By Athenaeum Archivist Susan Kindstedt
Alcohol consumption has always been a part of America’s history. In the early years of colonial settlement, alcohol was consumed with most meals by all members of the family as it was believed to be safer than water. During the eighteenth century, taverns grew in number and social drinking increased. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, religious groups–such as Quakers, Methodists and Baptists–began to condemn drinking in excess. At a time when reform minded groups began to address women’s rights and slavery, the temperance movement was also born.
The call for temperance in Portsmouth began with the arrival of Baptist minister Baron Stow to the Middle Street Baptist Church in 1827. Stow’s sermons excited the cause in Portsmouth and support grew quickly.
Soon the city had chapters of many national organizations including the American Temperance Society, American Temperance Union, Washington Total Abstinence Society, Sons of Temperance, International Order of Good Templars, Cold Water Army and Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Support for the temperance movement in Portsmouth included a diverse group of individuals, both male and female, from a variety of socioeconomic groups including laborers, merchants and religious leaders.
Recent additions to the Athenaeum’s collections help tell the story of temperance in Portsmouth. In 2018, the Athenaeum acquired an 1845 petition that listed the names of nearly 900 Portsmouth women calling for reform.
By the 1840s, national temperance groups increasingly emphasized that alcohol consumption was destroying families. This language drew many reform minded women to the cause. In 1845, when the Athenaeum’s broadside petition was published, Portsmouth was in the midst of a significant population increase with the largest influx of immigrants since early settlement. Viewing the stability of their community and families as being at risk, local temperance advocates pleaded for reform in the city’s newspapers and in public proclamations. Mid-century also saw a shift in leadership within the movement. Before 1840, temperance leaders were often religious leaders. They hoped to reform attitudes toward alcohol through means of “moral suasion.” By the late 1840s, temperance advocates began to suggest that the best way to achieve temperance was to prevent the sale of liquor through legislation. In 1846, Maine became the first state to pass a prohibition law. In 1855, the State of New Hampshire passed its own act for the “Suppression of Intemperance” limiting alcohol sale to appointed agents and only for purposes of art, medicine and religion. The law was rarely enforced.
Early in 2019, the Athenaeum acquired another temperance broadside. This broadside, believed to be from the 1850s, is an advertisement for a bowling saloon operating under “temperance principles.” The bowling alley, located on Hanover Street in Portsmouth’s North End, appears to have operated for a brief period of time as little other record of the establishment has been found. In the 1851 City Directory, a “bowling saloon” was listed at 46 Hanover Street, and although it was not distinguished as a “temperance” establishment, it likely was. As made clear in an 1844 Portsmouth Journal article, nineteenth century bowling alleys were viewed as a “serious evil” described as “unprincipled rum-holes.” In 1845, in response to pressure from temperance advocates, the New Hampshire state legislature passed an ordinance “to suppress bowling alleys.” A bowling alley that did not serve alcohol was a novel idea that does not appear to have lasted long.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Portsmouth’s economy became heavily indebted to the brewing industry. Breweries, most notably Frank Jones and Eldredge, provided sixteen percent of the city’s jobs. Jobs provided by the brewing industry were only a fraction of the economic impact the industry had on the city. Frank Jones, the owner of Portsmouth’s largest brewery, also owned hotels, factories, and an insurance company and served as president of the Boston and Maine Railroad. Jones made generous donations and bequests to the Portsmouth’s Public Library, Cottage Hospital, Chase Home for Children, Home for Indigent Women and Middle Street Baptist Church.
In an ironic twist brought to light in Richard Winslow’s Frank Jones of New Hampshire: A Capitalist and Politician During the Gilded Age, “hot water heated at the [Frank Jones] brewery was trundled through the streets in barrels carried by beer wagons and poured into the font in time for the baptismal ceremonies” at Middle Street Baptist Church. The same church where Rev. Baron Stow had first brought the notion of temperance to Portsmouth was later baptizing in water heated at a city brewery. Jones’s influence in the city placed temperance leaders in a difficult position during the second part of the nineteenth century. The Athenaeum’s new broadsides help tell the story of a city with divided allegiance, economic prosperity and the regulation of vice.
The Athenaeum’s collection includes many other sources on temperance and the brewing industry in Portsmouth. Portsmouth Athenaeum Archivist Susan Kindstedt researched the temperance movement in Portsmouth while writing her thesis at the University of New Hampshire. An exhibit about the brewing industry in Portsmouth from the eighteenth century through the present day, curated by the Athenaeum Exhibits Committee, is planned for the summer of 2019. Stories of the Temperance movement and Prohibition will be woven through the history of brewing.