From the Files of the Rochester Historical Society

It seems that any article about area taverns that I have come across at the museum ends with the admonishment that many a farmer or worker ended up in the alms house after spending all his money on liquor. Perhaps it was this philosophy that was behind the temperance movement in the towns of old Rochester that started long before the 18th Amendment ushered in Prohibition and the banning of all alcohol in the United States which lasted from 1920-1933.

            The temperance movement was alive and well in our area as early as the 1830’s. At that time, the town meeting sent a petition to the state legislature to pass a new law that would give either the county commissioners or the Selectmen the power to license tavern keepers to run their taverns as usual but a ban would be put on the selling of “spiritous liquor”.

            A second petition was later sent, and it contained more emotional language pleading the case of the “wife’s streaming eyes over her naked and supperless children” whose husband’s drinking was ruining their lives.

            In Mattapoisett, feelings were strong. Ship captains tired of drunken crews involved themselves in town affairs and began working to ban liquor at events like town picnics and clambakes. For many years Rochester was known as a dry town.

            Rochester’s various villages formed what was known as “cold water armies” made up primarily of women and children. By the 1840’s, Total Abstinence Societies were being formed. Dr. Robbins of Mattapoisett became a strong proponent of abstinence.

            The picture with this article is of the cover of a small book I found at the museum. It is “The New Temperance Melodies”. Inside are “Glees, Songs, & Pieces” that were composed to be used by temperance organizations in the United States and Canada. They were written by Stephen Eubbard and published by Oliver Ditson & Co. in 1859. In the preface, the author states his belief that music which “soothes, subdues and inspires” can influence the “great reformation of the day, the temperance reformation”.

            Several of the songs and their titles extol the value of cold water and urge all to come together to fight for temperance. However, my favorite song is titled “I’m not to Blame”.

            I want to thank Barbara Keohane for her list of ‘kid westerns” some of which I had forgotten, like Cisco Kid and Range Ryder. I have a feeling this list will show up in our next exhibit.

By Connie Eshbach

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