Make an 18th-Century Toast

Duration: 2-15 minutes
Recommended Ages: Adults only
Description: Have a special occasion coming up and want something unique to say for the toast? Learn the history of toasts during the 18th century and make one of your own!

Today we most often use toasts to commemorate important moments in our lives – signing a lease, getting married, or celebrating a special birthday.  People of the 18th century made toasts on special occasions.  They also incorporated toasts into their everyday activities.  Wealthy colonists expected to hear toasts every day at dinner.

The ritual of offering toasts began in men’s social clubs and filtered into everyday use for gentlemen.  In these exclusive groups, like the Governor’s Club in colonial Philadelphia, members praised each other for well-crafted and well-delivered toasts.  Done well, a toast built camaraderie and a sense of a common goal amongst the people who drank to it.  Fine toasts also demonstrated the intelligence, education, and sophistication of the person offering it.  Following a toast, all the attendees took a sip of their drink.  Some events involved many toasts.  As a result, attendees took many sips!

No documents still exist about toasts that George Mason gave, but we have a snippet of his interaction with social drinking in a set of recollections left by his son, John.  According to John, just before dinner everyday, Mason asked one of his sons to prepare a bowl of toddy.  This mixture of rum, water, sugar, and citrus blended in a communal bowl, was first offered to Mason.  The young man said, “I pledge you, Sir,” noting his deference and duty to Mason.  To which Mason responded, “Drink first yourself, Sir.”  Most of his wealthy friends likely followed a similar practice at their own meals.

This image illustrates how toasting happened. Toasts like this one were likely common in Virginia in the years before the American Revolution. “God Save the King,” Charles Williams, 1805. Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

At the beginning of George Mason’s lifetime, people drank (and toasted) only with friends.   Drinking together and toasting each other, as well as ideas and people important to the group, solidified the connections amongst compatriots.  Toasts such as the one below reminded people gathered of their shared values and of people they honored:

“To the memory of those departed heroes who sealed our Independence with their blood—Whilst we taste the fruits of their labours, may we never be tempted…to fell our birthright for a mess of pottage.”  The Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette, July 6, 1797.

By the end of the century, in America, etiquette sometimes allowed people of the same social level to drink with strangers.  And, as a result, they sometimes toasted together.  Visitors to the new United States commented on the discomfort they felt at such abnormal interactions.  Today, toasts can demonstrate bonds among groups of friends or family.  In some cases, people offer simple toasts, such as the word “cheers” or the phrase “to your health” even with people they’ve just met.

As George Mason gathered with friends and associates after long days of writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights or debating the Virginia or federal Constitution, he likely proposed and drank to many toasts related to his work. We’ve put together a list of 18th-century appropriate toasts for you to use at your next social event.  Some of them are documented toasts from Mason’s lifetime; you will recognize these by the quotation marks.  Others are toasts we have created in the style of the time.  You can also make up your own!

Are you interested in trying a historic cocktail or mocktail at your party?  Try one of these recipes.

Make an 18th Century Toast

What you need:

Your choice of beverage: punch was the most common beverage used to offer toasts
Your choice of toast

Some things to keep in mind:

1. Let people know they need to be ready for a toast.  Ask them to “charge” their glasses, meaning to refill them to be able to drink after the toast is complete.

2. Consider following the 18th-century ritual of beginning with the words: “Pray, raise your glass. . .”

3. Decide whether you want to end your toast with “three cheers!” Invite your companions to respond heartily by saying “huzzah.”  

(Note, there are two accepted pronunciations of the word.  If you would like to use the modern pronunciation, say [hu za´].  To sound like a person from the 18th century, say [hu ze´])

4. Typically the host offers the first toast, so if you’re hosting the party, you get to start!  You aren’t the host?  We advocate trying to convince your host that toasts are a fun party game.

The Toasts

“To the memory of those departed heroes who sealed our Independence with their blood—Whilst we taste the fruits of their labours, may we never be tempted…to fell our birthright for a mess of pottage.”

“The American people—While they know how to defend the Rights of Man, may they not forget to pay a due regard to government of their own choice—Three Cheers”

“May the citizens of the United State eternally cherish those rights, for which they fought, bled, and conquered”

“Perpetual Union to the Colonies”

“May the Collision of british Flint and American Steel, produce that Spark of Liberty which shall illumine the latest Posterity”

“All true Patriots throughout the World”

“A long and happy peace”

“The Thirteen united Colonies.  The free and independent States of America. The Congress for the Time being. The American Army and Navy.  An happy Election for the Whiggs on the first of May &c”

“For the pleasure of (say the name of the person)  and his/her company.”

“To the health of those friends in company tonight” (mention each individual in turn)

“To the good fortune of the company and generosity of _________” (name someone in company or the host)

“This happy day, and all who honor it.”

To the Virginia Declaration of Rights, long may it cherish the inherent liberties of the citizen.

To Colonel Mason! May his pen continue to be ever mighty, and may his long life be one of service to his people.

Create your own!
Offer your “compliments,” “good health,” or “good fortune” to someone present.