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
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
"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
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.