, hogsheads, butts),.” WhiskyInvestDirect, accessed April 20, 2017,