In 1781, Connecticut-born Episcopalian Loyalist Samuel Peters found himself fleeing persecution from his American Liberty-loving neighbors to seek safety across the pond in Great Britain. There he received a warm welcome, an audience with King George III, and the time to write about the peculiarities of his one-time neighbors, basically hacking off the entire state of Connecticut forever.
Because that’s when he penned his General History of Connecticut. A biting work of satire, outlining the somewhat outlandish “rigidly moral” Puritan laws of a fanatical and bigoted people, the book included a list of what came to be known as the Connecticut Blue Laws, probably the second biggest thing Connecticut is known for, the first being Lyme disease.
Blue, in this 18th century sense is a disparaging term for strict moral codes or for a person who would adhere to them, like the blue stocking-clad supporters of Oliver Cromwell from the previous century. And it turns out, Peters wasn’t entirely out of line in making reference to the laws.
The General Court of Connecticut did adopt the First Connecticut Code in May of 1650, and it did include some fairly rigid guidelines addressing the religious and moral order of the colony. But it didn’t go as far as the General History of Connecticut, which included a mandate that mothers not kiss their children on Sundays and the requirement that men receive weekly Saturday haircuts around a round cap. In case no round caps were available, there was an allowance made for using half a pumpkin instead.
Even real blue laws (or Sunday laws) can at times seem a little ridiculous, particularly in a society as heterogeneous as the US, but over the years such laws have been upheld as constitutionally acceptable by the US Supreme Court and have been routinely supported by labor unions. The idea, of course, is that the laws serve to protect the religious liberties of workers and at the same time provide protections from overwork from a more secular perspective as well.
While most states have gotten rid of the more restrictive ones, thirty of the fifty states still have some form of blue laws on the books. Until this past weekend, I didn’t actually know that my own great state of Missouri is one of them.
In this era of social distancing, one of the adjustments that our family has had to make is “attending” church online on Sunday mornings. This has allowed for a more casual and unhurried start to the day, and recently led me to engage in a little early Sunday morning gardening. I’m pretty sure there is no current Missouri law against that.
While tending my otherwise thriving garden, I discovered slugs in my squash plants. Apparently, slugs have no moral code whatsoever and are unbothered by working on a Sunday morning. But it’s okay, because I have a simple solution for garden slugs, which has been working pretty well for many years, and has, strangely enough, even been previously featured on this blog that is sort of usually a little bit about history.
The solution is beer. Slugs love it, especially the morally deficient ones that would eat innocent squash plants on a Sunday morning. They will happily slime their way into a partially filled, mostly buried bottle of it and drown themselves. It’s not cruel because they’re drunk enough not to feel a thing. Also, they are slugs.
So, I donned my face mask and hustled off to the grocery store to pick up a six pack of beer for the garden only to discover that Missouri, where I have lived for seven-and-a-half years without ever noticing before, has at least one active blue law. The aisles containing alcohol were roped off. Surprised, I assumed I could just come back after noon to buy my weapon of choice. I picked up a few other needed items and made my way to the checkout by 9:06 AM, with plenty of time to spare before virtual church.
When the clerk asked me whether I found everything I needed, I said something about not realizing there were blue laws in Missouri. The kindly lady looked at her watch and said, “It’s after 9. You can buy it now.”
Now, I’m no theologian, but I’m really not sure why buying beer before 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning is any less moral than buying it at 9:06, but I hustled back to the newly opened beer department and grabbed some cold ones for the slug garden party. Then I did less than five minutes of research and discovered that in Missouri, slugs can’t buy beer between the hours of 1:30 AM and 6:00 AM on Monday through Saturday and can only purchase it between 9:00 AM and midnight on Sundays. Sunday sales also require an additional license fee.
Anyway, the beer is placed. The traps are set. And I’m sure glad the grocery store I chose has the Sunday liquor license extension. Because some of those squash plants are pumpkins, and if we should ever misplace all our round hats, those will definitely come in handy.