Thursday evening, April 2, 1840, six friends were drinking, as they
were wont to do almost every evening, in Chasels Tavern, on Liberty
Street, in Baltimore. They were William K. Mitchell, a tailor; John
F. Hoss, a carpenter; David Anderson and George Steers, both blacksmiths;
James McCurley, a coach maker; and Archibald Campbell, a silversmith
(7). Their conversation turned to the temperance lecture which was to
be given that evening by a visiting lecturer, the Rev. Matthew Hale
Smith. In a spirit of fun it was proposed that some of them go to hear
the lecture and report back. Four of them went and, after their return,
all discussed the lecture.
One of their company remarked that, "after all, temperance is a
good thing." "0," said the host, "they're all a
parcel of hypocrites." "O yes," replied McCurley, "I'll
be bound for you; it's your interest to cry them down, anyhow."
"I'll tell you what, boys," says Steers, "Let's form
a society and make Bill Mitchell president."... The idea seemed
to take wonderfully; and the more they laughed and talked it over, the
more they were pleased with it (8).
Sunday, April 5, while the six were strolling and drinking, the suggestion
crystallized into a decision to quit drinking and to organize a total
abstinence society. It was agreed that Mitchell should be the president;
Campbell the vice-president; Hoss, the secretary; McCurley, the treasurer;
and Steers and Anderson, the standing committee. The membership fee
was to be twenty-five cents; the monthly dues, 12½ cents. The
proposal that they name the society in honour of Thomas Jefferson was
finally rejected and it was decided that the president and the secretary,
since they were to be the committee to draft the constitution, should
also decide upon the name. It was agreed that each man should bring
a man to the next meeting. And it was left to the president to compose
the pledge which they would all sign the next day. The pledge was formulated
by Mitchell as follows:
whose names are annexed, desirous of forming a society for our mutual
benefit, and to guard against a pernicious practice which is injurious
to our health, standing, and families, do pledge ourselves as gentlemen
that we will not drink any spirituous or malt liquors, wine or cider."
went with it, about nine o'clock, to Anderson's house and found him
still in bed, sick from the effects of his Sunday adventure. He rose,
however, dressed himself, and after hearing the pledge read, went down
to his shop for pen and ink, and there did himself the honour of being
the first man who signed the Washington pledge. After obtaining the
names of the other four, the worthy president finished this noble achievement
by adding his own (8).
name, "Washington Temperance Society, 11 was selected in honour
of George Washington. Two new members were brought to the second meeting.
Strangely enough, they continued to meet for a number of weeks at their
accustomed place in Chase's Tavern. When the tavern owner's wife objected
to the increasing loss of their best customers, Mitchell's wife suggested
that they meet in their home. This they did until the group grew too
large, whereupon they moved to a carpenter's shop on Little Sharp Street.
Eventually, they rented a hall of their own.
they grew in membership they faced the problem of making their weekly
meetings interesting. Their resourceful president made the suggestion
that each member relate his own experience. He started off with his
story of 15 years of excessive drinking, adding his reactions to his
newly gained freedom. Others followed suit. This procedure proved to
be so interesting and effective that it became a permanent feature of
their programs. Interest and membership mounted.
November the society resolved to try a public meeting in which Mitchell
and others would tell their personal experiences. The first such meeting,
held on November 19, 1840, in the Masonic Hall on St. Paul Street, was
a decided success. Not only did it bring in additional members but it
also called the movement to the interested attention of the people of
Baltimore. It was decided to repeat these public meetings about once
a month in addition to the regular weekly meetings of the society.
Zug, a citizen of Baltimore who probably had his interest aroused by
the first public meeting, made further inquiry and, on December 12,
1840, wrote a letter to the Rev. John Marsh, executive secretary of
the American Temperance Union, in New York City, informing him of the
new society in Baltimore. In it he told about the growth of the group:
half a dozen men immediately interested themselves to persuade their
old bottle-companions to unite with them, and they in a short time numbered
nearly one hundred members, a majority of whom were reformed drunkards.
By their unprecedented exertions from the beginning, they have been
growing in numbers, extending their influence, and increasing in interest,
until now they number about three hundred members, upwards of two hundred
of whom are reformed drunkards - reformed, too, within the last eight
months. Many of these had been drunkards of many years' standing, -
notorious for their dissipation. Indeed, the society has done wonders
in the reformation of scores whose friends and the community had despaired
of long since (9).
rapidly did the society grow during the following months that on the
first anniversary of the society, April 5, 1841, there were about 1,000
reformed drunkards and 5,000 other members and friends in the parade
to celebrate the occasion. This demonstration made a deep impression
upon the 40,000 or so Baltimoreans who witnessed the event.
information on the pattern of activities which made this growth possible
and on the components of the therapeutic program which made the reformation
of alcoholics possible in the first place, is given in the writings
of contemporary observers. John Zug, in his first letter to John Marsh,
included the following description:
interest connected with this society is maintained by the continued
active exertions of its members, the peculiar character of their operations
and the frequency of their meetings. The whole society is considered
a "grand committee of the whole," each member exerting himself,
from week to week, and from day to day, as far as possible, to persuade
his friends to adopt the only safe course, total abstinence; or at least
to accompany him to the next meeting of the "Washington Temperance
Society." It is a motto of their energetic and worthy President,
in urging the attendance of the members at the stated meetings, "Let
every man be present, and every man bring with him a man."
have rented a public hall in which they meet every Monday night. At
these weekly meetings, after their regular business is transacted, the
several members rise promiscuously and state their temperance experience
for each other' a warning, instruction, and encouragement. After this,
any persons present wishing to unite with them are invited forward to
sign the Constitution and Pledge (9).
Keener, the editor of the Maryland Herald, made these further first-hand
men spared neither their money nor their time in carrying out the principles
which they had espoused. Many a poor fellow who from the effect of liquor
had become a burden to his family and himself was fed and clothed by
them, and won by kindness to reform his life; even more than this, they
have supported the families of those who they had induced to join with
them, until the husband and father had procured work, and was able to
support them with his own hands.
peculiar characteristics of this great reform are first, a total abstinence
pledge.... Secondly, the telling of others what they know from experience
of the evils of intemperance, and the good which they feel to result
from entire abstinence (9).
W. Hawkins, an early member, had this to say in one of his Boston speeches:
Come up here! You can reform. I met a gentleman this morning who reformed
four weeks ago, rejoicing in his reformation; he brought a man with
him who took the pledge and this man brought two others. This is the
way we do the business up in Baltimore. We reformed drunkards are a
Committee of the Whole on the State of the Union. We are all missionaries.
We don't slight the drunkard; we love him, we nurse him, as a mother
does her infant learning to walk (10).
Keener, in another communication, summed up the work as follows, making
at the same time a comparison with the operations of the regular temperance
great advantage of the Washington Temperance Society has been this;
they have reached hundreds of men that would not come out to our churches,
nor even temperance meetings; they go to their old companions and drag
them, not by force, but by friendly consideration of duty, and a sense
of self-respect, into their ranks, and watch over them with the solicitude
of friends and brothers... (9).
was the character of the original Baltimore "Washington Temperance