Temperance IconFrom Specimen of Printing Types from the New England Type Foundry (Boston, 1834). Image courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society

In the eighteenth century, “temperance” referred to moderation in the satisfying of all appetites, but in the early nineteenth century, the term increasingly became synonymous with abstinence from liquor.[1] At first the temperance movement, as it became known, urged followers to abstain from hard liquor, particularly rum, which was the most ubiquitous spirit at the time, but by the mid-nineteenth century, members of temperance societies publicly pledged to refrain from all alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine. Moral reform was at the heart of the temperance movement, but part of what makes it so striking is that it was one of the first reform movements in the United States that was not strictly tied to religion. Messages of abstinence of all kinds certainly came from the pulpit throughout the nineteenth century, but the temperance movement that took hold was decidedly secular, a manifestation of the increasing belief that individuals, rather than a higher power, determined their own future through their treatment not only of others, but also of themselves.

Temperance PledgeFamily Bible ca. 1890

The demands and uncertainty of life at sea made the people of Gloucester particularly susceptible to forms of escapism. In 1804, Reverend William Bentley described his brother’s demise: “In that place he confirmed all his ill habits and got no good ones.”[2] Before the temperance movement’s messages of uplift could take hold, however, alcohol had to be vilified. A particularly vivid description of alcohol appeared in the Gloucester newspaper in 1828: “The monster intemperance, sometimes, like hyena of the African desert darts at once upon and destroys its victim ... and gradually, but with equal certainty terminates his existence and his hopes.”[3] This extended simile makes the victim seem powerless—unless, of course, he slays the serpent that suffocates “his existence and hopes."

Groups in Cape Ann formed to support people in asserting power over alcohol starting in 1833, when Hosea Hildreth founded the first temperance society in Gloucester at First Parish Church.[4] This was part of a national trend: in 1829, there were about a thousand temperance societies in the United States; fifteen years later, there were five times that number.[5] With the founding of the Washingtonians in Baltimore in 1840, the movement became increasingly secular and focused on individual reform. A precursor to the twentieth century’s Alcoholics Anonymous, the Washingtonians structured their meetings around emotional accounts of ruin through alcohol and redemption from that ruin through the support of the group, such as the one founded in Rockport in September 1841.[6]

Stories of redemption captured the popular imagination and created one of nineteenth-century America’s biggest celebrities. On February 19 and 20, 1844, the famed temperance lecturer John Gough (1817–1886) came to Cape Ann. His lecture was such a success that he returned a month later. According to the Rockport Washingtonian Society, Gough was “decidedly the best temperance Lecturer that has every visited this place since the formation of the Washingtonian Society.”[7] A woman in the audience reviewed Gough’s lecture in the local newspaper, signing her article, “A Martha Washingtonian.” She recounted Gough’s profound effect on the audience as he described his own struggle with alcohol “with a pathos that chained his whole audience in perfect silence, and must have opened a fount of feeling even in the most obdurate heart.” In her summary, she urged women in particular to join the movement: “O, ye mothers! may you never forget these lectures; your duty is plain ... give your heart and hand in support of the great cause.”[8]

Local women took heed, and in 1856, Hannah Jumper (1781–1865) organized a group of women to accomplish something that local authorities had failed to do: rid Rockport of its rum. The Gloucester Telegraph and News described how these women “free[d] the grog-shops from their festering ruin” by destroying fifteen barrels of rum and other liquors.[9] The effect was profound, not only because some seven hundred dollars worth of rum was lost, but also because, as a local committee reported: “liquor spilt in such large quantities, as to run in the gutter for many rods, and so strong that it could be smelled for miles.”[10] An editorial in the newspaper praised “these heroines,” who did more for the cause of temperance with their “flowing argument ... th[a]n Attorney General Clifford, with his quibbles and evasions, would have brought forth in a score of his life times.”[11] Women remained active in the movement; the certificate from the Grand Division of the State of Massachusetts gave permission for Lucindy Randell (ca. 1834–1901) to attend the Rockport meetings as a “Lady Visitor.” Women were not admitted as full members to the Sons of Temperance until after the Civil War.

Gough’s lectures sparked the local temperance movement. A newspaper editorial by “A Young Man” described Gough’s influence on the community, “increasing the interest of the young men, and awakening them to energetic action in the great and good cause of Temperance.” This enthusiast compared the temperance movement to the noblest of political struggles: “A bold campaign against king Alcohol has commenced, and we trust that the young men of this town like their brethren in other places will enlist in the cause with a noble zeal, and if it need be, constitute a powerful vanguard in this glorious contest for Freedom and Truth.”[12] A month later, a letter to the editor from the town clerk of Rockport described the result of Gough’s visit as “a season of temperance refreshing.” In fact, the clerk reported that after his lecture 1,600 pledges were collected, some signing for the first time and some “signing anew.”[13] The pamphlet from Annisquam is one indication that this fervor continued throughout the decade, as this local temperance organization had its constitution and bylaws printed for distribution among its members and beyond.

