Sir Richard Rum, A Comic Play about Drinking

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

Sir Richard Rum is a comic piece about drink and reformers, temperance and intemperance, that dates back to the middle of the 18th century. This version was reprinted in the midst of the great temperance crusade of the 1830s. It certainly attacks heavy drinking, but to modern eyes it also seems, in its 18th−century humoruous style, to satirize some temperance advocates as well, if rather gently. However, it does not seem to have been seen this way at the time. It was widely reprinted and used by temperance advocates to promote their cause.

Transcription of Primary Source


The following account of the Indictment and Trial of Sir Richard Rum, was written sixty or seventy years ago, and contains frequent allusion to the colonial condition of the American States. It appears that at that time, Sir Richard was well known among the people, and had contrived to insinuate himself into the good graces of many, and had gained their esteem and high regard. He then had many warm and ardent friends and admirers; and he still retains not a few of them. Some, however, were opposed to him, who procured an indictment against him, and had him put on trial for his life; but the Jury, with Timothy Tosspot as their Foreman, after a patient hearing of the case, forbore to convict the prisoner, lest it should be said, that they went too far. Other think that they were somewhat influenced by Sir Richard himself, and therefore, brought in a verdict of Not Guilty. It has also been conjectured that the Right Worshipful Sir Nathan Standfast, and Sir Solomon Stiffrump, were not altogether unbiassed, especially as they were the Chief Judges of the Courts of Justice, constituted by King Bacchus, whose interest it was to save the prisoner.

If, in the present very enlightened and moral age, Sir Richard were tried for his life, I am inclined to believe that there are among us, many respectable men who would in their abundant tender−heartedness, be loth to convict him, or to be instrumental in causing him to suffer death or banishment. They could not endure to have him executed or banished, who had befriended them, as they suppose, so often in time of need,—whose acquaintance they never sought unless they were sure he would do them good, and who always had been so cheery and so clever a fellow.

Boston, August, 1835.


By a special commission of the peace, a Court was held, May 18, at Punch Hall, in the Kingdom of Toaping, before the Right Worshipful Sir NATHAN STANDFAST, and Sir SOLOMON STIFFRUMP, Chief judges of the Courts of justice constituted by King Bacchus.

The Court being sat, and the prisoner placed at the bar, the jury was called over as followeth, viz:

Timothy Tosspot,
Benjamin Bumper,
Giles Lickspiggot,
Theophilus Toaper,
Richard Rednose,
John Neversober,
Anthony Idlefellow,
Nathaniel Spendthrift,
John Sixgodowns,
Obadiah Thirsty,
Jonathan Lovedram,
Edward Emptypurse.

Against whom Sir Richard having made no exception, the Clerk proceeded to read the indictment, as follows:

Clerk. Sir Richard Rum, of the county of Flip: Thou standest here indicted for that thou, not regarding the good of thy fellow creatures, hast, in a bold and audacious manner, knocked down, killed, maimed, and despoiled many of his majesty’s good and liege subjects. Also, that thou hast, for many years, and still dost, hold a traitorous conspiracy with Mr. Punch, and Mr. Flip, two as notoriously wicked as thyself, by and with whose assistance, thou dost intoxicate the heads of good, honest, well−meaning people, to the ruining of their persons, and the impoverishing of their estates; so that many a poor man’s wife and children sit at home, wanting what is sinfully wasted in your extravagant company, as will appear by many credible witnesses, who are deplorable instances of the truth of what is here alleged against you. All which facts are contrary to the good and wholesome laws of the kingdom, as well as against the king, his crown and dignity.

What sayest thou, art thou guilty or not guilty, of what thou here standest indicted?

Sir Richard. Not guilty.

Clerk. How will you be tried?

Sir Richard. By the opinion of all judicious persons.

Clerk. Crier, make proclamation.

[Crier.] O yes, O yes, O yes! If any person can inform the Court of any murders, treasons, or other misdemeanors committed by the prisoner at the bar, let them come into the court, and they shall be heard in their several orders.
Call John Vulcan, the blacksmith.

Vulcan. Here.

Clerk. Thou art desired to declare what thou knowest in relation to what the prisoner stands indicted for.

