Over five hours one summer day in 1856, 75-year-old Hannah Jumper and 200 women rampaged through the streets of Rockport, Mass., smashing casks of rum.
The ladies had had enough of the Rockport fishermen who squandered their money on booze during the winter. It was bad enough that they couldn’t work during those months, worse that they impoverished their families by drinking up their scant cash.
Though Hannah Jumper had never married, she shared the wives’ frustration with their boozing, lay-about husbands. She began holding secret meetings in her rooms with the Rockport women to plan their raid.
Hannah Jumper was born in 1781 in Joppa section, a farming community on Cape Ann, Mass., the sixth of eight children. Growing up she learned how to use herbal medicines to care for the sick, including her mother and sister. Despite her best efforts, both died of consumption.
When the War of 1812 broke out, Hannah moved to Rockport, then known as Sandy Bay. She was a tall, 31-year-old redhead who supported herself by sewing and nursing. Over the years, she made many friends within the fishing community.
By 1847 an abstinence group formed in Rockport with a hundred or so members. But the ‘dark beverage of hell’ tightened its grip on the men of the town. They were earning little enough from fishing, and their families suffered when they spent their money on booze. By the 1850s, their drinking only got worse. The sale of illegal spirits in Rockport increased 250 percent from 1852 and 1855, according to author Marshall W.C. Swan.
Hannah Jumper grew outspoken and strident in attacking liquor. She and several hundred women began plotting their raid on alcohol.
When Rockport’s 1856 Independence Day celebration turned into a drunken brawl, the women had armed themselves with a plan, a banner and hatchets. On the night of July 7, they quietly went out and marked with white chalk the places that illegally sold liquor.
The Rockport Rampage
At about 9 am on July 8, Rockport was startled by the sight of 200 women gathered in Dock Square. The women unfurled a cotton banner emblazoned with a black hatchet. . All wore shawls, beneath which they carried hatchets. No doubt the tall, 75-year old Hannah Jumper captured the onlookers’ attention.
They began to march through Rockport’s main streets, led by a seaman carrying the American flag. The many spectators who gathered soon realized what the ladies had in mind: a raid on shops and other places that illegally sold liquor.
As the procession arrived at each marked place, they stopped. If the door wasn’t opened, they forced their way in. According to a witness, Ebenezer Poole, they “seized casks, demijohns, jugs and bottles that contained the bane of their happiness, and emptied their contents into the street, occasionally making use of hatchets (with which they were liberally supplied) to hasten the flow of the hated liquid.”
According to another witness, every woman in Rockport who ‘could walk or move on crutches’ participated in the raid. Among the men who watched were their husbands, selectmen, deacons, ministers and policemen, and many approved of the raid. The rum sellers, though, did not.
Hannah Jumper and the Hatchet Gang raided 13 establishments over the space of five hours. They destroyed an estimated $700 worth of liquor. Men described Rockport as a mammoth punch bowl, and for two miles people could smell rum.
The women had raided a small grocery store owned by James Brown, who had an unsavory reputation for selling illegal spirits. He took the women to court – every one of them. The judge ruled in their favor. Brown appealed again and again, until a judge ordered him to pay the women’s court costs of $346.25.
Hannah Jumper died in 1865 and is buried in the Old First Parish Burying Ground in Rockport.
Rockport remained dry until 2005, when the town voted to allow alcohol to be served at restaurants. Liquor stores, however, are still illegal.
Image of Rockport: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=973731. This story was updated in 2021.