(The first in a series)
Grapevine, Inc., December 1948
IT was Friday evening, April 3rd,1840. Six men, tipplers
all, were gathered about a table at Chase's Tavern on
Liberty Street in Baltimore. To the casual passerby, there
was nothing unusual about them; just another bunch of
harmless drunks. From the way they talked, one might gather
that they were old friends, that this was no casual meeting
but one made familiar through long repetition. Among them
were two blacksmiths, a tailor. a carpenter, a coach-maker
and a silversmith. At least that's what they were when
they set down. But when they left the bar that night,
they were pioneers in a new field; the originators of
an idea for the scientific rehabilitation of chronic alcoholics
that was destined to sweep the country.
the founding of the first temperance society at Litchfield,
Conn, in 1789, the early Nineteenth Century found the
United States enjoying (or enduring, depending on the
viewpoint) a wave of temperance reform. Baltimore was
no exception. On the evening of which we speak, a well
known temperance lecturer was scheduled to hold forth
at a church not far from Chase's Tavern. One of our six
drinkers suggested they send a delegation to hear what
he had to say - just for the record, of course. Four of
their number blearily volunteered, and when these intrepid
adventurers returned, quite a dispassion ensued as to
the value of temperance. At that moment, the landlord
came in with another round.
all this about temperance?" he asked jovially.
not such a bad idea," said John F. Hoss, the carpenter,
speakers are all fools and hypocrites," angrily replied
course, it's to your interest to cry them down,"
argued William K. Mitchell, the tailor, and soberest member
of the party.
absolutely right," cried McCurley, the coach-maker.
"Think of all the money we spend here, while our
poor families-" For the moment emotion got the best
of him, and he sought relief from his glass.
know what we ought to do," shouted Anderson. "We
oughta form our own temperance society." Everyone
except the landlord burst into roars of inebriated approval.
the next day, after they'd sobered up, the idea somehow
stayed with them. Realizing they were no longer able to
drink in moderation, they made up their minds "to
drink no more of the poisonous draft, forever."
taking this drastic step, they met again two nights later
at the tavern for their last bout. It was agreed that
Mitchell should draw up a total abstinence pledge, and
they would all sign it. Just before closing time on that
same evening, one of them held up his glass.
he said, "will be our last drink." Believe it
or not, it was. They decided to convene nightly at their
various homes and each man promised to bring a friend
with him to the next meeting. By recounting their experiences
as reformed drunkards, they hoped to induce the new members
to join them in signing the pledge. Thus started the Washington
Total Abstinance Society.
movement spread like wildfire, and branches were soon
set up in various parts of the city. In March 1841, a
delegation was sent to New York where thousands flocked
to the meetings. A Boston chapter was organized in April.
and by the end of the year the organization had a total
membership of something like two hundred thousand. Reformed
men, as they were called, like John B. Gough and John
Hawkins, were in demand all over the country as speakers
for the various groups.
Baltimore, a grand procession was held with "six
or eight thou- sand" in the ranks, led by John Hoss
and fifty mounted marshals "with their various insignia.
Speakers and other dignitaries rode in open barouches
drawn each by four grey horses", while bands and
banners added gaiety and color to the occasion.
the meantime, in Dedham, Mass., a Mr. Thompson proved
himself such an eloquent speaker that the entire town
joined the Washington movement. The leading liquor merchant
gave up his business, signed the pledge and was made President
of the village society. "Amid the cheerings and rejoicing
of the populace," the newly elected Washingtonian
official supervised the disposal of his entire stock of
liquor "by pouring it upon the ground."
© The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., December 1948
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