In the 1830s and 1840s, many Americans worried that increasingly immoderate drinking ruined health, disrupted families and fostered irreligious behavior. To counter these social ills, men joined organizations that encouraged temperance.
One of the first such American groups was the Sons of Temperance. In 1842, founders organized the Sons in New York “to reform drunkards and to prevent others from becoming drunkards.” As part of an initiation ceremony, every new member swore not to make, buy, sell or use alcohol. If you look closely, you can see the exact pledge in this daguerreotype, "NO BROTHER SHALL MAKE, BUY SELL OR USE AS A BEVERAGE ANY SPIRITUOUS OR MALT LIQUORS WINE OR CIDER. "
When the temperance movement was at its height, this young member, Obed Hervey Jones, had his photograph taken wearing Sons of Temperance regalia, holding an image of the pledge he had made. This powerful and serious portrait reminded all who saw it of Jones’ solemn commitment.
When the museum purchased this daguerreotype it, amazingly, came with the actual pledge Jones presented to the camera, folded up and then tucked into the photograph’s case. Someone, maybe Jones, had written or stenciled the words carefully on penciled lines on both sides of the page. One side is written in mirror image so the camera would capture a legible pledge in the finished photograph.
In having his photograph taken, Jones may have come up with the idea of being photographed with the pledge on his own. Or he may have been inspired by one of several prints of depicting members of the Sons of Temperance published in the mid-1800s. Either way, I prefer his straight-forward gaze and work-roughened hands to the slender and fashionable gentlemen seen in the artist’s rendering.
Daguerreotype. ca. 1850. Museum Purchase, 88.3
Sons of Temperance, ca. 1850. Published by Nathaniel Currier. Special Acquisition Fund, 91.016.2