Temperance in the Nation and Sedgwick (SOC.4)

Temperance Movement in the Nation and Sedgwick

Within the historical archive of the Sargentville Library are three brown covered booklets that document the involvement of many Sedgwick men in the Temperance Society, a little remembered social movement that was sweeping the country in the 1800s.  The booklets contain many of the meeting minutes of the Rio Grande Division No. 63 Sons of Temperance, the Sedgwick group founded by Wyer G. Sargent and 14 others in 1847, and of the Eggemoggin Watchman Club which began in December of 1851. Though the minutes include the initial organization and much of the activity of both the Sons of Temperance and the Watchman Club, they don’t reveal anything about the final dissolution of the groups. There may be additional records of their meetings but, if so, they aren’t in the library collection. In spite of this limitation, what we do have provides an interesting window into the thinking, values and forces that affected this small town on the coast of Maine

In the years before the civil war, urbanization, immigration and changes in the cultural fabric of the country lead to a rise in progressive reforms such as women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, the treatment of the mentally ill and temperance, the effort to reduce or eliminate the use of alcohol.

Alcohol had long been an integral part of life in America. “The culture of hops in England had become common before the close of the sixteenth century and hop roots were among the list of articles brought to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 where they were used for home-brewed beer.”  By the early 1800s, until plant diseases and better growing climates reduced the industry, hops were a cash crop widely grown in New England.  Consumption of beer and also hard cider were widely accepted practices and both were considered nourishing stimulants.1 2

Trade with the West Indies whetted the appetite for rum and expanding farmland in the west produced the grains needed to produce large amounts of less expensive whiskey. The whiskey, like rum, had a higher alcohol content than the 2% beer and hard cider that preceded it and before long, alcoholism, with its accompanying disruption of family and community, began to be a serious concern.

American Society for the Promotion of Temperance

The American Society for the Promotion of Temperance also called the American Temperance Society (ATS) began in Boston in 1826 and by 1834 it had over 5,000 local chapters with over 1 million members nationwide.  In addition to temperance, the Society also promoted the abolition of slavery, the expansion of women’s rights, and the improvement of society. Perhaps because it was seen as an abolitionist movement, it was most successful in New England.

Interest in temperance waned in the 1830s but was revived by a group of women who called themselves Washingtonians, after our first president.  “The enthusiasm generated by the Washingtonians was captured and institutionalized by the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal organization formed in 1842 by some Washingtonians concerned about the frequency of back-sliding.”3

There appears to have been a Martha Washingtonian Temperance Society created by and for women in Sedgwick. There are no known records of their meetings or other activities but there is, in the Sargentville library files, the following note:

Note about the Washington Society

This note suggests that a Washington Society Club was considered.

It is interesting that there is no mention of this group in any of the minutes of the Sons of Temperance or the Watchman Club.  On a different note, a Martha Washington branch founded in 1843 by Salome Sylvester Sellers and other ladies in Deer Isle for the purpose of awakening the community: “To the evils of liquor intemperately consumed”4 was active and ongoing.

The Deer Isle “Marthas” helped the needy but also provided support and encouragement for each other and, in time, changed their name to the Martha Washington Benevolent Society, a group that continued well into the twentieth century.

Given that Wyer G. Sargent, Abel Sawyer and Ellis Harden, three of the founders of the Sedgwick Sons of Temperance in 1847, were prior members of the M. M. Division No 30 (probably the Mariner and Mechanic Division) of the Sons of Temperance in Portland, Maine, it is likely that their opinions were influenced by Neal S. Dow (1804–1897) the prohibitionist mayor of Portland, Maine, and a major leader of the Temperance Movement.

Neal S. Dow, “The Maine Law” and the “Portland Rum Riot”

After years as an outspoken prohibitionist, Dow drafted and, in 1851 the Governor passed, the “Maine Law” which outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol in Maine except for medicinal and mechanical purposes.  On June 2, 1855 rumor had it that Dow had a large supply of illicit liquor in the city vault.  An angry crowd gathered and, though the details are in dispute, it appears that an attempt was made to break into the vault.  Dow called out the militia and the detachment fired upon the crowd, wounding seven and killing John Robbins, a mariner and sailing vessel mate from Deer Isle who was the son of Mark Cole Robbins and Phebe Morey Robbins. Called the “Portland Rum Riot”, this event played a role in Dow’s eventual downfall.

Eleven states and territories followed the “Maine Law” lead and though largely ignored, the law remained in effect in Maine until the repeal of national Prohibition in 1933.

Membership and Leadership

The Sons of Temperance Society was a fraternal organization that included secret rituals and ceremonies.  Potential members had to be nominated by a Temperance Brother in good standing and approved by a three member investigating committee.  Meetings were held weekly and absences had to be excused by the group. Dues of 3 to 5 cents per week were routinely assessed and failure to pay was cause for expulsion from the Order.  Leadership roles changed every quarter, including the leader, known as the Worthy Patriarch.


At each meeting members were picked to bring resolutions to upcoming meetings. The resolutions, called “resolves”, usually focused on social or ethical topics and, as such, are fascinating reflections of how the men of Sedgwick saw their world. Each resolution, was discussed in the meetings and the group then voted on whether they agreed or disagreed with the resolution premise.  It’s possible that these discussions helped build a sense of community and might even have influenced the views and, possibly, the behaviors of the members.

