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march of the different companies mostly ununiformed,
to the field in the morning and their wheeling into
line, the galloping along from one end to the other of
officers with epaulets, chapeaux and bobbing white
plumes, was lively enough ; and there was always a
vague rumor of a sham fight to come off in the after-
noon. But I never saw this spectacle. The probabil-
ity is that after the troops to the tune of "Jefferson
and Liberty," played by the collected corps of fifes
and drums, had marched away to dinner, with the
heavy potations that accompanied it, neither officers
or men had much stomach for a sham fight, or any
other severe bodily exercise ; and so when the whole
thing did not wind up with a drizzling rain, provoked
by so many explosions, it petered out in a dismal way
without affording much solid fun for us boys.

Fourth of July was celebrated with much spirit ;
and when after an oration and a procession, an abun-
dant but not specially appetizing dinner was washed
down with many patriotic toasts, the loquacity and
general silliness, even among decorous people, was
' excused with the suggestion that Fourth of July
comes but once in a year.

It took a good deal of New England rum to launch
a seventy-five ton schooner, one or two of which were
built on the tide waters every summer, besides what
was broken on the vessels' bows as she dipped water
from the slippery ways. The vessel, the rat-tat-tat of



368 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

whose slow building used to float into the open win-
dows and doors of the brick schoolhouse, a dozen rods
away, when I went to school, was named the " New
England," probably more to honor the favorite bever-
age of the region, than the section of the country that
had not then come to its period of self-consciousness
and self-glorification. It took not a little New Eng-
land rum to raise a barn and ensure that every post
should be plumb, every brace fitted and every trunnel
driven home. But perhaps it took as much rum to
ordain a regular minister as to launch a vessel or to
raise a barn, if the accounts on the old town records of
the selectmen, who charged themselves with the ex-
penses of the occasion, are to be considered historical
data.

Working-men in the fields, in the woods, in the
mills and handling logs and lumber on the river were
supplied with a regular ration of spirits — a half gill
of rum diluted with water, at eleven o'clock in the
forenoon and again at four o'clock in the afternoon.
I remember seeing a gang of men at work on the
road, flinging down shovel and pickaxe by a common
impulse at eleven o'clock, and streaming into my
father's store, where each were served with his dram,
probably charged to the town at three cents a head,
as I have no recollection of seeing any money pro-
duced. Men in the hayfield used to measure the
height of the afternoon sun by flinging the open palm
up arm's length against the sky. Laborers on the
road did not hesitate to ask any well-dressed person
passing, presumed to be the possessor of a watch, for



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 369

the time of day ; and this enquiry was prosecuted, and
this rude observation was taken, with a view of ascer-
taining whether the next drinking time was at hand,
which seemed to tiie thirsty citizen as long in coming,
as in the commemorated observation of the o'overnor
of North CaroHna to the governor of South Carohna.

Every well-to-do family had its furniture of de-
canters well-stocked with rum, gin and brandy and an
array of glasses, not stored so high in the parlor closet,
but that I remember the enterprise of a young one
in our family discovered the cache, and appropriated
enough of the contents of the decanters to produce a
serious fill, and a cut in tlie forehead, the scar of
which was carried through life. Tliis was always
scrupulously brought out whenever Mr. Steele, the
minister, made one of his parochial calls ; when Dr.
Witherbee made a professional visit, or whenever any
well-dressed gentlemen or intelligent visitor or
traveler honored the hostess by paying his respects to
her.

To supply all this consumption of spirituous liquors,
every person who kept a general store was licensed to
sell intoxicants, and all inn-keepers took with their
license to entertain travelers a license to sell alcoholic
drinks at retail. For the year 1827 I find that ten
persons, all of them keepers of general stores, were
licensed to sell spirituous liquors, besides four persons
who were also inn-holders. There cannot be so many
by half of traders in town now, though the population
has doubled. Retail trade like the lumber business
was then divided among many individuals, and since
Vol. VI. 25



370 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

theri; it has been monopolized by a few large concerns.
So tavern-keeping, before steamboats and railroads
had vastly shortened the time spent on the roads, could
support four families, whereas now it is difficult for
summer visitors and hag-men to find one house open
for their entertainment, and cases are not infrequent,
where such persons have had to go to another town
for a meal or a night's lodging.

