Milton Under “Semi-Prohibition” – 1855-02

By Muriel Bristol | November 28, 2021

Liquor prohibition came to the fore as a political issue in the 1830s. It would be closely associated with the issues of abolition of slavery, female suffrage, and even – for a time – opposition to immigration (especially non-Protestant immigration). (See also Milton and Abolitionism).

Prohibitory laws were passed in the neighboring states of Maine in 1851, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont in 1852, and Connecticut in 1854. Some of these went through several versions, as the initial laws were struck down or modified.

Dow, Neal - DaguerreotypePortland’s Mayor Neal S. Dow (1804-1897) lobbied hard for passage of the Maine prohibition legislation that would be widely-known the “Maine Law” or the “Dow Law.” He lost his 1852 bid for re-election, and he blamed his loss on Irish immigrants. His Whig party more or less dissolved in 1854, and, when he ran again in 1855, Dow was only narrowly elected – by a margin of only 47 votes – by a coalition of voters from the Temperance, Abolition (“Free Soil”), and the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing (“American”) parties, as well as the then newly-formed Republican party.

For the Transcript. Neal Dow was nominated for Mayor at Portland last evening, at a meeting of the new Republican party, including the Temperance, Abolition and Know-Nothing parties, especially the latter. The meeting was numerously attended (Boston Evening Transcript, March 30, 1855).

Mayor Dow purchased mistakenly – he should not have done so in his own name – a city supply of alcohol, and thus became entangled in the technicalities of his own law (for which he was indicted). On Saturday, June 2, 1855, an unruly mob tried to seize that city alcohol supply in what was termed the “Portland Rum Riot.” Dow called out the militia and ordered them to fire on the crowd, killing one and wounding others. (Note that the pro-Dow report extracted below employed terminology that sought to associate the Democrat party with both rum and mobs).

Serious Liquor Riot in Portland – the City Agency Attacked – the Military Called Out – A Round Fired into the Crowd – One Man Killed, and other Wounded. On Saturday night last, a rumocratic and mobocratic gang of rowdies, in Portland, attempted to destroy $1600 worth of spirituous liquor bought by Mayor Dow for the City Agency. Every effort having been made in vain to disperse the mob, the military was called out and the riot act read; but the rioters disregarded every warning, and assailed the soldiers and authorities with stones and other missiles, when the order was given to fire, and the ringleader (John Robinson [Robbins] of Deer Isle) killed on the spot, and several others wounded. The excitement in Portland was very great, but we have no room for particulars (Liberator, [Friday,] June 8, 1855).

Other published accounts claimed that the unfortunate John Robbins (aged twenty-two years) was in fact not the ringleader, nor even a participant, but merely a bystander, and that the militia had fired without warning.

Meanwhile, incoming NH Governor Ralph Metcalf (1796-1858) transmitted his legislative priorities to the NH legislature, June 7, 1855. A prohibition law was high on his list.

MESSAGE OF THE GOVERNOR OF NEW HAMPSHIRE. … The Governor looks upon the liquor traffic as a public nuisance and the parent of crime; and as being a more aggravated offence than either larceny, forgery, counterfeiting, or their kindred crimes, and seeing that persuasion has in vain operated to correct the evil, the Governor recommends, that in imitation of other States, in which almost a prohibitory law has passed and been put in execution, New Hampshire be furnished with an enactment, as he says, prohibiting the sale of liquors, with a very limited discrimination, if any be advisable; a law which will protect the legal rights of all citizens, but with ample power to effectually enforce its provisions so far as possible; the penalties of which shall be commensurate with the offence. Such a law, I have no doubt, is expected and demanded by the people of New Hampshire, and the welfare and prosperity of the State demand it; our social and domestic relations demand it; moral [-ity] and religion demand it; patriotism demands it, and I cannot believe that these demands will be slighted by a legislature elected under circumstances peculiarly prophetic (Boston Evening Transcript, June 8, 1855).

