Tag Archives: Norfolk

- “Of Liquid Death, To Which Men Flee:” Temperance Reform Efforts in Antebellum Norfolk

Restricting the use of alcohol was not a novel idea in the Roaring Twenties when Prohibition banned illicit spirits nationwide. Inspired by the reforming impulses of the Second Great Awakening, civic leaders across the country prior to the Civil War worked to curb alcohol consumption, which they viewed as a threat to the individual and society. One temperance advocate wrote, in the 18 March 1847 issue of the American Beacon and Norfolk and Portsmouth Daily Advertiser, that great efforts were needed for the “extermination of the ruinous flood which belches forth from the distillery, the extinguishment of the liquid fire, which has so long been the devil’s chief instrument in peopling jails, alms houses, hospitals, jails, grave-yards, and the bottomless pit.” By eliminating one of the root causes of society’s ills—drunkenness—businessmen, religious leaders, and reformers sought to help the intemperate become productive members of society and by extension elevate the community.

 

Norfolk’s stagnant economy during the 1840s and 1850s pushed local boosters to embrace temperance organizations to help revive the city’s fortunes. By November 1841 teetotalers could attend a meeting of the Norfolk Total Abstinence Society and five years later the Young Men’s Temperance Society was organized. Reformers aimed their efforts at males arriving in the seaport who might be open to temptation and vice; during this period it would be unthinkable that … read more »

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- First Freedom: The Great Sabbath Debate, Part 2


Arrest Warrant, Charles Bibbins, 1909, Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als., Norfolk County (City of Chesapeake), Court Records, Criminal Papers, Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

In last week’s blog post, we learned about the efforts of two Richmond businessmen who lobbied to add an exception for non-Christians to Virginia’s Sabbath breaking law. An early 20th century criminal cause found in the Norfolk County (Chesapeake) court records illustrates that even this exception did not fully clarify the crime of violating the Sabbath.

Charles Bibbins and 27 other Norfolk County men employed by the Eustis Smelting Works were found guilty by a justice of the peace for violation of the Sabbath (Commonwealth v. A. Berson, et. als.). They appealed their convictions to the Norfolk County circuit court. The defendants were not being accused of “laboring at [their] own, or any other trade, or calling” on a Sunday, as Messrs. Levy and Ezekiel were in 1837. Rather they were convicted of being “engaged in business as merchandise merchants […] after sunset on Saturday and during the day commonly known as Sunday.” In essence, they were accused of violating “the exemption as to the Jews” by resuming their work on Saturday night rather than waiting for Sunday.

The case resulted in a ten-page opinion from the ironically named Judge J. T. Lawless, written in the form of an abbreviated dissertation on the history of the Sabbath. His Honor contended that prior to the enactment of the 1779 law by the General Assembly, “[a]t … read more »

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