In giving this account of the domestic habits of a
single Maine coram unity, I have described the condi-
tion of a hundred other places in the state. On the
Saco, the Androscoggin, the Kennebec, the Penobscot,
the St. Croix and several smaller rivers, the practices
in vogue were substantially the same. All these
places were inhabited by a people of flhe same race
and lineage, the same religious and political beliefs,
the same general ideas, occupations and customs. For
the reasons I have heretofore given, the lumbering
towns were, if anything, a little more given to heavy
drinking than the purely agricultural towns, and where
there was a local fishery or the usual center of mili-
itary exercises, the tendency to inebriety was by a
small percentage still further aggravated. So that
East Machias may be well selected as a typical town
— a town of the extreme type perhaps of the old
Maine people before the temperance reformation
began its work among them.

This temperance reformation broke out somewhat
suddenly in East Machias during the winter of 1826-27
and was unique and original there. I mean to say it
was a serious undertaking by thoughtful, patriotic and



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 371

moral men to arrest the ravages of intemperance and
to save from its slavery and degradation as many as
possible of their own generation and the whole of the
generation that were to succeed them ; and in devis-
ing their remedy for an evil demanding redress, they
worked from their own hearts and brains and without
a model or a known exemplar.

Afterwards — years afterwards — when the cause
of temperance and total abstinence had become preva-
lent and popular, when " it had its eloquent writers,
its poets, its historians, when newspapers began to
give its proceedings publicity, and formal reports to
be made, published and preserved of its progress," it
was discovered by these pioneers of sobriety, that
there had been instituted somewhere in the interior of
the state of New York or of Pennsylvania a society
formed with a constitution and pledge similar to those
they had devised. But as we give the renown of the
colonization of the United States to the settlements
begun at Jamestown and at Plymouth, because they
were successful and were the beginnings and fruitful
seed of the splendid aftergrowth of a great nation,
and not to the abortive attempts at settlement begun
by Gilbert in Virginia, and by Popham in Maine,
because no progeny or succession followed them ; as
we attribute to the agitation begun by Garrison and
Lundy, the revolution, that after a discussion of thirty
years and a cruel war of four years, brought the
hideous system of American slavery to an end, and
take no account of the sporadic emancipation societies
promoted by Franklin and other Revolutionary patriots,



372 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

which had no sequence and no causal influence over
the grand consummation, so we must attribute to
these Machias reformers the glory of initiating for
Maine, for New England, for the United States, that
change in the public morals and the public conduct,
so far as there has been a change, in reference to the
use of alcoholic stimulants. At least this judgment
must stand until some other town and some other
community can come forward and show the beginning
of an effective movement followed and imitated by
other places earlier than this. It is a part of the
object of this paper and such publicity as it may obtain
to send a challenge to the students of our local his-
tory to produce the records of a temperance reforma-
tion promoted by mutual association and mutual
sympathy in a purely personal pledge to habitual
sobriety earlier than the one I have herein sketched.
Should they be able to do it I will cheerfully surren-
der the post of honor to such an effort.

When I conceived the purpose of preparing this
essa}^ I was confident that I could procure and pro-
duce the volumes of records of the old Temperance
Society of East Machias, giving its constitution and
pledge, the names of the first signers, the first and
the succession of its officers, and some history of its
operations and of its growth. On instituting search
where these documents ought to be, I find to my grief
and surprise, that they have not been preserved. How
perishable are our most honorable records and memor-
ials ! How many trivialities of a much earlier date
relating to titles and property claims, to controversies



tejMpeeance and the drink question in old time. 373

involving only dollars and cents, and showing the sor-
did carefulness of our fathers about their rights are
scrupulously preserved ; while this story of the awaken-
ing of the moral sense of a people, of the combined
effort of serious and thoughtful men to find for them-
selves a cleaner and nobler life, has to be gleaned from
the fading memories of a handful of old men and old
women.

