Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lower Sandusky Temperance Society

Constitution of Lower Sandusky Temperance Society

By almost any standard, early Americans drank not only universally but in large quantities. According to historians, average annual consumption at the time of the Revolution equaled 3 ½ gallons of pure 200 proof alcohol per person. By 1830, hard liquor consumption reached nearly 9 gallons per every man, woman, and child – excluding ale, hard cider, and wine!

Alcohol permeated and propelled 19th century America. It was considered an essential stimulant for hard work and a symbol of fellowship. The obligatory keg or bottle of rum, whiskey, or gin was a staple at weddings, funerals, frolics, cabin raisings, and log rolling. Early Sandusky County pioneer Ezra Howland matter-of-factly reported that Lower Sanduskians “gathered early one SUNDAY morning with a keg of whiskey and proceeded in raising the courthouse.” Lawyers often drank before court. Physicians believed in liquor's curative effects.

List of signers of Lower Sandusky Temperance Pledge

As the problem grew, temperance societies formed throughout the country. The Lower Sandusky (Fremont) Temperance Society functioned much as other chapters across the nation in their attempts to control the “evils of drink.” The group raised funds for the national organization, presented a proclamation to the “town fathers,” and petitioned for better law enforcement. Interestingly, its first meeting took place on July 4, 1839. Nearly 200 Lower Sanduskians took the “pledge.”

Perhaps the success of the society was due in large part to one man – Ezra Williams. Williams had come “west” from New York in the early 1820s. By 1824, he was running the tavern of Israel Harrington. The following year, he built a distillery at “the foot of the east side hill just south of State Street” in Fremont, Ohio.

Here Williams created some of the purest whiskey that could be had. His experienced distiller combined just the right amounts of corn and rye to produce an exceptional product. The distillery was the chief source of revenue for area farmers, who sold some 12,000 bushels of corn to Williams annually. Catherine Hawk Tillotson remembered that “Williams’ hogs filled themselves with the slops or swill or other refuse of the distillery…it was a dirty place, and a dirty business.”

But all of that changed when Williams found religion at a revival meeting. He abandoned his distillery and true to his new found faith became a charter member of the society. For the first time, the amount of liquor available in Sandusky County declined. Clearly the Lower Sandusky Temperance Society brought about the first real change in the drinking habits of the early pioneers.

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