North of Boston Historical Figures – Hatchet Hannah and the Demon Rum

North of Boston Historical Figures – Hatchet Hannah and the Demon Rum

March 6, 2015

Between 1856 and 2005, Rockport was a dry town.  While its neighbor Gloucester, with its distilleries, breweries, and numerous restaurants, embraced libations, Rockport cast a fearful eye to the past and recalled memories of angry wives and hatchets,

Much as it is today, Rockport in 1856 was a quiet little town.  A fishing village, many of Rockport’s men were fisherman who were only able to work for part of the year.  So how did they spend their free time? Idling and drinking.  Rockport was pretty much isolated from the hustle and bustle of cities like Salem and Newburyport and there was not much else for the men to do with their free time.  Since this mandatory vacation occurred during the harsh New England winter, the men were stuck within the confines of their homes with their increasingly irritated wives who, we assume, didn’t particularly enjoy spending 3 months inside with a drunk fisherman retelling the same story about the fish *this big* they nearly caught 10 years ago.

The mid-1800s saw the rise of the temperance movement so instead of blaming the issue on boredom and lack of productivity, the women of Rockport pointed an angry finger at alcohol.  Meeting in secret, under the guise of dark, the women made plans to rid Rockport of the “demon rum” and marked the lawns of their targets with small, white crosses.

Most irritated and infuriated was Hannah Jumper, a 75 year old seamstress.  Jumper was skilled with a needle and had a talent for making medicines from her herb garden.  She was also enthusiastic, outspoken – a natural leader for Rockport’s prohibitionettes.

On the morning of July 8, 1856, Hannah and her Jumpettes unfurled their large banner decorated with a large black hatched painted on it and red tassels.  The “Hatchet Gang,” as they were known, marched down the streets, toward their targets (homes and businesses where, they suspected, liquor was stored, served, or sold).

The banner wasn’t all that threatening – no one was going to dump all of their liquor because a mild-mannered group of women led by an elderly seamstress said so.  The Hatchet Gang, though, was prepared for this and from beneath their delicate shawls came actual hatchets.

They destroyed every bottle, jug, keg, and cask they could find.

The women raided at least 13 different establishments to the angry threats of the owners.  Not one Jumpette, though, was arrested.  The people of Rockport stood in awe, mouth agape.  Shop owner Jim Brown did try to sue the women on three different occasions.  And three sympathetic juries ruled against him, only to have the verdict overruled twice by higher courts.  The third time, however, was the charm and the jury’s verdict stuck – the women were innocent and Jim Brown had to pay their court costs (which amounted to $346.25).

In 2005, Rockport’s prohibition ended.  The first business to receive a liquor license was, in a strange twist of fate,  the Emerson Inn by the Sea – a hotel that had started out as a tavern but was converted when alcohol was outlawed in town.

(On a side note, any North of Boston historical figure named “Hannah” should probably be avoided…she most likely wields a hatchet and an axe to grind…)