by Richard Ewell Brown
Copyright © The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., December 1948 (THE
FIRST IN A SERIES)
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, CT, 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, thickly.
speakers are all fools and hypocrites," angrily replied the landlord.
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 Abstinence 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 cheering
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."