Another indication of the movement’s progress was Charles Saunders’s $10,000 bequest to the town of Gloucester to establish a temperance fund in his name. In his will, Saunders instructed that the money was to be spent on a permanent temperance “missionary” in the town. In 1870, Humphrey L. Calder (ca. 1807–1891) applied for the position. In fact, a number of his supplicating letters can be found at City Hall; he apparently applied for the job many times. In the letter from 1870, he “calls [the board of selectmen’s] attention to a few things,” including his and his sons’ recent service to their country: “[T]he Blood of my Sons tinged the Battlefield,” he wrote, adding that his “own health Shattered bringing on premature old age.”[14]

The position changed hands a number of times in the first years of the fund; Calder held it for one year in 1872. In a letter to the trustees of the Saunders Temperance Fund, Douglass (1846–1905) reflected on his efforts “to promote the cause of temperance.” He quantified his efforts, reporting that he “distributed nearly 23,000 pages of temperance literature, pledges, and reading matter.” Some of Douglass’s efforts may have been overzealous, or so the school committee thought when it had to stop him from “visiting the schools annually to obtain signatures to Card Pledges against the use of intoxicating liquors, the use of tobacco, cigarettes, and profanity.”[15]

Liquor StoreAn unidentified man in front of Howard Blackburn’s Saloon, ca. 1900. Cape Ann Museum.

Despite the efforts of Douglass and other temperance devotees, the allure of the “monster intemperance,” as the 1828 newspaper article characterized it, remained strong. Advertising played a role in creating this allure by equating the pleasures of alcohol with the satisfaction of other appetites. The chromolithographic printing, as well as the popularity of “advertising novelty,” suggests that this metamorphic trade card is from the late 1880s.[16] The address on the card, 251 Main Street, Gloucester, was for a provision store, first Charles W. Bride’s and then Smith and Tolman’s, so the advertisement was most likely for one of them.[17] The temperance movement’s promises of redemption, both earthly and in the hereafter, could hardly compete with the promise of a “—” from a comely young maiden.


[1]. Samuel Johnson defined temperance as “moderation.” See his Dictionary of the English Language, vol. 3 (London: printed by W. Strahan, by J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755).

[2]. William Bentley, Diary of William Bentley, 1803–1810, vol. 3 (Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1907; reprint: Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1962), 126.

[3]. “Intemperance” (from the Wiscasset [Me.] Citizen), Gloucester Telegraph, May 17, 1828.

[4]. Mary Ray, Gloucester, Massachusetts: Historical Timeline, 1000–1999, ed. Sarah R. Dunlap (Gloucester, Mass.: publisher not identified, 2002), 109.

[5]. Susan Cheever, Drinking in America: Our Secret History (New York: Hachette, 2015), 92.

[6]. Matthew Warner Osborn, Rum Maniacs: Alcoholic Insanity in the Early Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 125.

[7]. Record Book of the Washingtonian Society, 1841–1848, “March 19, 1844,” MSS. (Rockport, Mass.: Sandy Bay Historical Society and Museums).

[8]. A Martha Washingtonian, “Letter to the Editor,” Cape Ann Light and Telegraph, February 24, 1844.

[9]. “A Practical Illustration of Women’s Rights in Rockport,” Gloucester Telegraph and News, July 12, 1856.

[10]. Report of the Prosecuting Committee of the Town of Rockport, for the Year 1856 (Gloucester, Mass.: John S. E. Rogers, 1857), 8, 9.

[11]. “A Practical Illustration of Women’s Rights.”

[12]. A Young Man, “Mr. Gough and the Young Men of Gloucester,” Cape Ann Light and Telegraph, March 23, 1844.

[13]. Clerk of Rockport, “Temperance,” Cape Ann Light and Telegraph, April 27, 1844.

[14]. Humphrey Calder, “Petition to the Gloucester Board of Selectmen, 1870.” MSS., Box 61 Folder 1 (Gloucester, Mass.: Gloucester City Archives).

[15]. George Douglass, “Report from Temperance Missionary, 1904,” MSS., Box 61 Folder 2 (Gloucester, Mass.: Gloucester City Archives).

[16]. Maurice Rickards, The Encyclopedia of Ephemera: A Guide to the Fragmentary Documents of Everyday Life for the Collector, Curator, and Historian (London: British Library, 2000), 8–9. Thanks to Georgia Barnhill for her assistance in dating this trade card.

[17]. Gloucester Directory 1888–89 and Rockport Business Directory (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, & Co., 1888), 40; Gloucester Directory 1890 and Rockport Business Directory (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, & Co., 1890), 18, 326.

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