To what influences is this unique and noteworthy
reformation to be attributed? It was essentially
religious, had its spring in freshly aroused religious
feeling, and owed its potency and the impetus of its
propagandisra to the zeal with which the church every-
where approved of it, promoted it and made it effect-
ual, at least among its own membership, by its disci-
pline. There had been a year or two earlier a religious
revival similar in its general phenomena to the "great
awakening," as it was called, among the churches on
the Connecticut River under the preaching of Jonathan
Edwards and stirring a popular enthusiasm as did the
exhortations of Whitefield and Wesley.

A young man by the name of Whittlesey, in the
midst of his theological studies at New Haven, had
been warned by incipient symptoms of pulmonary con-
sumption — the scourge of the period — that his time
of work for his Master and the church was likely to
be a brief one ; and, to make the most of his reprieve,
abandoned his studies and threw himself with all the
zeal and ardor his physical strength could sustain into
the propagandism of the faith he deemed essential to
salvation. He came to East Machias, and began to



374 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

hold meetings not confining his devotions to the routine
Sunday services, but filling the week with special meet-
ings in which with great power and fervency he pre-
sented the claims upon every human soul of personal,
sincere and self-sacrificing religion. His manners
though austere and serious were winnincr and affection-
ate, his oratory without being declamatory was elo-
quent and persuasive, and the character of the man
shining through his words and his very looks, seemed
typical of the higher and purer life, which he so
ardently urged his listeners to struggle for.

Congregationalism, that had inherited the traditions
of Puritan independency under its educated and aristo-
cratic clergy and intimately connected with and
dependent upon the state, through the salaries voted
to sustain them had become a decorous formalism
without much life or power of disseminating itself.
The revival methods borrowed from the Methodists
and other irregular sects had begun to put new life into
it. Eager crowds of old and young thronged to hear the
fervent young valitudinarian and were carried away
by his irresistible magnetism. Whole families were
converted. Men who had decently occupied their
pews on Sunday and followed their business and their
pleasures all the rest of the week, began zealoush^ to
attend the evening inquiry meetings and to exhort and
to pray in their families and in public. The great
body of the leading citizens of both sexes not already
in the church became active disciples. Instances
were not infrequent, where father and mother and all
the children of sufficient age to give intelligent assent.



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 375

were admitted to the church simultaneously. The
revival was the uppermost topic of the public talk.
I can myself remember that when callers came in, it
was no longer to gossip about what vessels had got in
from Boston, how many thousand feet of logs such a
team on Round Lake had hauled, or how much such a
neighbor's swine, just slaughtered, weighed, but to tell
how Mr. Brown was serious, Aunt Nabby Smith had
obtained a hope, and the twin Robinson girls had been
propounded for admission to the church.

It was among this people, whose religious feelings
had been thus aroused that the temperance revival
chiefly prevailed. The exhorters in the evening prayer
meeting easily became the exhorters in the evening
temperance meetings, and the manifestations first of
interest, then of decision, then of joyful deliverance
from the thrall of an old habit closely followed those
of the religious awakening.

Rev. Dr. Harris of New Haven, like myself an eye-
witness of these scenes in our native village, whose
memory I have consulted to supplement my own
writes me as thus : —

I do not know what in particular started the movement. I
think Lyman Beecher's famous six sermons on intemperance,
which were widely read and made a powerful impression, were
published just before the movement in East Machias began and
may have helped to start it. I have no doubt the Whittlesey
revival heljied it on greatly. But I have noticed in great
epochal movements, that they seemed to be the result of the
Zeitgeist — the spirit of the time — a sort of spontaneous im-
pulse pervading society, and the seeming leaders are created by
it, instead of creating it.



