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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Incident at Gambier

By Philander Chase (1775–1852)

[From Bishop Chase’s Reminiscences. Second Edition. 1848.]

I. H. was the head carpenter on Gambier hill, and often was he with the writer in consultation on the ways and means of proceeding with the buildings. On entering the college service, he had agreed, as all the rest had agreed, to refrain from the use of spirituous liquors. The writer thought him friendly to this measure, and as he was a “Baptist messenger,” that he would second the views of the Bishop in promoting temperance. But in this there was sad disappointment. What with the love of liquor, the fondness of being the head of a party to maintain the “unalienable rights of the oppressed people,” and the desire of humbling the Bishop, the promise made when he came on the hill was laid aside, and a combination with the hands was formed, and their grievances were made known by petition. Mr. H. was the “scribe,” and the first to subscribe; and a majority of the rest, to the number of nineteen, chief men of the company, “men of renown,” followed his example….

This petition was sent to the writer, when in his log cabin all alone. He read it, and was considering its unhappy consequences, when a voice struck his ear from behind him.

“Mr. H. wants an answer,” said the little boy who waited on the hands.

“Tell Mr. H. please get the hands together under the shady trees near the timber, and I will come and talk with them about the matter.”

And now, gentle reader, what dost thou think were the feelings of the writer, as this little messenger ran swiftly away, to carry tidings that the Bishop was coming to speak with them?

Remember, the Bishop then “stood alone.” The great temperance reform had then hardly commenced its movements among individuals. Till the writer had begun it the year before, he had never heard of its existence, and there was no example before him of carrying on a set of public buildings without the use of liquor. Yet he was determined to keep to his purpose; and what could be done? To refuse them their request, would evidently be followed by a general strike, and where and when could other hands be obtained? Not from the immediate neighborhood, whence the most of these came; and that others from the state in general could be induced, under such circumstances, to come, was equally hopeless, for many had predicted the very thing which had now taken place, and would regard it as an evidence of the folly, and as a proof of the mental weakness, of the projector; of the madness of all his schemes of founding colleges in the woods, by the means of temperance.

Such reflections as these tended to despair. Yet, “somehow or other,” there was a ray of hope left. Who knows but God may help in this time of need! It is He, after all, who can assuage the raging of the sea, “and the madness of the people.” But how this could now be effected without giving up the whiskey law, the writer had no conception. He went on with a heavy, but a prayerful spirit. As he approached the place where the hands were seated, there were signs of great unanimity—significant nods and bold looks; none spoke, and the suppressed, yet half-uttered laugh indicated their expected speedy triumph.

The writer now took his seat on a piece of elevated timber, with a view to say something, yet found himself unable to utter a word, and for a considerable period there was nothing said; and when he did begin to say a word or two, it was not in language of reproach of their conduct, nor in any attempt to display his own oratory. Something different was now required. Their affections were to be won, their minds enlightened, and their wills persuaded. In short, he saw it was necessary to speak to them as members of the human family, and make them friends to himself, to their own selves, and to the true interests of the institution. To this end, he told them his own history, and in so doing, gained their sympathy, and enlisted their affections in his behalf. Many of them were in tears, and all arose and went to work without a drop of whiskey.