1849 - The Rechabites Come To Coventry
Coventry History

By 1849 the Temperance movement had been around for more than 20 years in Coventry. The campaign to pledge "perpetual hate to all that can intoxicate" had more or less taken hold in the town, at least among some of the merchants and politicians. Coventry postmaster HOLLAND THRASHER joined the Society of Rechabites that year taking their pledge of "Virtue, Charity and Temperance". And while it always seemed to be the wish of the majority of residents that demon drink should be abolished, there were times when the town showed its ambivalence on the subject.

The first tavern keeper in Coventry was John Farnsworth who set up shop in his house in August of 1807. During the early development of Coventry Village in the 1820's there were a number of licensed tavernkeepers. Ebenezer Hamilton had the first village license in February 1823, followed by Amasa Plastridge in 1826 and Silas Sears in 1827. When Elijah Cleveland & Co. opened their general store in February 1825, they prominently advertised their extensive assortment of goods including West Indian rum, Spanish brandy, and Warehouse Point gin imported straight from Hartford, Connecticut. (1)

Cleveland & Co. ad for liquor
Cleveland & Co. Feb. 1825
While it was true that as early as 1821 Coventry discouraged public drunkenness by agreeing that whoever became "the worse for liquor" should do public penance by digging out tree stumps to clear the village commons, it proved to be much more effectual in clearing the land than in preventing drunkenness. A pint of rum became the accepted fair compensation for digging out a stump. The town turned a blind eye to private and discreet public drinking. And the record books of Cleveland & Co. show that the public drank. Holland Thrasher's father Benjamin, would buy a gallon of rum for a dollar. Freeman Knight was fond of both rum and brandy. (2)

But in 1828, the Vermont Temperance Society was organized, and on September 14 of that year, Reverend Nathaniel Hewitt would preach the first temperance sermon at the newly constructed Coventry Congregational Church. That changed everything. The next summmer in July 1829 the Coventry Temperance Society was formed and perhaps seeing the tide was changing, Elijah Cleveland decided to suspend sales of liquor at his store. On September 29, 1829, John Murphy laid down 15 cents for a whiskey. It was the last sale of alcoholic beverages at Cleveland's store.

Yet the town continued to be divided in its opinion of temperance. Not everyone was ready to sign on to the program. On November 30, 1829, exactly two months after Cleveland suspended liquor sales at his store, town physician Dr. Samuel Stillman Kendall opened a tavern in his newly built house, two doors down from Cleveland's store. The tavern was licensed in April 1830. But the temperance movement kept up the pressure and by the late 1830's there were statewide prohibibiton campaigns underway. The Orleans County Vermont Conference of Churches was able to claim by 1841 that Coventry residents drank very little spirit and "will not have the noise of a grog-shop" amongst themselves. (3)

"Coventry...very little spirit is sold or used in town, except for medicine or mechanical purposes. Very little drunk on public days. Those who do use it, use it silently, and in retirement, knowing that the people will not have the noise of a grog-shop". - The Reverend Mr. Asa Bullard to the Vermont Conference of Churches - July 1841

The next year, a large July 4th temperance celebration was organized in Coventry by the Orleans County Temperance Society. Beginning at 10 O'Clock, the Cold Water Army ,300 strong, composed of the youths of Coventry (now Orleans) and neighboring towns, marching under the appropriate banners furninshed by the "Ladies Of Orleans", and preceded by a military band and escort under the direction of J.B Wheelock and J.W. Muzzy, marched in procession through the village to the church followed by 600 adults. At the church the Reverend L.S. French gave a prayer, and the choir sang a number of Temperance Odes. Refreshments were served and a number of toasts were made including:

"Let Temp'rance ever be your sheild, Let faith and prayer be your sword, The land of drunkards be your field, and Vict'ry your truimphant word."
"To the American Eagle: May its flight be in an atmosphere unpolluted by the poisonous vapors of intemperance."
Cold Water Army
Cold Water Army

The celebration ended with a toast to the Ladies of Orleans. "May your unweared efforts in behalf of the cause of Temperance, be crowned with success, and secure to you the gratitude of the world, approving consciences and temperate husbands." (4) Yet, people continued to consume alcoholic drinks, for varied reasons. The winter of 1843 saw the spread of Erysipelas in Coventry and surrounding towns. At a March 1843 meeting of the Society in Coventry, Dr. Lemuel Richmond of Derby was appalled that his name was being used as an authority to use intoxicating spirits to prevent the spread of the disease, and a resolution was passed warning all friends of health to discard all such practices.

By the mid-1840's, temperance organizing was successful in getting licensing law votes by referendum. Each town would vote on deciding whether retailers and innkeepers should be licensed to sell spirituous liquors for beverage purposes or not. In 1845 and 1846, Coventry voted against licensing, but reversed itself in 1847 voting for licensing. This was the same year that the Rechabites first made an appearance in Vermont. They began organizing in Bennington and in 1849 the Green Mountain Tribe of Rechobites was organized in Burlington. A procession of two to three hundred Rechabites attended the Vermont Temperance Society meeting in Burlington in January of that year.

Tribe of Rechabites
Green Mountain Tribe of Rechabites membership membership form

By the summer of 1849 they had expanded northeastward to Orleans County. In a letter to her daughter Mary Jane, Eliza Thrasher, wife of postmaster Holland Thrasher, noted that an oranization of Rechabites had been organized in town, and Mary Jane's father had become one of them. (5)

"...for now - I have not much only there has been a sosiety of recobites formed in this place since you left - your father is one... ". - Eliza Thrasher to Mary Jane Thrasher, Coventry, July 3, 1849

1. The North Star, Danville, Vt., March 1, 1825
2. Business Records 1824-1902, Journal #11 General Store Day Book July 10, 1828 – Oct 3, 1829, Elijah Cleveland Business Papers, Special Collections, Bailey-Howe Library, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt.
3. The Caledonian, St. Johnsbury, Vt., July 27, 1841
4. The Caledonian, St. Johnsbury, Vt., July 12, 1842
5. Letter to Mary Jane Thrasher from Eliza Thrasher, Coventry, July 3, 1849