Things They Said: Drunk Driving in the 19th Century

My grandmother, who was born in 1890, told how her family would load up their wagon and go to house and barn raisings in the Carolinas.  It was the only way to build a house in the country back then, everyone showed up and did their bit.  So the men would build and teach the boys, and the women would cook and teach the girls.  Two big meals were served, one midday and one in the evening when the framing was done.  The point of the day was to get the frame up so the floors and the rest could be laid by smaller factions, though it often sounded like they got more than that done.

So at the end of the evening and the big meal and the cleaning up, there would be a celebration of sorts, a thank-you party where people, if they were not Baptist, might dance and drink a bit.  Some moonshine generally found its way to the premises and a good time was had by the men.  The children and women would fall asleep, and by about midnight the men would place them into the wagons on beds of hay and drive home.

As the know-it-all teenager, I chided my grandmother for her father driving home drunk.

“He didn’t drive drunk!” she said.

“Who did?” I asked.

And she looked at me like I was soft in the head.

“Well, the horse knew the way home.  Daddy was in the back with us.”


Postscript:  Apparently, the horse not only knew the way home, but would deliver them to the back door and shake his harness until the noise woke them up.  Her parents carried the children into the house, the horse would have his riggings removed, and he would put himself up in the barn.