Gov. Metcalf, who had been a Democrat for most of his career, had split with his party over their opposition to abolition (and his support of it). He had become instead the gubernatorial candidate of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party. (Farmington’s native son, Henry Wilson (1812-1875), who had been a Whig, also associated himself with the Know-Nothing party at this time).

On the subject of foreigners and naturalization, the message is very elaborate, and embraces in particular Roman Catholics especially, who, the Governor thinks, are entirely opposed to the adoption of the principles of freedom, and incapacitated of self-government, as in numerous instances they vote as they are paid or directed, by parties holding spiritual control over them. He recommends an extension of the period of naturalisation by the General Government, and such action within the States as will prescribe the process of naturalisation; also, that a law be made providing that no foreign-born person be eligible for office until he has had twenty-one years residence in the country. Without this restriction he thinks they have no right to seek or expect any share in the government of the country, and that to Americans, and to them alone, can it be safely entrusted (Boston Evening Transcript, June 8, 1855).

New Hampshire passed its own prohibitory law on a third attempt in July 1855, only a month after the Portland Rum Riot. (Milton’s state representatives of 1855-56 were Eli Wentworth (1821-1862) and David Wallingford (1801-1878)). Two prior legislative attempts had been blocked (in 1852 and 1854) by the state senate as being unconstitutional. (The original “Maine Law” was replaced in Maine by a milder variant in 1858).

Prohibitory Liquor Law in New Hampshire. In the New Hampshire House of Representatives yesterday afternoon, a stringent prohibitory liquor law was passed. The vote on the final passage of the bill stood – yeas 213; nays 50. The Concord Patriot of this morning reports that several amendments were made to the bill by the chairman of the committee which reported the bill, the principal of which was one authorizing the authorities to destroy confiscated liquors of bad quality, and add costs to fines; also, providing that claimants of liquors seized, but proved not to have been kept for sale, should be paid their costs out of the county treasuries (Boston Evening Transcript, July 7, 1855).

Liquor Law in New Hampshire. The new liquor law passed by the last New Hampshire Legislature, goes into operation today (Boston Evening Transcript, August 13, 1855).

Neither the production nor the consumption of liquor was forbidden under the law, but only its sale. And State liquor commissioners might authorize even the sale of liquor by druggists fulfilling prescriptions, and by state agents for medicinal, mechanical and manufacturing purposes. (Separate Federal licensing was also available). Despite having been put forward as a “stringent” liquor law, frustrated prohibition advocates characterized it as being instead merely “Semi-Prohibition,” i.e., only a half measure.

Jedediah L. Duntley (c1834-1914), William H. Huntress (1822-1873), and Llewellyn D. Reed (c1825-1870), all of Milton, each paid $20 in excise tax on their retail liquor licenses in Milton’s US Excise Tax of 1862. Most of those paying also paid separate excise taxes for their hotel licenses. (See also Milton’s US Excise Tax of 1863, and Milton’s US Excise Tax of May 1864).

New Hampshire’s “semi-prohibition” regime was enforced weakly and unevenly. The city of Manchester evolved a selective enforcement scheme known as the “Healey System,” which became the statewide model. Under such a “system,” authorities conducted only occasional token raids and arrests, resulting in fines.

The real issue is whether the famous “Healey” system, peculiar to New Hampshire, will be done away with or strengthened. No city or State election ever created the interest of the present. The system by which the liquor traffic has been controlled since the prohibitory law of 50 years ago went into effect has been very simple. Saloons have been run openly. The chief of police in each city has brought the proprietors or their agents into court at intervals, where a fine was imposed. It was for him to say who should open saloons and how often the owner should be fined (Boston Post, May 10, 1903).

As such, the so-called “Healey System,” with its periodic fines, was regarded as a sort of quasi-licensing rather than an outright prohibition.