376 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

Certainly the temperance movement, soon after the East
Machias movement, became wide-spread through the country,
especially in the northern states. As to previous movements,
that effected nothing permanent, I remember hearing my father
say that they were aimed at the suppression of drunkenness, and
permitted moderate drinking. He expressed his convictions, that
total abstinence was the only effectual way to jDromote temper-
ance, and my father himself practiced total abstinence from all
intoxicating liquors, and had done so from the time when he was
a young man.

The temperance revival began in East Machias
sometime in the winter of 1826-27. I completed my
eighth year during that winter and began myself to
attend the academy as a scholar the next smnmer.
Solomon Adams, afterwards principal of a young
ladies' High School in Portland, first preceptor of the
academy, which though chartered in 1792 was not
opened until 1823, was then beginning the fourth
year of his service and was boarding at my father's
house. I was not old enough to be an academy stu-
dent and was carefully put to bed about the time the
evening temperance meetings began. I do not re-
member ever attending one of them, but I have dis-
tinct recollection of my father and Mr. Adams putting
on overcoats and mittens and turning up collars, and
of the latter saying : " No matter how cold it is ; we
must not fail to go to the temperance meeting."

A society had been formed and a constitution
adopted and signed, the primary article of which w^as
a pledge of total abstinence from distilled spirits as a
beverage. The exception of wine, beer and cider,
let it be distinctly explained, was not in the interest



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 377

of tippling". It was not the purpose of those earnest
men simply to change the form and stimulant of their
intoxication. Wine was a luxury scarcely known and
rarely used. It was not considered intoxicating, and
its sacramental uses were everywhere regarded as tak-
ing it out of the category of alcoholic beverages, fit
only to provoke the passions of reprobate devils.
Besides its service as a part of the paraphernalia of all
proper and decent weddings gave it almost as great
a sanctity. A marriage, would have been regarded as
ill-omened, that was not blessed by the clergyman and
the prayer, and when the prosperity of the pair was
not drank by touching the lips to the ruby liquid of a
tiny glass. Cider was not made in the region, and the
little that was imported in the autumn was drank
while it was sweet and but slightly fermented. The
heavy and bitter beers, now so much in vogue, were
not known and were not liked ; and the small beer
brewed by the barrel once a fortnight in all well-to-do
families, and once a week, where there were many
hired men on the farm or in the mills, was no more
intoxicating than sweetened water.

The new asceticism in drink became a universal
enthusiasm. All the most respectable and reputable
people came promptly forward and took the temper-
ance pledge. There was scarcely a family that could
not find amono; its members or its collateral branches
at least one unfortunate, that had wasted health, for-
tune and character by indulging the uncontrollable
appetite for strong drink. Mr. Adams brought a copy
of the pledge into his school and every scholar signed



378 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

it. Every church member was a member of the
temperance society ex-officio ; and no man who con-
tinued tippHng or openly declared against the reform
movement was suffered long to retain his church con-
nections after the ministers began from their pulpits,
as they at once did, to denounce the sin and evil
example of even the moderate use of any alcoholic
liquors.

A marked change in the social habits of the people
at once manifested itself. Offering spirits to calling
friends and guests and acquaintances, men treating
each other when they met at taverns in traveling
and visiting neighboring towns, at once ceased, and
the shining decanters became vases for flowers or
bric-a-brac to make the showroom attractive. Rum
was no longer furnished to laborers in the fields, in
the forest and in the mills, and the hired man, who
went off duty and got drunk, was likely to lose his
place. All the lumbermen — and they were all to
some extent traders — no longer ordered liquors as a
part of their stock. Some sent back the supply on
hand, some resolutely poured it out on the street, and
some worked off their old stock without renewino- it.
One deacon, who held out longer than his brethren in
carrying on the nefarious business, was treated to a
regular chari vari with yells, tin horns, and uncompli-
mentary personal remarks, and with a blaze of light
made by setting fire to old King Alcohol, who was
borne round in procession. This demonstration was
headed by Clark Foster, known afterwards as Stephen
C. Foster, president of the Maine Senate and member



i



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 379

of Congress. The deacon snccumbed to this display
of popular indignation and respectable retailing of
spirituous liquors ended in that town.

