Friday, December 18, 2009

This Day in Ypsi History: A Minister Struggles against Widespread Inebriation

On December 18, 1829, Presbyterian Reverend William Jones organized the city's first Temperance society. He was scandalized at the city's moral laxitude, which included the unrestrained pitching of quoits (similar to pitching horseshoes) in present-day Riverside Park on the Lord's Day. The city's first distillery had been built three years earlier. Jones said, on arrival in town from New York:

"I arrived at Ypsilanti on October 3, 1829, and found the people without a church, and in a deplorable condition. Almost the whole village, with few exceptions, were given over to the unrestrained indulgence in intoxicating drinks. The holy Sabbath was openly desecrated by revelry, drunkenness, and the pitching of quoits on the banks of the river. The first Sabbath after my arrival, as they were without even a schoolhouse or a public room for meeting, I met the people in a private dwelling; but the fetid breath of intoxication sensibly impregnated and polluted the atmosphere of the room. These things were literally true. I entered the field under heart-sickening' circumstances. I felt that nothing could be done until the people were restored to sobriety. So I invited different neighborhoods together and read to them Dr. Beecher's sermons on the use of intoxicating drinks. Attention was arrested, a temperance society was formed in Ypsilanti; and from thence the temperance reformation spread through the county." --Past and Present of Washtenaw County

That last "from thence" was a tad overstated--the cause of Temperance waxed and waned in Ypsilanti for the next century, until Prohibition began.'And Jones didn't even bother to try and ban beer and wine, but allowed the consumption of these milder drinks since it would have been impossible to ban alcohol outright.

Jones did not last for even a year in Ypsi. He was replaced by the summer of 1830. The subjects of Jones' first and last sermons here in town hint that he did not make much headway with his Temperance movement. The first sermon he preached here was based on the text "Fear not, little flock—it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

His last one was based on the text "Up, get ye out of this place, for the Lord will destroy it."

6 comments :

Dusty D said...

The illustration is labeled "A Gentlemen's Game of Quoits," and the Ypsi version would have looked a bit more rough-hewn (no top hats, for one...)

TeacherPatti said...

That dang alcohol!;)
I have, however, read many heartbreaking stories about men who pissed away meager paychecks, leaving wives and kids to starve. If you ever go to the Full Moon (I think it's called now) on Main Street in A2, there is a heartbreaking poster called something like "Father dear father come home to me now". My husband and I were so captivated that we googled it and it is part of a song that is just awful.
Having said that, I don't think banning anything totally works...see: war on drugs.

Dusty D said...

TeacherPatti: I have heard of that song, and the lyrics by Henry Clay Work, who wrote it in 1862, are worth reprinting here:

Come Home, Father!

'Tis The SONG OF LITTLE MARY,
Standing at the bar-room door
While the shameful midnight revel
Rages wildly as before.

Father, dear father, come home with me now!
The clock in the steeple strikes one;
You said you were coming right home from the shop,
As soon as your day's work was done.
Our fire has gone out our house is all dark
And mother's been watching since tea, --
With poor brother Benny so sick in her arms,
And no one to help her but me. --
Come home! come home! come home! --
Please, father, dear father, come home. --

Hear the sweet voice of the child
Which the night winds repeat as they roam!
Oh who could resist this most plaintive of prayers?
"Please, father, dear father, come home."

Father, dear father, come home with me now!
The clock in the steeple strikes two;
The night has grown colder, and Benny is worse
But he has been calling for you.
Indeed he is worse Ma says he will die,
Perhaps before morning shall dawn; --
And this is the message she sent me to bring
"Come quickly, or he will be gone." --
Come home! come home! come home! --
Please, father, dear father, come home. --

Hear the sweet voice of the child
Which the night winds repeat as they roam!
Oh who could resist this most plaintive of prayers?
"Please, father, dear father, come home."

Father, dear father, come home with me now!
The clock in the steeple strikes three;
The house is so lonely the hours are so long
For poor weeping mother and me.
Yes, we are alone poor Benny is dead,
And gone with the angels of light; --
And these were the very last words that he said
"I want to kiss Papa good night." --
Come home! come home! come home! --
Please, father, dear father, come home. --

Hear the sweet voice of the child
Which the night winds repeat as they roam!
Oh who could resist this most plaintive of prayers?
"Please, father, dear father, come home."

Here is a recording of the song.

More about Henry Clay Work from here:

He grew up in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of an active opponent of slavery, who helped thousands of slaves to escape north he too was also an active abolitionist and Union supporter . Work took employment as a printer in Chicago in 1854.
But in 1853, 1876-77, and 1882-83, Work wrote 75 songs, at first encouraged by the minstrel E. P. Christy, and then under contract to Root and Cady, music publishers. His only equals as composers of songs in the Civil War period were Stephen Foster and George Frederick Root.

Work's most famous lyrics include Come Home, Father, Kingdom Coming (1862), Marching through Georgia, and Grandfather's Clock, which sold nearly one million copies.

Work died on June 8, 1884, and was buried in Spring Grove cemetery, Hartford, beside his wife. A collected edition of 39 of his songs was published by his nephew Bertram G. Work in The Songs of Henry Clay Work in 1884.

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