The Rechabites-variously the Order of Rechabites, the Sons and Daughters of Rechab, and so on-were founded on August 25, 1835 in Salford, near Manchester, England, as a fraternal benefit total-abstinence society. It now operates worldwide, and will admit anyone willing to "sign the pledge." The size of the order is no longer clear, and the Rechabites are apparently not centralized.

In Cornwall, well into the second half of the 20th century, a common description of extreme intoxication was "as drunk as a Rechabite on the annual outing." Such is the irreverent Cornish sense of humor; for the Rechabites are a strict Temperance movement.

The Rechabites were the archetypal temperance society; their influence, once so great and popular, has now greatly waned. In the first decade of the 20th century, the (American) Independent Order of Rechabites alone was only 10,000 short of a million members-though this seems high in view of the 220,000 figure for worldwide Rechabitism given by Stevens at the beginning of the century. Probably no one ever knew precisely how many Rechabites there were.

The Salford Unity of Rechabites was founded in 1835 by a small group of abstainers who wanted to form a fraternal benefit secret society. They called their first lodge "Tent Ebenezer, No.1," because the Sons of Jonadab, the sons of Rechab, were apparently instructed by the Almighty not only to abstain from wine but also to live in tents. There were soon Tents for male adults (over 16) and female adults (over 12); for boys, aged 12-16; and for children of both sexes aged from 5 to 12. All who could write were required to "sign the pledge," saying (among many other things) that they would "abstain from all intoxicating liquors except in religious ordinances, or when prescribed by a legally qualified medical practitioners during sickness which renders one incapable of following any employment." If you lived in a temperance town or village, you might well have signed the pledge a dozen times before you reached your majority.

The sick fund originally paid half a crown a week (about 60 cents) in return for one penny per week subscription (about two cents at the then exchange rate). The funeral fund was approximately 10 cents for a 5 ($24) benefit, and you could buy up to six shares in either. Later, a grade assessment plan was adopted, but the teetotalers argued that their health record was better than that of the drinkers, and that they therefore represented better value because they paid out less in sickness benefits or for premature deaths.

In the United States, the Independent Order of Rechabites in North American fared poorly, while the Independent Order of Rechabites (without the North American qualifier) did very well. There was also the Encamped Knights of Rechab of North America, which seem to have had a negligible impact, except locally in small areas. At the end of the 19th century the Independent Order had a $100 funeral benefit.

The rituals seem to have varied from place to place, but generally worked three degrees: Knight of Temperance, Knight of Fortitude, and Covenanted Knight of Justice. The ritual also had elements of the freemasonry, and the governing body, at least in England, was (and continues to be) the Movable Committee, which meets in different cities every two years.

In the United States, the Rechabites collapsed with the repeal of Prohibition, and in Britain, the order diminished in size and influence after World War II.

Tent Ritual of the Salford Unity    
Juvenile Tent Ritual of the Salford Unity