LEWISTON — It’s often said that Maine leads the way in many cultural and political matters, and the subject of sale and consumption of liquor from the mid-1850s to about 1930 bears out the truth of that observation.

An audience of nearly three dozen people heard an entertaining address on the subject Tuesday afternoon by James Myall, who was coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College for several years.

Maine was the first state to pass a law banning the sale of alcohol.

From the 1850s through 1933, Maine was legally a “dry” state, but there were many instances of circumventing the liquor laws. Myall told about the “Rum War” in Lewiston. He offered an entertaining account of that period when there were lots of discrepancies in the Twin Cities between the letter of the law and actual practice in observance of liquor prohibition.

Myall noted that Irish immigration was increasing in the mid-1850s. A number of restrictive liquor laws were adopted — “at least in theory,” he said. Irish immigrants and the large French-Canadian population of Lewiston-Auburn were principal players at that period of history when the free-flow of liquor was common.

Myall said Lewiston had “a relatively small police force” and there was always a “cat-and-mouse game” going on between the law and the sellers and consumers of liquor. He said a deputy city marshal in Lewiston, Napoleon Lajeunesse, commented in 1893 that “you might as well try to stop the Androscoggin River from flowing as to try to stop the flow of drink here.”


He showed a photo from 1890 of a dozen or more barrels of seized liquor displayed at the steps of Lewiston City Hall. Republicans among the population of that time favored prohibition, while Democrats were “ambivalent,” Myall said.

The Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was playing in Lewiston at that time and a Lewiston Evening Journal described attendees at the show as “a perfect carnival of drunkenness.” Bars and saloons lined Lisbon Street and little was done to control them or shut them down.

He described the conflict between the local police and the county sheriff’s office, the proliferation of speakeasies in Little Canada, and the crime and graft that resulted.

Myall is the co-author of “The Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn” and continues to be active in researching Franco-American history. He writes a blog hosted by the Bangor Daily News, “Parlez Vous American?”

James Myall

Barrels of confiscated liquor outside the county courthouse in 1890. (Courtesy of Jim Myall)

Officer Emile Goyette, right, and a colleague show off Lewiston’s new police alarm system in this photo, circa 1890. (Courtesy of Jim Myall)

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