A Long Time Between Drinks

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In July, 2008, Asheboro voters decisively passed a referendum allowing beer, wine and mixed beverage alcohol to be sold in the city for the first time in nearly sixty years.

Given Asheboro’s multi-generational commitment to prohibition, it’s ironic that North Carolina’s most famous quotation regarding drinking has a Randolph County connection.

The story was first popularized by England’s premier 19th century story-tellers.  Robert Louis Stevenson in The Wrong Box (Ch. 8, 1889) and Rudyard Kipling in The Light That Failed (Ch. 8, 1890) both recounted this riddle:  “Do  know what the Governor of south Carolina said to the Governor of North Carolina?  It’s a long time between drinks!”

Though the story has over the years been attributed, variously, to NC Governors John Motley Morehead, Edward B. Dudley or Zebulon B. Vance, it actually involved our only Randolph County governor, Jonathon Worth.

The first appearance of the story in print is found in the Civil War memoir of General Daniel E. Sickles, the Reconstruction military commander of the Department of the Carolinas (“Leaves from My Diary,” published in the Journal of the Military Service Institution of the United States, vol. VI, no. 23, September 1885, p. 268).  Sickles had ordered Governor James Lawrence Orr, of South Carolina, and Governor Worth, representing North Carolina, to review and approve Sickles’ proposed regulation appointing “one colored man” to register voters in every precinct in both states.  The Governors, “reluctant to consent to so novel a measure, asked for a postponement of our deliberations until the following day.  This I was obliged to refuse,” said Sickles.

“Governor Orr then expressed a wish to confer apart with his colleague, Governor Worth, which being assented to, Governor Orr dryly remarked:

‘The Governor of South Carolina feels constrained to say to the Governor of North Carolina, that in these military cabinet counsels, there is a mighty long time between drinks!’ ”

[For a longer account of this subject, see The North Carolina Miscellany, quoting a Raleigh News and Observer story by David C. Mearns published March 20, 1960.]

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