14 August 2011

Oregon Temperance Society

Oregon in the 1830s was not a wholly lawless frontier, but with joint occupation by the United States and by England, and with a small non-Indian population, enforcement authorities were far from prominent. United States law banned sale of liquor in Indian Country. The Hudson's Bay Company, England's presence in the region, understood that liquor sales to Indians had a deleterious effect on the fur trade--their business in the region. Young's plan to build a distillery provoked cooperation between HBC employees, American settlers, and missionaries that had recently arrived from the United States with the professed purpose of bringing Christian civilization to Oregon's Native population. The Oregon Temperance Society formed and started a drive to dissuade Young from manufacturing spirits. There was an exchange of letters in January 1837.

Gustavus Hines, A Voyage Round the World: with a History of the Oregon Mission (Buffalo: George H. Derby and Company, 1850) has an account of the formation of the Oregon Temperance Society. Although the bulk of Hines' book is grounded in his personal experiences, the first chapter, which concerns the early history of the Oregon Mission is a secondary work, “drawn from the most reliable sources, and, principally from the short notes of the late Rev. Jason Lee, and the Journal of the late Cyrus Shepherd, the first missionary teacher in Oregon” (xi). Hines reproduces the letters from the temperance society to Ewing Young and Lawrence Carmichael, as well as the reply of these men.

Simple inconsistencies elsewhere in this chapter reduce one's confidence that these letters are error free reproductions, but in the main they are probably faithful. I have conformed to the spelling in Hines, and the italics are his (or in the originals from which he rendered copies).

Gentlemen, – Whereas we, the members of the Oregon Temperance Society, have learned with no common interest, and with feelings of deep regret, that you are now preparing a distillery for the purpose of manufacturing ardent spirits, to be sold in this vicinity; and whereas, we are most fully convinced that the vending of spiritous liquors will more effectually paralyze our efforts for the promotion of temperance, than any other, or all other obstacles that can be thrown in our way; and, as we do feel a lively and intense interest in the success of the temperance cause, believing as we do, that the prosperity and interests of this infant and rising settlement will be materially affected by it, both as it respects its temporal and spiritual welfare, and that the poor Indians, whose case is even now indescribably wretched, will be made far more so by the use of ardent spirits; and whereas, gentlemen, you are not ignorant that the laws of the United States prohibit American citizens from selling ardent spirits to Indians under the penalty of a heavy fine; and as you do not pretend to justify yourselves, but urge pecuniary interest as the reason of your procedure; and as we do not, cannot think it will be of pecuniary interest to you to prosecute this business; and as we are not enemies, but friends, and do not wish, under existing circumstances, that you should sacrifice one penny of the money you have already expended; we, therefore, for the above, and various other reasons which we could urge,
1st. Resolved, That we do most earnestly and feelingly request you, gentlemen, forever to abandon your enterprise.
2nd. Resolved, That we will and do hereby agree to pay you the sum that you have expended, if you will give us the avails of your expenditures, or deduct from them the bill of expenses.
3d. Resolved, That a committee of one be appointed to make known the views of this society, and present our request to Messrs. Young & Carmichael.
4th. Resolved, That the undersigned will pay the sums severally affixed to our names, to Messrs. Young & Carmichael, on or before the thirty-first day of March next, the better to enable them to give up their project.

[Then followed the names of nine Americans, and fifteen Frenchmen, which then embraced a majority of the white men of the country, excluding the Hudson's Bay Company, with a subscription of sixty-three dollars, and a note appended as follows:] (Hines' own words, presumably, although indented as part of the letter)

We, the undersigned, jointly promise to pay the balance, be the same more or less.

Hines, 19-20

Hines does not give the date of the letter, although the purposes set out in the letter were agreed to at a meeting of the temperance society on 2 January 1837, so perhaps that is the date of the letter. Hines reproduces the reply.

WALLAMETTE, 13th Jan., 1837
Gentlemen, – Having taken into consideration your request to relinquish our enterprise in manufacturing ardent spirits, we therefore do agree to stop our proceeding for the present. But, gentlemen, the reasons for first beginning such an undertaking were the innumerable difficulties placed in our way by, and the tyranising oppression of the Hudson's Bay Company, here under the absolute authority of Dr. McLaughlin, who has treated us with more disdain than any American citizen's feelings could support. But as there have been some favorable circumstances occurred to enable us to get along without making spiritous liquors, we resolve to stop the manufacture of it for the present; but, gentlemen, it is not consistent with our feelings to receive any recompense whatever for our expenditures, but we are thankful to the Society for their offer.
We remain, yours, &c.,

Hines, 20-21

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