Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Week in Texas Methodist History  June 30

Methodist Church at Liberty Hosts 4th of July Celebration, July 4, 1850

The celebration of the 4th of July is a great celebration of the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence.  Americans began observing the event very early in our nation’s history.  Unfortunately sometimes the celebrations were marred by the consumption of large amounts of alcohol.  Alcohol was common in early 19th century.  Corn was the most important grain, and because of the primitive transportation system, it was hard to transport.  Farmers distilled their corn into whiskey or fed it to hogs so they could transport it more cheaply.  Apples were pressed into hard cider, peaches turned into brandy, and pears into perry (fermented pear juice). 

Alcohol was so cheap and available that many people started their day with a swig.  Employers supplied alcohol to their employees. Political candidates were expected to have a keg at the polls for the voters.

The massive amounts of alcohol consumption eventually produces an anti-alcohol reaction and the enactment of national prohibition in the early 20th century.  Although best known from the early 20th century, the movement for prohibition actually started before the Civil War, and one of the most prominent prohibition group was a group called the Sons of Temperance.   It was founded in the New York City in 1842 and spread rapidly through the United States, Canada, and England.  The first Texas chapter was established at Henderson in the mid 1840s.  Methodists quickly assumed leadership positions in the Sons of Temperance. 

Sons of Temperance combined aspects of fraternal groups and mutual insurance companies.  There were secret passwords, regalia, and other aspects borrowed mainly from Masonic orders. When a member died, his family received a $30.00 death benefit.   The death of a member’s wife brought half that amount.  One of the by laws required each member to call on a sick member every day of his illness. 

In 1850 the Sons of Temperance chapter at Liberty produced an alcohol-free 4th of July celebration.  Naturally the Methodist church at Liberty was central to the celebration.  Here is how the Texas Wesleyan Banner reported the event.

Agreeable to a previous resolution of the Liberty Division of the Sons of Temperance they met at the Court House at Liberty at 10:a.m. and marched in procession to the City Hotel where a banner was presented to the Order by Mrs. Ann House in behalf of the ladies of Liberty. Accompanied with an elegant and appropriate address  which was responded to by W. C. Abbott, Esq., P.W.P.* whereupon the Division had a procession , accompanied by the ladies of Liberty and vicinity to the M. E. Church where a highly entertaining Oration was delivered  by C. .L. Cleaveland, Esq.  The Division again formed and marched in procession to the City Hotel where a sumptuous dinner awaited them.  The proceedings throughout were characterized by good order, harmony. And love,
Signed  A. B. Jones, P. A. Swan, C. Bryan

The celebration in Liberty is just one example of how Methodists and other progressive reformers tried to supply wholesome alternatives to social ills.  Many Methodist churches still do.  

*P,W,P.= Past Worshipful Patriarch 


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