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Old Time Customs
Memories and Traditions and Other Essays
Cups that Cheer and yet Inebriate


THE DESIRE for stimulants seems to be characteristic of the human family in all ages and in all lands. Our immediate ancestors, including all classes of society, were no exception. Indeed, the use of intoxicants was more common in their day than it is at the present time. It was the custom throughout the Province for dealers in general merchandise to keep wines and rum which they sold by the gal-on. In 1786, when Halifax had a population of about three thousand, there were, according to reliable statement, "upwards of one hundred Iicensed houses, and perhaps as many more which retailed liquors without license; so that the business of one half of the town was to sell rum and of the other half to drink it."

Rum was chiefly from the West Indies. It was rich in alcohol and was usually diluted with water before being sold at retail. Nor was the traffic considered at all disreputable. Nearly everybody used it,--some as an every day beverage; others occasionally, as in haying time, raising buildings and on social occasions to welcome a friend. The clergyman, when calling on his people, was not thought to be properly entertained without being offered "some thing to drink."

It is related that in a certain part of the Province of Nova Scotia a clergyman announced at the Lord's Day service that he intended to visit a certain section of his congregation on the following day. On Monday morning, meeting a boy on the street, he said to him, "Does your father know that I will be at his house this afternoon to catechise you children?" "O, yes," replied the lad, holding up a bottle, "and I am now going to the store to get it filled."

The following story is told of the rum traffic in another part of the Province. The rum cask was getting low and the dealer drove away early in the morning to a neighboring seaport to see if new supplies had arrived by a vessel that had just come in from the West Indies. On his return home he asked his clerk how the rum had held out. "Fine, I put several pails of water in it" was the reply. "Ah" gruffly retorted the merchant "you've spoilt it. I put in as much as it would stand before I went away."

Another story of the same merchant will show how the day's work began. On entering his store in the morning his salutation was—`Have you sanded the sugar?" "Yes, Sir." "Have you watered the rum?" "Yes, Sir." "Come in to prayers."

Perhaps to us of the present day, one of the most remarkable and revolting customs of the former days was the manner of the funeral in some parts of Nova Scotia. Through the use of liquor on such occasions the burial of their dead became to our ancestors a sort of grim good cheer. A table was spread with food and intoxicants for assembled friends. Unseemly occurrences often marred the solemnity of the occasion —sometimes ending in a drunken carousal. The custom was discontinued about seventy-five years ago. It will not be surprising to be told that the clergyman sometimes took a glass of rum while conducting the Lord's Day service.

It must not be supposed that the drink custom in Nova Scotia was worse than in other countries. In this regard Old Puritan New England had a bad pre-eminence, as shown in the following quotation from Hawthorne, describing funeral customs:

Speaking of funerals a noted writer says —"They were the only class of scenes so far as my investigation has taught me, in which our ancestors were wont to steep their tough old hearts in wine and strong drink and indulge in an outbreak of grisly jollity. Look back through all the social customs of New England in the first century of her existence and read all her traits of character and find one occasion other than a funeral feast where jollity was sanctioned by universal practise.

"Well, old friends! Pass on with your burden of mortality and lay it in the tomb with jolly hearts. People should be permitted to enjoy themselves in their own fashion; every man to his taste—but New England must have been a dismal abode for the man of pleasure when the only boon companion was Death."

Another writer makes this statement:

"A clergyman told us that when settled in Concord, N. H., he officiated at the funeral of a little boy. The body was borne in a chaise, and six little nominal pall bearers, the oldest not thirteen, walked by the side of the vehicle. Before they left the house a sort of master of ceremonies took them to the table and mixed a tumbler of gin, water and sugar for each."

In the early days the minister's parish embraced a wide territory. His home and head quarters were in some central village or settlement, including scattered settlements separated by forests through which there were no roads, and often, these places were made more inaccessible by large streams over which there were no bridges. At the time of his occasional visits to these places the minister was accustomed to hold communion service, baptize the young children and marry such young persons as were about to establish a home of their own. It is related that on visiting one of these settlements the clergyman, being doubtful of the worthiness of a man who desired baptism for his children, referred the matter to the members of session. Assured by them that the character of the applicant was irreproachable he asked, "Does he not drink heavily?—get on a spree sometimes?" "Oh, yes," was the response, "We all do that."

It was less than a hundred years ago that temperance reform began. Lectures on the subject were given in churches, school-houses and in the open air. Some of these lecturers, at least, were not characterized by sobriety of speech. It was no uncommon occurrence to hear from these temperance advocates such statements as "I would rather lose my right arm than take a glass of rum;"—"if a glass of rum made a man drunk, one-sixth of a .glass makes him one-sixth drunk." Ill-advised statements of this kind tended to discredit the movement. Its opponents, feeling assured of its ultimate failure, contented themselves with harmless shots of ridicule, of which the following may be taken as a sample:

"Who killed Tom Rum?"
"I," says Father Channing,
 "With my good planning,
I killed Tom Rum."

"Who saw him die?"
"I," says Bobby Chapman.
"With my little eye,
"I saw him die."

Tom Rum, however, was not so easily disposed of. Like the water fiend of Lake Lerna he was many headed, and for every head he lost there sprang out at least two new ones. But "Tom" had to reckon with vigorous and persevering heroes whom defeat only inspired with new endeavor and endowed with new strength. And yet it may be well for temperance advocates to remember that the cost of victory over the foe they wrestle with is nothing less than eternal vigilance.


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