Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I don't know who put the Liquor in the well but I think know who found it...........

As you know, I like to commemorate various historic dates on this blog. Well I missed one that was pointed out to me by a shipmate on his blog.

But first, a little background. A few years back while rambling through the library at Guilford Courthouse N.M.P. I discovered a small book with the title "Cups of Valor" written by N.E. Beveridge. It was a amusing look at the relationship of strong drink with members of our military throughout history. I was so taken with this book I bought my own copy.

A little research into the author reveals that Beveridge was the pen name of Harold L. Peterson one time chief curator of the National Park Service. Anyone who is into history knows who Peterson was and knows why he was somewhat reluctant to have his name attached to a book about drinking. Mr. Peterson's volume is where I am obtaining the information for this blog entry.

Having said that, the date that I missed was August 31st 1862. The previous July, a general order was issued to the U.S. Navy to the effect that " As of the 1st day of September 1862 the spirit ration shall forever cease"

Alcohol has had a very long tradition with the sea and seamen. It was considered a right and privilege to be given alcohol as a part of the seaman's pay. The U.S. Navy had followed this tradition from it's birth but with a few changes. Rather than the traditional Rum, Whiskey was issued. (No doubt an economy move but also because whiskey was thought to be more "wholesome")

However, due to the various temperance movements there had been several attempts at "drying out" the Navy. In 1840 the ration was cut in half. Finally on that most horrid day, August 31st 1862 it was done away with. So as not to cheat the poor sailor out of his due , his pay was boosted 5 cents a day to reimburse him for the stoppage.

That is not to say that the Navy went totally dry, seamen and marines could still buy beer and wine on shipboard and at shore stations. The Navy department put a end to this practice with General Order 508 dated February 3rd 1899. This order stated " It was forbidden to sell all malt or alcohol containing beverages on board ships or shore stations" That made the Navy dry for the enlisted men.

The Officers however were still able to buy beer and wine for the officer's mess (and hard liquor which was winked at when consumed in the officer's cabins) This too was halted in 1914 when Josephus Daniels was appointed Secretary of the Navy by Woodrow Wilson. (Yep Andrew, the News and Observer one. This is one of the reasons I can't stand that paper to this day) Daniels was know as a teetotaler and thought that every one else should be also. One of his first acts when he was appointed was to issue General Order 99 which forbid " the sale of any kind of alcoholic beverage to anyone, on any navy property ashore or at sea" This regulation was in place until the end of national prohibition in 1933 when alcohol was allowed back on naval bases but not on shipboard.

So there you go. Interestingly enough, the British navy continued to issue rum to it's seamen until 1970 at which time they stopped the practice.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The term "a cuppa Joe" was navy slang for coffee, the strongest beverage available on board a ship after Joe Daniels had his way.


Andrew Duppstadt said...

Bravo, my friend! Very well researched and expertly explained. You know people have a nickname for Josephus Daniels' old newspaper; they call it the News & Disturber. Well, old Josephus certainly disturbed some salty old bastards didn't he?

mrwill said...

We called it Pravda......-grin-

Another thing that fired up the common seamen was that Josephus used his power to have the Storyville section of New Orleans shut down. This was the very best red light district in the U.S. at the time.

It seems that ol' Joe was just a bit of a prude........