Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Liquor Question

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The Liquor Question

Previous to the year 1800, very little stress was laid on the proper use or avoidance of intoxicating liquors. License to sell had indeed been required. As early as 1715, an Act of the General Assembly, in relation to licensed houses decreed, "That, to prevent Nurseries of Vice and Debauchery . . . . . there shall be a Limitation of Taverns or Ale-houses within the respective town of Hampton, three; the town of Dover, three; the town of Exeter, two," and several others named. There is no doubt, that in former times, much liquor was used. On all public occasions, from house-raisings to military musters and even religious convocations, it was drunk more or less freely. During the Revolution, immense quantities were consumed and no voice protested; and down through the years, licensed merchants and inn-keepers sold, and all classes bought and drank openly. Hospitable matrons mixed the bowl of toddy, to regale the minister on his parochial calls; children shared the tempting beverage with their elders. In 1801, there was an article on the warrant for our town meeting, "to see what the town will do relative to retailers;" and the meeting "dismissed that article."

But there came a time, when men began to see the demon in the cup. Rev. Mr. Webster, early in his ministry, espoused the cause of total abstinence. It is said, that his decisive stand was taken, on learning from his wife, that a brother minister, with whom he had exchanged pulpits, was almost too drunk to preach. Rev. Mr. French, of North Hampton, joined hands with Mr. Webster; others enlisted in the cause; and, though license was still granted, year after year, a temperance sentiment gradually took root and grew.

In 1820, in town meeting, a committee was chosen, to consult with the selectmen, as to "regulating taverners and retailers." They gave a regulated license, in accordance with the law of the state, which is on record: "To all persons" etc., "Know ye, that we, the undersigned, selectmen of Hampton, give and grant hereby, license to Maj. John Lovering, of said Hampton, Trader, to sell by retail, wine, rum, gin, brandy and other spirituous liquors, that is to say, in less quantities than one gallon, but not less than one Quart, excepting brandy in case of sickness, to one pint, and not otherwise, but not to sell any mixed liquors, part of which are spirituous. Note, if the above-named Maj. John Lovering shall sell any spirituous liquor or suffer it to be sold within his precinct, to any person intoxicated, and diminishing their property by excessive drinking, or to any person whom the above-named selectmen or committee for that purpose shall forbid, or to children, and young persons, in the habit of drinking to excess, those persons belonging to the town of Hampton, this license to [be] void and of none effect; otherwise, to remain in force one year from the date hereof." A special license, with larger liberty, was granted Major Lovering for Thursday, September 7, the same year, this license "to be of none effect before, neither after said day." This seems to have been a public occasion; possibly, "the great training." A license, the next year, "to David Nudd and Tristram Shaw, Traders," contained the further prohibition to sell to any persons, residents of Hampton, whom the selectmen should post as common tipplers.

Two young men, students in the Academy, son and nephew, respectively, of influential men, becoming imbued with the total abstinence idea, and by Mr. Webster's advice and cooperation, exerted themselves to obtain signatures to a pledge against the use of intoxicating drinks. Beginning with the father and the uncle and other men of the highest standing, they were enabled to advance the growing temperance sentiment of the community. and to obtain many names, from among all classes. To sign the pledge, in those days, "when everybody drank," was a severe test of devotion to an untried social reform.

At a town meeting, in July, 1830, the selectmen were instructed not to license any one as a retailer. It was voted also, "to enjoin it upon the selectmen, to prosecute every person whom they shall know to violate the laws of the state." The law, at this time, permitted the selectmen of towns to grant licenses, under certain specified restrictions. This vote to prosecute created an excitement, which resulted in the calling of a special town meeting the next month, when the opposition carried their point, in the votes, "That the selectmen be directed to license the store-keepers in this town to sell spirituous liquors in as small a quantity as a pint, provided they call for a license," and "That the town will not be answerable for any expense which may accrue in consequence of any prosecution, which may be brought by the selectmen or any other person against any store-keeper in the town, for selling spirituous liquors."

In 1833, the temperance party again prevailed. The granting of license was prohibited, and a formidable committee, to prosecute all violators of the law, elected, viz.: Jeremiah Hobbs, Amos Towle, Samuel Drake, Josiah Dearborn, Simon Towle, Jr., Edmund W. Toppan, James Leavitt and Josiah Dow, Jr. Further than this, a reward of five dollars was offered, for information leading to the conviction of any person for selling ardent spirits, contrary to law.

For several years, the scales vacillated between license and no license. In 1843, David Knowles was chosen agent, and clothed with ample powers to prosecute offenders.

The next year, on the fourth of July, a temperance convention was held on Boar's Head. The order of exercises, printed on an elaborately bordered sheet, two feet long, contains entire, several songs written for the occasion; announces an address "by Mr. Kellogg, the Buck-Eye Orator," with other speeches and band music.

But the greatest temperance convention ever held in this town was in 1849. This also was on the fourth of July. The sunday-schools of Hampton, North Hampton, Hampton Falls and Seabrook gathered at the Congregational church, where pastors, French, Merrill, Fay and Abbott entertained them with short speeches, for a half-hour. Then they formed in procession in front of the church, joined by many citizens. Meanwhile, the Hampton and Hampton Falls Division of the Sons of Temperance had formed at their hall, in the Academy, and now, headed by the Newburyport brass band, with Dr. Sewall Brown, of Seabrook, for chief marshal, they marched to the church and escorted the long procession to an oak grove on Mr. Thomas Ward's estate, where a bountiful collation was served. Addresses were made by John Hawkins, a famous temperance orator from Baltimore, Rev. S. P. Fay and others. Nearly two thousand people participated in the day's exercises, which were closed by a display of fireworks.

The Sons of Temperance retained their organization here several years, dating from 1848, revived in 1866, and flourished a few months, till broken up by internal differences. In later years, temperance work has been somewhat spasmodic, but on the whole, progressive. A Women's Christian Temperance Union was organized in 1883, which has held some influence, particularly in its chosen work of disseminating temperance principles among the young.

ST. JOHN'S COUNCIL, NO. 50, KNIGHTS OF TEMPERANCE, composed of young men and boys, under the leadership of Dr. William T. Merrill, their generous patron, obtained their charter in May, 1888; and removed to their new hall, provided by Dr. Merrill, in October, 1889. From a charter membership of ten, they have come to number forty-eight, in 1892. None are admitted under fourteen years of age. Weekly meetings ar held for members only, and a public meeting once a month. The hall is warmed and lighted, supplied with books and papers, and open to members at all times.

COVENANT COUNCIL, NO. 5, ROYAL TEMPLARS OF TEMPERANCE, for both sexes and all ages, obtained their charter in June, 1889, and steadily increased in numbers, till, in 1891, there were one hundred members. The removal of the shoe business has diminished the number to about seventy. Their weekly meetings, in Odd Fellows' hall, are well attended, with good results. Life insurance and sick benefits are taken at option. During the epidemic of diphtheria, in the winter of 1890-91, the Council purchased a lot in the cemetery, and much grateful aid was rendered, in sickness and death.

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