The aforementioned William H. Huntress appeared openly in the Ninth (1870) Federal Census as a Milton saloon keeper, aged forty-three years (b. NH). His son, Charles A. Huntress appeared as his saloon clerk, aged sixteen years (b. NH).

Neighboring Farmington, NH, provided several examples of liquor raids in the early 1880s. Samuel H. Burnham (1835-1906), Charles E. Nutter (1852-1905), George W. Hobbs (1856-1889), and Natt F. Ham (c1848-1891) had all identified themselves forthrightly as Farmington saloon keepers at the time of the Tenth (1880) Federal Census. Others raided included James J. “Happy-Go-Lucky” Lord (c1840-1908), a painter; and Elbridge G.L. Wedgewood (c1840-1898), a lumber dealer.

The local Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U) chapter claimed proudly to have instigated the raids, and it was usually women mentioned as informants or complainants in news accounts. A modern civil libertarian might express some concern that the standard of probable cause being employed by the authorities was so ridiculously weak (“round up the usual suspects”).

FARMINGTON – This [W.C.T.U.] Union was organized in January of the present year [1882]. The membership has increased from thirty-two to eighty-five. Prayer and business meetings are held every fortnight. Gospel temperance meetings have been held each week, with an average attendance of one hundred and with good interest. Many drinking men have come into these meetings. A large number of them have signed the pledge and quite a number have become Christians. A Juvenile Union has been formed and holds its meetings every Sunday afternoon, having about eighty members. The young men have a public temperance meeting at the close of their school each week, $4.00 has been expended for children’s tracts and papers. The aim of the Union has been to give instruction and make Temperance popular among the young people. Mr. and Mrs. Thorndike were secured to give one of their pleasing “Illuminated Temperance Armory Entertainments.” The pastors have preached on temperance several times at the request of the Union. Miss Colman’s book is to be introduced into the schools this Fall. At the time of the town meeting in the Spring, a stall was arranged by the ladies of the Union and they dealt out coffee and refreshments to the thirsty voters, free of charge. Many an imbiber of strong drink was thus saved from temptation, and twelve men signed the pledge. At the instigation of the Union, a general raid has been made upon the various saloons and hotels where liquor was supposed to be sold. Several indictments have been made and the work is still going on (W.C.T.U. of NH, 1882). 

LOCALS. Another unsuccessful liquor raid was made Thursday night on the saloons of Charles E. Nutter and E.L. Wedgewood. Warrants were sworn out by Mrs. D.W. Edgerly and Mrs. Caleb Hanson (Farmington News, [Friday,] December 1, 1882).

Mrs. Caleb Hanson and Mrs. D.W. Edgerly were mother and daughter. Ellen A. Hanson [(1845-1920)] married in Strafford, NH, March 26, 1864, Dr. D.W. [Daniel W.] Edgerly [(1837-1890)], she of Strafford, NH, and he of Farmington, NH. She was aged eighteen years, and he was aged twenty-six years. (Dr. Daniel W. Edgerly was a Civil War veteran, dentist, minister, and sometime judge of the Farmington police court [!]). His father, Rev. Daniel L. Edgerly, performed the ceremony. Hanson was born in Strafford, NH, in 1845, daughter of Caleb and Louisa H. (Evans) Hanson.

Nutter and Wedgewood were raided again the very next night, but also Natt F. Ham, and James J. “Happy-Go-Lucky” Lord. It was again a local woman that made the complaints.

LOCALS. The quiet waters were slightly disturbed Friday night by raids upon the following parties: C.E. Nutter was visited by officer Armstrong assisted by John Armstrong, but nothing of a contraband nature was discovered. E.L. Wedgewood was interviewed by officer Whitney and Elmer Childs. Here they succeeded in taking a little whiskey and some lager. N.F. Ham was called upon by sheriff Hall, accompanied by Frank P. Burley. Their search here was rewarded with a schooner or two of beer. Happy-go-lucky Lord appeared to be the most surprised man of all when officer Nutter and Frank Bush walked in and invited him to close up, which he promptly did, and appeared to be sorry (?) that he could not accommodate the officials; but instead of whiskey, beer or anything of that vile nature, of which he appeared to be ignorant, he offered to substitute a clam chowder, but as that has not yet been declared contraband of war and furthermore was decidedly hot, they concluded to touch not, taste not, and more especially handle not, and Jim was left in peace. The warrants in all the above cases were signed by Mrs. Will L. Dow (Farmington News, December 8, 1882).