Resolution examples include:

“March 10, 1847 Resolution from S.G. Philbrook-“Resolved that while we recognize in the institution of our order the strongest earthly bonds which can unite friends of Total Abstinence within his own breast the principles of Temperance Love and Virtue, we still hold it- to the duty of every brother to labour with untiring zeal to reform the unfortunate inebriate and raise him to that elevation which will entitle him to a seat within our circle.  After a brief discussion of the resolution presented by SG Philbrook it was voted to adopt same.”

“April 21, 1847 The following resolution after discussion was decided in the negative, viz “That woman has more influence over man than money””

“May 5, 1847 Heard remarks on the following resolution brot in by Wm H. Sargent viz, “Resolved that men by living single, mar their own happiness.” On May 12, 1847 the group voted to adopt the resolution submitted by Br. Wm H. Sargent.”

“May 19, 1847 Heard remarks by several of the brethren upon the following resolution submitted by Br Wm H Sargent “Resolved that the people of Maine, as a mass, with all their cold, labour and toil enjoy a greater degree of happiness than the people of the most favored Southern States with all the ease and luxury, said to be enjoyed by them.””

“May 26, 1847 Voted to adopt the following resolution presented by Br Sawyer for discussion, viz-“Resolved that a constant and useful employment promotes the health and happiness of mankind.”

“November 3rd, 1847 Heard remarks on the following resolution brot in by W.H. Sargent  Resolved, that the tenants of Ireland are in a worse condition than the Southern Slaves. Voted to adopt said resolution.”

“November 10,1847 Heard remarks on the following resolution brot in by Br A. Sawyer Resolved that men be their own cause either directly or indirectly of most of their unhappiness experienced by them.”

“Dec 15, 1847 Heard a discussion of the following resolve presented by Br Robert Dority that the wife has it harder through life than the husband.  Adopted the sentiments of said resolve.”

“December 22, 1847 Heard remarks upon the following resolution brot in by Bro J H Sargent Resolved that women talk more than men.  Passed in the affirmative.”

“March 1st 1848 Br K Hooper Resolve viz  Resolved that the rum seller is more to be shunned than the drunkard.”

“Feb 14, 1849 Br K Hooper was called upon for the discussion of his resolution which read as follows Resolved that flogging aught to be abolished in our Navy. Passed in the affirmative 9 to 7.”

“September 12, 1849 Resolve submitted by Bro RS Cole Resolved that in a free government it is the duty of every citizen to exercise his privilege at the ballot box.”

“September 26, 1849 The following Resolve was submitted by Bro WH Sargent Resolved that the California Gold has been and will be the cause of more unhappiness than the late war with Mexico.”

“June 12, 1850 Br Sawyer brought in the following resolve Resolved that the pay of the members of our legislature is not in proportion to the labor and expense.  Said resolve passed in the affirmative.”

The Sons of Temperance Motto Board–displayed by David F. Simmons

In March 1848 the Sons of Temperance voted that, for the sum of one dollar, Nathan K. Sawyer was to complete their Temperance motto board.  What we believe to be that board was found in the attic of the William and Martha Simmons house which was built by Abel Sawyer and is still owned by his direct descendants. We assume that Nathan and Abel Sawyer were related in some way and that may be why the motto board was in Abel’s attic.  David F. Simmons is the GGG grandson of Abel Sawyer, one of the founders of the Sedgwick division of the Sons of Temperance.

David Simmons with the Sons of Temperance Motto Board

David Simmons with the Sons of Temperance Motto Board

Cold Water Fountains

As one reads through the Sedgwick Rio Grande Division No.63 of the Sons of Temperance meeting minutes one notices frequent mention of the Cold Water Effort and of sections being read from the Cold Water Journal.   The back story on this is that, in the 1880s, beer and other alcoholic drinks were often the clean substitute for water that was muddy, contaminated or foul tasting. The temperance groups, believing that if clean cool water was more available it would help people stay out of the bars, encouraged private individuals throughout the country to build public drinking fountains.  A few of these still exist in major cities such as the Temperance Fountain in New York donated by Henry Cogswell which has the words “Faith”, “Hope” “Charity” and “Temperance” chiseled under its canopy, and the Benson Bubblers, bronze drinking fountains in Portland Oregon donated by Simon Benson in hopes of discouraging his workers from drinking alcohol in the middle of the day.

A few public “fountains” once existed in the Sedgwick area but there is no proof that they had anything to do with the Cold Water Fountain effort supported by the Temperance Society. For example, Diana Marston Wood remembers a water fountain by the North Sedgwick Road.  David Webb added that he vaguely remembers that the “fountain”, which was across from the Great Meadow, was a bucket hung in a barrel with a pipe that brought water from a nearby spring.  David also remembers another that was on Caterpillar Hill across from Bryan and Carter Patten’s road. Some, such as the water trough outside the home of Temperance Watchman Club member Grenville Clapp, could have related to the Cold Water Fountain effort or it might have just been a convenient watering place for the horses of those visiting or passing by.

Resources related to Temperance:










4Rittenouse, Caroline Smith, An Island Woman Salome Sylvester Sellers Deer Isle, Maine, 1800-1909, Peg Mitten Press, Stonington, Maine, page 23.