RHODY LIFE

The politics of alcohol

Posted 4/14/21

By KELLY SULLIVAN On June 30, 1884, residents of Warwick packed the Town Hall; 49 of them to apply for liquor licenses. The majority of people sitting there that day had arrived with the intention of protesting the granting of new licenses or the renewal

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RHODY LIFE

The politics of alcohol

Posted

On June 30, 1884, residents of Warwick packed the Town Hall; 49 of them to apply for liquor licenses.

The majority of people sitting there that day had arrived with the intention of protesting the granting of new licenses or the renewal of old ones. Those who abstained from imbibing did not want roadhouses, saloons, public houses or taverns open for business in their neighborhoods.

Thirty-two-year-old Canadian Joseph Bouchard was there asking to have the liquor license for his saloon in Phenix renewed. The husband and father of four heard his application be denied.

Eliodore Bibeault, a 31-year-old Canadian who resided in Arctic, was also refused permission to sell intoxicating liquors.

Several applicants had their requests held by the council to be considered at another time. One of those was Thomas Aldrich, a 49-year-old divorcee from Norwood who owned a public house. Aldrich didn’t want to wait for his application to be considered. He approached the council and described his public house as a quiet, orderly place, not the type of establishment the protesters were against.

Aldrich told the council that those living in close proximity to him would echo his description. Seeing Henry Clark Budlong sitting there among the other residents, he suggested to the council that they ask Budlong what he thought about the character of his public house. Budlong, a 48-year-old deacon at the Pawtuxet Church, declined to comment.

Moving on from Aldrich’s application, the council considered that of Charles Gorton, who wanted permission to sell intoxicants from a location near Pawtuxet Bridge.

Budlong suddenly stood up and walked to the front of the room. In his hands he held a rolled up petition and when he unrolled it, it reached the floor. Budlong explained that the names on the document were those of fellow church members and that they, as a body, were protesting the granting of that specific license.

Nine months prior, Gorton had been arrested by Budlong, who was also a police officer. He was charged with seven counts of keeping liquor for sale and for maintaining a nuisance. A trial had been held in Apponaug with seven witnesses called by the prosecution and 24 by the defense. The charges against Gorton were not supported by the testimony.

When the council decided to postpone its decision regarding Gorton’s application, Budlong turned and went back to his seat. He then announced that he did not like rum and everyone knew it, but that if licenses to sell rum must be granted, he would prefer that someone such as Thomas Aldrich be approved instead of Gorton.

Now willing to speak on Aldrich’s behalf, Budlong said the public house was kept as a quiet enterprise just as Aldrich had described. Joseph Wilde, a 54-year-old local grocer from England who was sitting nearby, stated that he agreed with Budlong’s take on the situation.

Based on the support being shown to Aldrich, the council approved his application, leaving many there in the town hall to view the deacon as a hypocrite. Although he may have chosen to support the lesser of two evils as a police officer, some felt discomforted by the fact that, as a deacon, he had supported the evil of alcohol at all.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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