Sadie F. Parcher married in Farmington, NH, February 9, 1879, William L. Dow [(1848-1935)], both of Farmington, NH. He was a shoe dresser, aged thirty years, and she was a shoe stitcher, aged twenty-three years. Free-Will Baptist Rev. C.A. Bickford performed the ceremony.

Frank E. Bush (1850-1940), the harness maker who had assisted in the raid on “Happy-Go-Lucky” Lord’s chowder dinner, lost his job over his participation. His boss, Farmington merchant William W. Fuller (1825-1900), thought that Bush’s temperance activities were bad for business. The context suggests that Bush had participated at the instigation of his wife, Addie (Fisher) Bush (1855-1938), a milliner.

LOCALS. Owing to a too-free indulgence and expression of temperance principles, F.E. Bush, an employee in W.W. Fuller’s harness shop, has received his discharge. We learn from Mr. Bush himself that until the recent raid he has not personally been an active worker and has so stated to Mr. Fuller, but Mr. F. stated that the active part taken by his (Bush’s) wife worked to the injury of the harness business and requested Mr. Bush to put a stop to it or he should have to get someone in his stead. Mr. B., considering these repeated requests to be an infringement of personal rights in such matters, concluded to vacate his situation. He has two or three situations in view out of town, but does not at this season wish to move if he can get employment here at fair rates. Mr. Fuller claims that Mr. Bush resigned his situation principally on account of the question of wages. Mr. B. wanted more pay which Mr. F. said he could not give at present, particularly as his trade was injured by Bush’s, or his wife’s, position upon the liquor question. Mr. Bush wanted to know whether, if he remained at his present salary, he shall have to come under restrictions in temperance matters, and Mr. Fuller said yes. Consequently, Mr. Bush took himself out of the way (Farmington News, December 8, 1882).

But Bush’s troubles were not yet over. He and the now twice-raided Charles E. Nutter happened to encounter each other at the railroad depot in Rochester, NH, on the following Monday.

LOCALS. Charles E. Nutter and Frank E. Bush, both of Farmington, met at the depot in Rochester, Monday, and had a little confab in regard to the liquor raids in this village, and before they got through Nutter knocked Bush down and gave him quite a pummeling. Nutter then came home, but was soon followed by sheriff Greenfield who arrested him and took him back to Rochester, where he was fined for assault and battery, costing him about $18.00 (Farmington News, December 8, 1882).

LOCALS. The quiet waters were again disturbed Monday, and a dive into the depths for condemned stuff resulted in nix at Lord’s. At Nutter’s a bottle of whiskey was fished out of the stable, but at the trial Jesse Whitten came forward and claimed it thus clearing Nutter (Farmington News, February 16, 1883).

Jesse A. Whitten (1855-1903) married in Farmington, NH, November 28, 1878, Annie I. Canney (1859-1942), he of Farmington and she of Lebanon, ME. He was a hostler, aged twenty-three years, and she was a housekeeper, aged eighteen years. Rev. W.E. Darling performed the ceremony.

LOCALS. Mrs. William Welch of Central Cottage is in receipt of an anonymous communication on the alleged sale of intoxicants in the saloon kept by James Lord, on Central street. Mrs. W. wishes it distinctly understood that she takes no notice of any anonymous communications. If any one has any communication to lodge, let them make it [in] a straight, forward and regular way (Farmington News, November 13, 1885).

