Cold Water Army

The drink, that’s in the drunkard’s bowl,
Is not the drink for me;
It kills his body and his soul;
How sad a sight is he!
But there’s a drink that God has given,
Distilling in the showers of heaven,
In measures large and free;
Oh, that’s the drink for me.
~H. Reed

The verse above is from the song The Drink We Choose, one of several ballads sung by the Cold Water Army, a childrens temperance group in Connecticut during the late 1840s. James A. Williams (1833-1909),  a native of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, was among those who took the group’s pledge.

Abuse of alcohol, especially among teenagers, is not a laughing matter. While today we have school-based programs, such as D.A.R.E., and organizations such as M.A.D.D., in the nineteenth century temperance was largely (if not exclusively) part of a religious movement. The footnotes to the pledge make this quite obvious; they are all references to Bible passages.

We do not know what drew Williams to the Cold Water Army, but temperance was a fairly popular movement among religious adults and children. As an adult he moved to Hartford, and became one of the city’s prominent merchants. His obituary states Williams was involved with two Baptist churches in Hartford.  Regardless, some of the songs on the reverse side of his temperance pledge are quite imaginative. I expect it must have taken a good amount of time to compose so many rhyming verses.

The song Away the Bowl describes the different roles boys and girls had in the movement. Boys were not to buy, sell, or drink alcohol. It was assumed girls would not take part in those activities, but to do their part, they were not to form relationships with boys or men who did drink.

temperance pledge

Cold Water Army pledge, Connecticut Temperance Society, ca. 1845, Ms 73428. Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

For those interested in the temperance movement, we have other collections listed in our online catalog. Several of the collections are volumes of meeting minutes, with lists of individuals who belonged to the organization. It is interesting to note that some people did have their memberships revoked!

We hope you will come visit, research, and learn!

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