Alcohol consumption in the 19th century is always an interesting subject because of how much alcohol was consumed back then. It is one of the ways we measure how much things have changed. We are far more aware now of the dangers of addiction, but in the 1820’s, the county coroner could tell you it was sometimes fatal. Here is the sad story of John Rake, a member of that same family I have written about in other posts.

John Rake Jr. was the son of John Rake, the original immigrant, and probably his wife Else Rake. He was born on May 22, 1768 in Amwell Township and married his wife Euphemia (or “Ufamy”) about 1790. I do not know her maiden name; there is no marriage recorded. They had at least seven children, from 1791 to 1805. Their birth dates were written down in the Rake family bible.

John Rake Jr. began his working life as a laborer on his father’s farm near Sand Brook in Delaware Township. He was taxed with his father in 1789 and 1790. With help from Rake researcher Geoff Raike, I have learned that John Rake was, in addition to a farmer, a carpenter who worked on the new courthouse in Flemington in 1793. He was also a member of the Amwell militia in 1792. There is a possibility he saw some service in the last years of the Revolution, although he would have been very young. A notice of his death published in Rhode Island called him a patriot.

In 1798, John’s brother William got into trouble by impregnating Ann Hoppock, who had a son George born that year. Ann sued William Rake for what we would today call child support. Court records suggest that John acted as surety for his brother.

When John Rake’s father died in 1805, he was not named executor, despite the fact that he was the eldest son. (He named his two younger sons, Jacob and Philip.) Perhaps John Jr.’s problems had become evident by that time. The will stipulated that the two eldest sons, John and Henry, could “continue where they now live,” presumably on part of the original Rake plantation.

In 1816, John and Euphemia Rake lost their own eldest son, Joseph Rake, who died at the age of 25 on July 4, 1816. He had enlisted in the army as a private to fight in the War of 1812, served in Capt. Barton’s Company, and died in Maine of pulmonary consumption. The register stated that he was 22 years old, a shoemaker living in Kingwood Township.

This family knew something of trouble. Of the seven children, only two were still alive in 1833. Sons Joseph, Solomon, and John iii, and daughters Elizabeth and Nancy all died young.

Son Daniel P. Rake moved away to Columbia County, Pennsylvania where he raised a family. In 1833, he signed a deed conveying whatever rights he might have had in his grandfather’s estate. The deed noted that there were only two children surviving from the marriage of John and Euphemy Rake.1

The surviving daughter, Eleanor, born November 24, 1799, married Charles Ewing in 1819. They had nine children from 1819 to 1840, and made their home in East Amwell, where they remained for the rest of their lives. Charles was a shoemaker who died on February 6, 1879. His wife Eleanor Rake died on December 5, 1870. They were both buried in the First Baptist Church Cemetery in Hopewell.

In 1820, John Rake Jr. purchased a one-acre lot from the heirs of Simon Myers, whose property was at the intersection of county routes 523 and 579. Three years later, he bought another one-acre lot in Sand Brook. I cannot say whether John and his family moved off the Rake plantation onto one of these small lots. There were no deeds recorded for John Rake Jr. as a grantor, so I also cannot say how his lots were disposed of.

Things came to a sad end in 1826. The Hunterdon Gazette published this story on March 9th:

 “On Sunday night last an inquest was held on the body of a man by the name of John Rake, found dead about half a mile from his house, 3 miles from this place [Flemington], in the direction of Centre Bridge [Stockton]. The verdict of the jury was, that he came to his death by intoxication, and lying upon the wet and cold ground all the preceding night. It appears that he had been to a chopping frolick on Saturday afternoon, where it is believed he drank to excess, and on his way home was so much overcome with the effect of the liquor that he fell down, and was unable to rise again.  He was about 60 years of age.”

A chopping frolic deserves some discussion. First of all, a frolic was a common practice in the 19th century. It was a way for people to get big, usually seasonal, jobs done, like mowing hay or harvesting wheat or flax. Neighbors would come together and work for the day, and get the job finished. Their reward, besides knowing that neighbors would also help them out, was a big dinner and plenty to drink. A chopping frolic, held in March, must have involved dealing with leftovers from the previous year’s harvest.

As for drinking at a frolic, it doesn’t make much sense to us now to provide large quantities of rum and whiskey, the usual drinks, for people doing hard work, at least not until the work is finished. But such was the case. The amount of alcohol consumed in the 1820s is staggering (pardon the pun), far beyond what is consumed today. It had become an important part of rural culture, and no doubt urban culture as well. All invitations to any kind of gathering had to include a generous supply of liquor. There are plenty of stories of people succumbing to the evil influence, but considering how much was consumed, I am surprised there were not more casualties. Delaware Township farmer Roy Pauch noticed this back in the 1940s and 1950s. Roy told me there were many men around who were half drunk all the time, and yet they worked harder, for much longer hours, than most people do today.

Following her husband’s death, Euphemia Rake probably stayed in her home for a few years before moving in with her daughter Eleanor. She was not listed as a head of household in the 1830 Amwell census or the 1840 census, but her son-in-law Charles Ewing was counted then in East Amwell Township, and living in his home was a woman in her 60s in 1830 and her 70s in 1840. “Euphemy Rake” died in East Amwell on August 31, 1846, as noticed in the Hunterdon Gazette of Sept. 8th.