Central House - FN890628 Mary H. Wilkinson (1835-1924) married in Alton, NH, January 3, 1860, William Welch (1833-1891). They kept the Central House or Central Cottage hotel (and livery stable) on Central Street in Farmington, NH.

In November 1885, Strafford County Sheriff John G. Johnson (1832-1907) of Farmington, NH, raided hotelier Jacob D. Garland (1833-1897) of Milton, for illegal sale of intoxicants, based upon on information provided by Charles H. Applebee (1862-1946) of Milton Mills.

LOCALS. The Phoenix Hotel, Milton Three Ponds, J.D. Garland, proprietor, was overhauled by Sheriff Johnson, Saturday, on complaint of C.H. Applebee, of Milton Mills, for the illegal sale of intoxicants. Rum, whiskey and wine were found, and on Monday Mr. Garland appeared before Justice E.W. Fox at Milton and was fined $50 and costs, amounting to $62.80, which was paid (Farmington News, [Friday, November 15, 1885).

At the conclusion of an editorial decrying the ready availability of liquor, a Milton manufacturer was mentioned as having been put off by the situation in neighboring Farmington, NH.

LOCALS. … To show further what all this is leading to we have the statement of one of the most prominent citizens of Milton in effect that the shoe firm there of Messrs. Burley & Usher had some thought of moving here until on visiting the village and noting the drift of affairs they expressed themselves as doubtful of successfully conducting business here without great trouble from drunkenness. That is certainly a very disparaging statement to go to the public, but blind your eyes as you may, any one who will go upon our streets most any evening will see enough to be convinced that it is time to reform. We should be glad to hear from any one who has any ideas to advance on the subject. Our columns are open (Farmington News, December 17, 1886).

In early 1889, contravening legislative proposals were made for a local option liquor licensing law and to insert prohibition directly into the NH constitution. Both efforts failed.

Frank Jones Adv - Pre-1900TEMPERANCE NEWS. WHAT WILL BE THE DECISION? … In New Hampshire the prospects of success for the amendment are even less, for in this State two-thirds of all the votes cast are necessary for its ratification. The fact that a bare majority of the Constitutional Convention voted for the submission of the amendment to the people augurs badly for its success. New Hampshire already has statutory prohibition of the sale of intoxicants, though their manufacture is permitted. Nevertheless, in the city of Portsmouth, with but ten thousand inhabitants, there are, according to the “Voice,” 150 persons with Federal liquor licenses. The “Voice” naturally maintains that this disgraceful violation of the law is due to the influence of the great brewery of Frank Jones. Yet if the statutory laws can be defied so openly, it is not likely that two-thirds of the people of the State will favor the in corporation of prohibition into their law (Christian Union, February 7, 1889).

Barrington-native Franklin “Frank” Jones (1832-1902) was the largest brewer in New Hampshire, as well as having many other business interests. (Neither brewing ale nor possessing it was prohibited, but only its sale). Democrat Jones had been twice Mayor of Portsmouth, NH, and twice a U.S. Representative.

PROHIBITIONISTS VOTING FOR A LICENSE LAW. The New Hampshire House of Representatives is in a mood favorable to the enactment of a stringent liquor license law, if the votes on the skirmish over the majority and minority reports of the committee to whom the subject was referred are indications of legislative sentiment. The majority reported a license bill; the minority, inexpedient to legislate. Yesterday, by a vote of 137 to 126, the House refused to substitute the minority report for that of the majority, and took up the bill. The members from the cities and large towns, generally, voted for license. The Prohibitionists will, of course, say they did this, because cities and large towns are wickeder than small places, and that, of course, their representatives reflect the prevailing sentiment. But, in reality, probably these gentlemen were influenced by their opportunities for acquainting themselves with the failure of prohibition in New Hampshire. In Manchester, Portsmouth and other cities liquor is sold with little concealment. These cities lose revenue and gain nothing by the prohibition law. In many of the smaller towns there is a tacit understanding that one liquor dealer shall he permitted to do business provided he keeps an orderly place and does not make it over-conspicuous. Some hotel keepers have an understanding with local authorities that so long as they do not sell to the townspeople their bar business shall not be interfered with. They are thus at liberty to supply liquors to discreet travellers, and this permission is undoubtedly expanded. We have been told by a gentleman for many years a deputy sheriff in New Hampshire, that the prohibition law is practically a dead letter, except when saloons or liquor places become nuisances, or it is used as an instrument of personal or political revenge. Prohibition does not prohibit in New Hampshire any more than in any other State (Boston Evening Transcript, August 9, 1889).

