18th-Century Public Service AnnouncementOn December 11, 2019 by Elyse
On December 31, 1790, Captain Clement Lemon signed an unusual agreement with Boston merchant Thomas Ramsden. As a condition of captaining the Mary Ann on an upcoming voyage, the Revolutionary War veteran and—I like to believe—ancestor of the illustrious Liz Lemon promised:
Be it Known; I Clement Lemon do hereby Agree to, and with, Thomas Ramsden of Boston Mercht. that if I am seen or known to be disguised with drinking Liquors, or in any wise drunk or disorder’d with drinking during the Voyage now bound on from Boston to Liverpool in the Brigantine Mary Ann and back to Boston – I will forfeit and give up all my Wages or demands I may have against the said Thomas Ramsden or Brigantine Mary Ann.– Quoted in The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848 by Samuel Eliot Morison
The contract was witnessed by, no joke, Josiah Bacon. All we need to complete a nutritionally balanced breakfast are a Captain Crunch and First Mate English Muffin.
However, the captain didn’t stay off the grog for long. A sailor aboard the Mary Ann tattled on Lemon in his resignation letter to Ramsden, sent from Liverpool on March 2, 1791:
With the utmost Satisfaction I take this opportunity To In from you that I have Left your Brig and The Reason there off is upon aCount of the Capting Who has treated me with very onsivel [la]ngeage – Nothing but quorling and fighting has ben on board Sence we have ben out we got here in 37 days but more by good Luck then good Conduckd and Now had I a Long bote I wold not trust him as fare as Castle William in hir. I Dont say he gets Drunk but I say that he can grink groge as well as my Self nor due I say he Neckglecks his Duty but he Loves to Slipe.
I wish your vesel safe home and I am very glad that you have hir Inshured. . . I wold in from you that the 2 small pigs Died. . . I say Dam such a fellow that Stoes away Cags of Rum on be none to the oner.– Quoted in The Life and Letters of Harrison Gray Otis, Federalist, 1765-1848 by Samuel Eliot Morison
Did you get any of that? Me neither. Ramsden, however, understood enough to refuse to pay Lemon when he eventually stumbled—sailed—back to Boston. Despite his agreement, the captain sued.
The case wasn’t without some star power. To defend him, Ramsden hired up-and-coming attorney Harrison Gray Oats, er, Otis. According to his biographer, the future congressman, mayor and developer of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood “by aid of more direct and grammatical evidence. . . won the case for Mr. Ramsden.”
The moral of this story? Don’t drink and boat. If you do, your treacherous crew will rat you out to your boss, you won’t get paid and the only history book you’ll go down in is the biography of your former employer’s lawyer.
Even though 18th-century PSAs don’t feature graphic images of lung damage or anthropomorphic bears lecturing on fire safety, Lemon’s story should be enough to dissuade you from sailing a massive ship across the Atlantic Ocean while under the influence. Still, when you clicked on this post, you probably expected a cheesy video, and I’d hate to disappoint. So, please enjoy an unrelated 1948 PSA. Hopefully, this is a skill you’ve mastered by now, but if not, you’re welcome.
Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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