The Delmarva Peninsula “Quote of the Day” is a regular feature around here. What I do is share funny, enlightening, or otherwise interesting tidbits that I come across while reading up on the history and culture of our communities. This one comes from the 1976 book Trappe: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Town by Dickson Preston. Trappe is located just up from the Choptank River in Talbot County, Md.
“Trappe was an up and coming place [in the 1840s and 1850s], the market center for a large and prosperous farming area. It had at least eight storekeepers, three doctors, five shoemakers, seven carpenters, two tailors, two wheelwrights, a bricklayer, tanner, carter, and two boat captains or sailors. It also had a hotel, operated by Robert N. Lloyd and his wife, Eliza.
“James S. Chaplain … was known for the excellent whiskey he sold in his store. But according to [fellow shopkeeper] Robert Mullikin, ‘Chaplain was at the same time a pillar of the Methodist Church and many preachers made his home their stopping place [when they visited Trappe]. In those days the decanter was always at hand and before going to church a round of drinks was the order, including the minister,’ Mullikin recalled in a 1923 interview as he neared his 90th birthday.
“Perhaps, in the bleak atmosphere of Prohibition, Mullikin was remembering things which never happened. But certainly, cheap rye whiskey was a part of daily life in the 1840s and 1850s.
“At harvest time, liquor for the [field] hands was considered a necessity because it was believed that drinking cold water in hot weather was dangerous unless it was ‘neutralized’ with whiskey. An Easton supplier of the time advertised ‘HARVEST LIQUORS, just received a large supply of common whiskey, brandy, gin and rum suitable for harvest.’ Common whiskey cost 18 cents a gallon when bought by the barrel.
“Such practices brought protests from the teetotalers, and an organization known as the Sons of Temperance became active in the Trappe area [at around this time. A national organization, the Sons of Temperance had highly restricted membership rules, with each new nominee for membership having to survive an investigation by three current members. Names of members were not disclosed in public ways. The organization had lots of secret rituals, signs, passwords, and hand grips.]. …
“On the farms, hand labor and primitive machinery remained the rule. Besides whiskey, roast lamb was considered a necessity for the noontime harvest dinners. Even the new horse- or mule-powered threshers (unanimously called ‘thrashers’ in Trappe) required many men–a driver, boys to put sheaves on the table, a man to cut bands, a feeder to put wheat in the cylinder, and three men to stand at the other end to take straw and keep wheat shoved back. In addition, there were straw carriers and stackers, and men to fan the wheat after it was threshed to remove the chaff.”
Tough work, especially with a stomach full of whiskey and roast lamb. Originally published in 1976 and then reprinted in 1996, Trappe: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Town is out of print. You can learn more about it here. A follower of the Secrets of the Eastern Shore Facebook page recently noted in a comment there that copies of the book are available at the town office. You could also check with the bookstores that emphasize local history. As of this writing that would be Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, Vintage Books in Easton, and Mystery Loves Company in Oxford.
–posted by Jim Duffy on Oct. 30, 2020