Elizabeth Flanagan & "cocktail"

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Sun Jan 16 23:09:09 UTC 2000

Ah, those clever Flanagans (Flannagans, Flannigans, Flanigans ...).

At 04:08 AM 1/16/00 -0500, you wrote:
>Several stories assert that the word is a pairing of the words "cock" and
>"ale" or "tail."  One version insists that it's named after the fortified ale
>given to fighting cocks before a contest.  Another insists that Betsy
>Flannigan, a Pennsylvania innkeeper, used cock tail feathers as swizzle
>sticks when serving drinks during the American Revolution.
>---VINTAGE COCKTAILS (1999) by Susan Waggoner and Robert Markel, pg. 7.
>The most credible explanations are:
>1. _Coquetier_ is the French name for an egg-cup, in which a Frenchman in New
>Orleans is said to have served mixed drinks to his guests.  In time they came
>to ask for his _coquetiers_ and the name was corrupted to cocktails.
>2.  An old French recipe containing mixed wines, called _coquetel_, was
>perhaps carried to America by General Lafayette in 1777.
>3.  One Betsy Flanagan of Virginia is believed to have served a handsome
>soldier a mixed drink containing all the colours of a cock's tail.  He named
>it a "cock tail."
>4.  In 1769 the term "cock-tailed" appeared, a racing term used to describe a
>non-thoroughbred horse.  It was the usual practice to dock the tails of such
>animals, causing the tail to look like that of a cockerel.  According to the
>journals of the time, a "cock-tailed" horse was one of mixed blood.  It is a
>short step to accept that cock-tail(ed) would soon become accepted as a term
>to describe anything containing mixed fluids.
>5.  The centuries-old expression "cocked tail" describes a horse or person
>displaying high spirits.  It naturally follows that a beverage seen to raise
>people's spirits would be called a cocktail.
>--THE CLASSIC 1000 COCKTAILS (1996) by Robert Cross, pp. 6-7.
>In revolutionary days there was a famous roadhouse in what is now known as
>Westchester County, called "Betsy's Tavern," which later became known as "The
>Bracer Tavern."  Here the American and French officers came for their liquor,
>ale, lager and rum, not to mention fine fowl.
>     One day the American officers raided a British Commissary and stole
>several male birds.  Then as now, this fowl was known as a "cock."  At the
>wild boisterous party which followed, Betsy poured many kinds of liquor into
>wine glasses and stirred it with the tail of a cock pheasant.  The drinks
>were delicious.
>     A toast to Betsy and the new mixed drink was: "Here's to the divine
>liquor which is as delicious to the palate, as the cock's tails are beautiful
>to the eye."
>     Hardly had the toast ended, when one of the French officers cried out:
>"Vive le cocktail!"
>     And that's how "cocktail" came into the world's vocabulary.
>--THE ULTIMATE COCKTAIL BOOK II (1998) by Raymond Peter Foley, pp. 68-69,
>quoting from WHAT'LL YOU HAVE (1933), more on Betsy Flanagan's Inn.
>     "Cocktail" is from 1806 in the OED, with the next cite from Washington
>Irving's KNICKERBOCKER (1809), and the other cites decades away.  The DA has
>the 1806 cite, with the next cite from 1882!
>     This is from THE BALANCE (Hudson, NY), 13 May 1806, pg. 146:
>     _Cock tail_, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of _spirits_ of any
>kind, _sugar_, _water_, and _bitters_--it is vulgarly called _bittered
>sling_....It is said, also, to be of great use to a democratic candidate:
>because, a person having swallowed a glass of it, is ready to swallow any
>thing else.
>     Let's leave the Democratic "party" out of this.
>     The earliest hit on Literature Online is surprisingly not in OED or DA.
>James Fenimore Cooper's THE SPY is set in Westchester County (NY) of the
>Revolutionary War.  This is from THE SPY (1821), volume 1, chapter xvi, pg.
>     On a rough board suspended from the gallows looking post that had
>supported the ancient sign was, however, written in red chalk "Elizabeth
>Flanagan, her hotel," an ebullition of wit from some of the idle wags of the
>corps.  The matron, whose name had thus been exalted to an office of such