Vermont, and (as regards spirits) New Hampshire, adopted prohibition, respectively, in 1852 and 1855. In the latter State the sale of beer has been forbidden since 1878; a proposition to make prohibition constitutional was rejected in 1889. New Hampshire also is peculiar in forbidding the sale only, not the manufacture, of intoxicating liquors. Attempts to pass a licensing measure have been made more than once in recent years in this State and have not fallen very far short of success, being defeated in 1889 by 144 votes to 118, and in the following year by 166 to 148 (Fanshawe & Rathbone, 1893).

Frank Leighton of Milton went drinking at a saloon in Rochester, NH, March 30, 1891. He died a grisly death on his return trip when he got caught in the gears of his wagon and was dragged for six miles. (See Milton in the News – 1891).

MILTON. Officer Rines made a raid last Saturday night on Mr. Ward’s hotel, and found evidence enough to convict him of selling liquor without a license. Mr. Ward was taken to jail and kept there until Monday, when he had his trial. He was bound over to the superior court, which will meet at Dover in September, and held in $200 bonds (Farmington News, April 15, 1892).

West Milton salesman Luther H. Wentworth (1844-1917) returned from an April 1897 business trip in late April 1897. He, being a Milton justice-of-the-peace, engaged a police officer to raid several alleged liquor dealers, who were then tried before another justice-of-the-peace.

WEST MILTON. L.H. Wentworth returned from a two weeks’ trip to Rhode Island last week. On Monday, accompanied by an officer, he raided the places of several alleged liquor dealers. Hearings were heard in the cases before Judge Fox, who imposed fines on those found guilty (Farmington News, May 7,  1897).

Milton Rev. Fred E. Carver accused druggist Frank E. Fernald of selling a quart of spirituous liquor “unlawfully and for the sake of wicked gain,” May 29, 1897. The dénouement was unexpected to say the least. (See The Preacher and the Druggist – 1897).

In the first of several August 1897 raids, it is readily apparent that those officials acting at the behest of the “temperance people” had again scant concern for probable cause in raiding some of the many alleged “saloon keepers.”

MILTON NEWS LETTER. SEVERAL LIQUOR RAIDS LAST WEEK. The temperance people scored a point last week against the saloon keepers. All the saloons in town were raided one night, with the result that nothing was found in any of the places. But in a subsequent raid the following night their efforts proved more successful and F.M. Chamberlin of the Phoenix House was obliged to settle in police court (Farmington News, September 3, 1897).

MILTON. Fred Chamberlain was raided last week. Beer was found (Farmington News, August 30, 1901).

After nearly fifty years of “semi-prohibition,” it was apparently thought still necessary to warn off “drunkards” when seeking first-class machinists. (One might suppose almost that a rather expansive sense of the term was in play).

MALE HELP WANTED. WANTED – Machinist of first-class ability, to go to Milton, N.H.; steady situation will be given to a reliable man capable of taking charge; positively no drunkards. D 11, Globe office (Boston Globe, January 24, 1902).

At the very same time that this advertisement’s type was being set, a major shakeup in the whole liquor situation was in the offing.

Continued in Milton Under “Local License” – 1903-18

Of the tyrant, spies and informers are the principal instruments – Aristotle


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Author: Muriel Bristol

"Lady drinking tea"

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