During the winter of 1826-27 and for not less than
a half dozen years afterwards, the weekly temperance
meetings were kept up in the schoolhouses with great
spirit and popularity. All we boys crowded into
them and helped the fervid orators with our sym-
pathy. Besides the minister and the preceptor and
Judge Dickinson, for a long time president of the
society, my uncle and my father, and the fiery Clark
Foster, many of the converts of the revival, who had
been required to attest the genuineness of their exper-
ience by a public confession or a prayer, came forward
as speakers at these meetings, which sometimes had
flashes of homely eloquence or stories of local humor
to make them for the academy boys good as the
theater.

The capacities of rhetoric were put to their extreme
test in furnishing epithets to depict the repulsive and
hideous horrors with which the demon alcohol was
terrorizino; the world. The rumsellers had not then
come in for much objurgation. To hold the sellers of
rum responsible for the consequences that resulted to
the deliberate and voluntary buyer and drinker did
not at first occur to those unsophisticated reasoners,
any more than it would in a crusade against the use
of tobacco to impute the sin of it to the sellers of cigars
and pipes. But the scorn of scorn, as I remember,
was launched against the moderate drinker (the
deluded drunkard was generally pitied) and the sober
men that opposed the temperance movement.



380 MAINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

For the most part the teetotalers had it their own
way, but once in a while a reckless enemy of the
cause, defiant of public opinion would come in
and defend the old customs, and denounce and ridi-
cule the inquisitorial intolerance of the men who had
undertaken to reconstruct upon an ascetic and abste-
mious scale the morals of other people. Echoes of
such depraved ideas used to come to us from some
rumselling towns, from some knot of quarrelsome ale-
wive dippers gathered upon the bridge, or from some
evening conclave gathered in a corner grocery. Once
I remember an old man, resident of the neig-hboring;
town of Cooper, Simeon Foster, Esq., who used to
write articles for the Eastern Democrat and for the
Frontier Journal always hailing from " Ash Grove,"
came into the evening session and made it pretty hot
for the friends of the cause. I do not remember what
he said, but I remember what a bald-headed old
blasphemer and reprobate he seemed to my childish
apprehension. Later too, in 1830, the rising village
lawyer, Joshua Adams Lowell, who had lately become
a Jackson man, and was understood not to be averse
to political honors, appeared at the brick schoolhouse
with books and papers of reference and occupied the
whole evening; in an invective against the social and
political intolerance of the temperance leaders, in
which personal description and pungent epithets were
not withheld. Clark Foster was spontaneously desig-
nated to reply to the aggressive and wanton attack.
Long before the time for the called meeting the
schoolhouse was so packed that a cry was made to



TEMPERANCE AND THE DRINK QUESTION IN OLD TIME. 381

adjourn to the Academy Hall, and the crowd thronged
across the square, and filled to its capacity that only
room except the meetinghouse that could seat such
an audience. The debate lasted four evenings. I
think there is still extant a letter which I wrote to
my older brother then in college, in which with all
the zeal of a partisan I described the memorable con-
troversy. Both the combatants in it became after-
ward members of Congress.

As the fruits of such an agitation, purely persua-
sive and moral, the majority in numbers, and much
more than the majority in social consideration, changed
utterly the habits of their living. They did not
cease to be drunkards. Very few of them ever had
been drunkards, or were likely ever to have been, but
they ceased to be drinkers. The great body of them
kept through their lives in letter and spirit the pledge
they had voluntarily taken ; and a generation grew
from childhood to mature and middle life who did not
know the color or the taste of the different kinds of
distilled spirits.

Like all popular impulses it was infectious ; it
passed the town lines, and appeared, with substantially
the same phenomena and the same results, in other
places, and in a few years had spread all over the
state, over New England, over the whole country.
The newspapers I think gave some account of it ;
citizens of the town traveling abroad told about it.
Private letters probably carried the story, but I think
the chief agency in the propagandism was the or-
ganized church. As soon as not only sobriety but



Online LibraryMaine Historical SocietyCollections of the Maine historical society (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 34)