>unexpected dignity, ordinarily discharged the duties of a female sutler,
>washerwoman, and, to use the language of Katy Haynes, bitch-doctor to the
>troops; she was the widow of a soldier who had been killed in the service,
>and who, like herself, was a native of a distant island, that had early tried
>his fortune in the colonies of North America.  She constantly migrated with
>the troops, and it was seldom that they became stationary for two days at a
>time, (Pg. 237--ed.) but the little cart of the bustling woman was seen
>driving into their encampment, loaded with such articles, as she conceived
>would make her presence most welcome.  With a celerity that seemed almost
>supernatural, Betty took up her ground and commenced her occupation;
>sometimes the cart itself was her shop; at others, the soldiers made her a
>rude shelter of such materials as offered; but on the present occasion she
>had seized on a vacant building, and by dint of stuffing the dirty breeches
>and half dried linen of the troopers in the broken windows, to exclude the
>cold which had now become severe, she formed what she herself had pronounced
>to be "most iligant lodgings."
>     The men were quartered in the adjacent barns, and the officers collected
>in the "Hotel Flanagan," which they facetiously called headquarters.  Betty
>was well known to every trooper in the corps, could call each by his
>christian or nick-name, as best suited her fancy; and, although absolutely
>intolerable to all whom habit had not made familiar with her virtues, was a
>general favorite with these partizan warriors.  Her faults were, a trifling
>love of liquor, excessive filthiness, and a total disregard to all decencies
>of language; her virtues, an unbounded love for her adopted country, perfect
>honesty when dealing on certain known principles with the soldiery, and great
>good nature: added to these, Betty had the merit of being the inventor of
>that beverage which is so well known at the present hour, to all the patriots
>who make a winter's march between the commercial and political capitals of
>this great state, and which is distinguished by the name of "cock-tail."
>Elizabeth Flanagan was peculiarly well qualified by education and
>circumstances to perfect this improvement in liquors, having been literally
>brought up on its principal ingredient, (Pg. 238--ed.) and having acquired
>from her Virginia customers the use of mint, from its flavour in a julep, to
>its height of renown in the article in question.  Such, then, was the
>mistress of the mansion...
>     Curiously, the DA's cite for "mint sling" is THE BALANCE of 15 March
>1804, and for "mint julep" is Washington Irving's KNICKERBOCKER (1809).
>     THE ULTIMATE COCKTAIL BOOK II also has this story on pages 64-67, taken
>from THE COCKTAIL BOOK (1913):
>     In a famous old tavern not far from the Philipse Manor House, the site
>of what is now Yonkers on the Hudson, and the very centre of the most popular
>sport of the times, was blended the first delightful cocktail.  If the
>descendants of William Van Eyck, its jolly host, may be believed...  (From
>his champion game-cock--ed.)  Thus was the drink named.  And, in after days,
>when Master Appleton kept the tavern, its sign was the sign of the Cock's
>Tail, which ever proved an emblem of good fortune to him and his good wife,
>their children and their children's children.
>    While Betty Flanagan (not Betsy, not Flannigan) appears to have been from
>Virginia (not Westchester County, not Pennsylvania), there are three early
>"cock tail" connections with upstate New York--THE BALANCE of Hudson, James
>Fenimore Cooper of Westchester, and William Van Eyck of Westchester.
>    I'll check again when NYU resumes regular hours this week, but I do NOT
>recall "cock tail" in the Pennsylvania Gazette CD-roms covering about
>1706-1800.  This is very troubling for a Revolutionary War in Virginia
>origin.  I'll also scour the early New York periodicals on microfilm this
>MOCKTAIL (continued)
>     ...John Doxat, Mixologist and Author (who found the word "mocktail," a
>non-alcoholic drink)...

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