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Old Time Drinking Habits


Henry Howe, LL.D., Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. II, Published by the State of Ohio, C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Cincinnati, Ohio, 1888, 1904. p. 827,28


Old-Time Drinking Habits

A chaplain of a regiment of the continental army complained that the men were not punctual at morning prayers, “Oh, I’ll fix that,” said the colonel, so he issued an order that the liquor ration would hereafter be given out at the close of morning prayers, It worked like a miracle; not a man was missing.

It is impossible for this generation to conceive of the position of society when the drinking habits was universal among American people, as it was even down to the period of my youth.

Alcoholic liquids were considered a necessity of life; a sort of panacea for all ills; a crowning sheaf to all blessings; good in sickness and in health; good in summer to dispel the heat, and good in winter to dispel the cold; good to keep on work, and more than good to help on a frolic.

So good were they considered that their attributed merits were fixed by pleasant names. The first dram of the morning was an “eye-opener;” duly followed by the “eleven-o’clocker;” and the “four o’clocker;” whilst the very last was a “night-cap;” after which one was supposed to take no more drinks that day, unless he was unexpectedly called up at night, when as people generally slept in rooms without fires, he prudently fortified himself against taking cold.

Don’t imagine these were all the drinks of the day – by no means. The decanter was at the dinner-table and stood ready at all times on the side-board of every well-to-do family. My father was not an exception. If a friend had called, he had been welcomed by the “social glass;” if one had departed, a pleasant journey was tendered in a “flowing bumper;” if a bargain had been made, it was rounded by a liquid “cincher;” If a wedding had come off, long and prosperous life was drunk to the happy pair; if one died, the watchers with the dead (as was the custom of the time) were provided with refreshments through the long solemn hours of night; ardent spirits were always included, while the bearers at funeral had set our for them the decanter and glass.

Drinking all the way from the cradle to the grave, seemed the grand rule. The nurse as she swaddled the new-born infant, took her dram; and Uncle Sam (I remember him), the aged sexton, with the weak and watery eyes and bent, rheumatic body, soon as he had thrown the last spadeful of earth upon the little mound he had raised over the remains of a fellow-mortal, turned to the neighboring bush on which hung his green baize jacket, for a swig at the bottle; after which, and smacking his lips the while, he gathered up his tools and slowly and painfully hobbled homeward to attend to his duties to the living – one was to ring the town-bell at noon, the dinner hour and again at nine at night, to warn people to close the stores, stop work and prepare to retire.

In those ancient and somewhat melancholy days, church deacons not only frequently ran distilleries, but sold rum, whiskey and gin over the counter at two cents a dram (the price of the time); while the parson, that good old man, after finishing a round of social visits, not unfrequently returned to his own dwelling so mellowed by the soothing influence of the cordial welcomes of his parishioners, as to feel that this was not such a very bad world after all.