I was surprised to find that the incident with John Rake Jr. was the first one in the Gazette in which the term intoxication was used in relation to someone’s death. The next time the word was used was in 1838, when a temperance meeting was held at the United First Church in Amwell. Thereafter, as far as I can tell, all references to intoxication concerned temperance issues, with this exception:


On New Year’s night, about 8 o’clock, the barn of Mr. Elijah Wilson, at Ringoes, was discovered to be on fire, and notwithstanding the active exertions of the neighbors, was entirely consumed, with all its contents. It was a large barn, and filled to repletion with the valuable products of last season’s harvest, rendering the loss to the owner very severe. We believe that nothing definite has been ascertained with regard to the origin of the fire though it is a matter of much speculation. It is asserted that a quantity of bones, a pipe, and fragments of a glass bottle have been discovered among the ruins. The bones have been examined by physicians who, it is alleged, concur in the belief that they belong to a human being, which leads to the horrible supposition that some poor wretch, in a state of intoxication, crept into the building, with a lighted pipe, and thus met an awful death. The fact that the negroes held a sort of New Year jollification at or near Ringoes, on the night named, would seem to favor this supposition; although we have not heard of anyone being missed. Others believe the fire to have been the work of an incendiary. The fire was distinctly visible in our village, lighting up the whole southern heavens with a broad glow.2

The glass bottle found with the remains makes the theory of an inebriated wanderer the most likely cause of the fire. The editor’s hint that only “negroes” would be inebriated on New Year’s is surprisingly myopic, but opens up a several avenues for the curious researcher.

And speaking of other subjects, the temperance movement in Hunterdon County is also worthy of attention. It may have started with women whose husbands became violent spendthrifts when drunk, as it usually did in other places, but it wasn’t long before very prominent men were joining and leading the crusade. There was far more notice of temperance meetings in the Hunterdon Gazette than there was of people who were drunk.

But returning to the subject of death by intoxication, I am aware of two (possibly three) others who met this fate. In 1779, John Williamson was on his way home from a tavern on a Sunday evening in December, when he fell down, probably passed out and was killed by the cold weather.3 Peter Bodine drowned in the Delaware River in 1810, while fishing, apparently drunk on a half bottle of spirits. And John Reading, who was mentioned in my study of Philip Calvin, drowned in Calvin’s well in 1779; I doubt that he would have fallen in if he were sober.4 No doubt there were others.

Because heavy drinking was so common in the early 19th century, little effort was made to help those who became addicted. There wasn’t even a word for the malady, so there was probably little sympathy for those overcome by it. But in the case of John Rake, notice was taken.


8/7/13:  Geoff Raike informed me that there was another death in the Rake family that was probably related to alcohol. It was reported in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat on December 14, 1875. I had found the notice in Dennis Sutton’s Abstracts from the Democrat, which has always been a very helpful research tool for me. But Dennis left out the middle part. Here is the story as Geoff Raike transcribed it:

SAD AFFAIR – On Tuesday morning last the people in the neighborhood of Sergeantsville were thrown into great excitement by the report that two men had been found dead in the schoolhouse situated near the village. The facts are as follows: Joseph Sherman and Iser Rake living in the vicinity of Locktown, and whose occupations were that of wood-choppers, started out on Monday morning to look at some pieces of timber with a view of working it out. On their return, they came by way of Sergeantsville where one of them made some purchases at the store, and both were at different places in the village during the evening. The last place that they visited was the saloon where, after eating some oysters, started for their homes. It is supposed that when they came to the schoolhouse (it was raining at the time) they had concluded to go in and stay awhile. From appearances, the stove had been filled with coal and they laid down on the benches alongside of the stove and went to sleep from which they never awoke. A joint in the stove pipe was separated from which the gas had escaped and filled the room, causing their death by suffocation. Sherman leaves a wife and a grown up daughter, and Rake a wife and nine children. They were buried on Friday.

Egbert T. Bush mentioned this incident in his article “Sergeant’s Mills Once a Prosperous Community, published January 16, 1930:

“On the night of December 7, 1875, Izer Rake and Joseph Sherman took refuge in the Sergeant school-house. Whether they meant to spend the night there, or to tarry only for a short rest and a little relief from the cold, will never be known. Evidently they fell asleep in the genial warmth of the stove, from which the pipe had somehow been disconnected. In the morning both men were found dead by suffocation. Both were in the prime of life, and each left a wife and young family.”

It was probably that last visit to the “saloon” and whatever it was that they drank with their oysters that made them fall asleep in the schoolhouse.

Izer G. Rake was the son of Elias M. Rake (1808-1873) and Catharine Wolverton (c.1816-1897), grandson of Henry and Catherine Rake, great grandson of John Rake the immigrant. Izer G. Rake married Amie Buchanan, daughter of John Buchanan and Catharine Williamson, on December 27, 1856. His wedding record stated that his name was Isaiah, so it seems likely that Izer was a common nickname for Isaiah, at least in the Rake family. I have three Izer Rake’s in my database, one born about 1803 (uncle of Izer G. Rake) and one born about 1812, both of whom left Hunterdon County.

At the time of his death Izer was the father of ten children. I found his widow Amy in the 1880 census, age 42, living with her three youngest children, sons William 8, Theodore 6, and Lewis 5. Oddly enough, the enumerator wrote that the two youngest children were paupers, but said nothing about son William. I cannot explain this, but perhaps there are estate records or guardianship records that could. Amie Rake married William Swallow on October 29, 1887.

Post Script: Jim Buchanan just reminded me that Izer G. Rake saw service in the Civil War, with Co. D, 30th NJ Infantry. This is indicated on his gravestone in the Opdycke Cemetery near Headquarters.


  1. Hunterdon Co. Deed Book 56 p.368.
  2. Hunterdon Gazette, No. 638, Wednesday, January 7, 1857.
  3. Coroner’s Inquest No. 767.
  4. John Reading’s Inquest is #769. For some reason I don’t have the inquest number for Peter Bodine. Phyllis D’Autrechy abstracted coroners’ inquests for the 18th century in her book Some More Hunterdon Records, vol. 1, p. 100.