Vulcan. May it please the Honorable Bench, and you, Gentlemen of the jury: I am very well acquainted with the prisoner at the bar. I am a blacksmith by trade, and being liable to much heat, I have, for many years, had an unquenchable spark in my throat, which I might quench with a pot of middling beer or cider; but happening to be acquainted with the prisoner, I became a lover of his company, and when I am once got into his company, he scarce ever parts with me, till he hath catcht me fast by the noddle, tript up my heels, and laid me fast on my back, so that I have not been able to get up to go to work for two or three days…And I am sure Sir Richard ought to be punished for seducing honest men at this rate. This, Gentlemen, is my grievance, and I hope you’ll take it into consideration.

Crier. Call William Shuttle, the weaver.

Shuttle. ...I am but a poor man, and have a wife and a great charge of children; I am a weaver by trade, and I can never sit at my loom, but this wicked companion is enticing me from my work, and is never quiet till he gets me to the tavern, and when I am there, I have no mind to come home again; and then he picks a quarrel with me, and abuseth me; sometimes he sets upon me like a robber, and ties me neck and heels, and throws me into a ditch, and there leaves me till next morning, and not a penny in my pocket, so that if you hang him or quarter him, you have my free consent.

Clerk. Call Thomas Snip, the tailor.

Snip. For my part, I know the prisoner at the bar very well, and I am sure I know no good for him; I always loved Mr. Wheat, the baker, better than Sir Richard Rum. But one night, as I was going home from work, I espied Sir Richard and two or three good fellows, a quarrelling, and what does I but step in among them to see if I could make them friends. But Sir Richard, picking a quarrel with me, gave me such a knock on the crown…that I could not work for a fortnight after. And what is still worse, he has got acquainted with my wife, and sends her home every night in a scolding mood, and for my part, unless I am as boozy as she, I dare neither speak nor stir, but am forced to be a true Passive−Obedience man…I hope this Honorable Bench will take it into consideration, and put him to death, or banish him out of the land.

Clerk. Call James Wheat, the Baker.

Wheat. Most Honorable Judge, I have this to relate concerning the prisoner at the bar, that I have been daily and hourly ill used by him. I have been a man esteemed of by lords and knights, and none could please better than James Wheat the baker; but the case is now altered; Sir Richard Rum is preferred before poor James Wheat, by almost all persons, of all ranks and sexes. Many men now a days fall down before him, and worship him, and the reverence they have paid him, has brought many to extreme poverty, and some to the halter, for they have stolen and robbed, to enable themselves to keep company with the wretch, when, at the same time, he is such an ungrateful monster, that if they were starving, he would not give them one meal’s victuals, and the more any person loves him, and keeps him company, the more they are despised and disregarded by him; I hope this Court will take it under consideration, and, as a common disturber of the peace, and a grievance to mankind, far beyond any thief…It’s not only particular persons, but whole provinces that are sufferers by, and appear against the prisoner.

Clerk. Call New England, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Carolina,

Judge. What have so many of you to say against the prisoner at the bar.

Colonies. We have much to say, but it’s no small part of our misery, that we are not sensible of the damage we have sustained by this prisoner; but thus much every body may plainly see, he is not only hurtful to some men who keep him company most, but also to all our land; for if we would send for other goods instead of Sir Richard Rum, and instead of Mr. Exceeding−fine Cloth, and things that we might very well be without, we say, if we would keep this pernicious prisoner out of our countries but eight or ten years, we might have silver money plenty, as in other countries, which would revive trade, prevent a multitude of law suits, relieve many a poor family out of deep distress, and keep many a man from prison. It would be endless to mention the long train of mischiefs that this insinuating hot−headed fellow brings with him…

Sir Solomon Stiffrump. Sir Richard, you hear the charge against you; what have you to say for yourself? You are represented as a person destructive to the Commonwealth, and, indeed, as the evidence stands against you, unless you clear yourself, I cannot see but you highly deserve to suffer.
It comes now in course that you make your defence.

Sir Nathan Standfast. I am of opinion, brother judge, that Sir Richard can make a defence, and vindicate himself from this charge. I would have no man condemn him before he is heard; nor can I see so much harm in keeping him company, so long as he doth not force them; it shews rather that he is a facetious merry person, and of a pleasant behaviour and attractable company, therefore, let’s hear him before any thing be determined against him.

Sir Richard. ...I am afraid there is malice and bribery against me. Now, as I am accused of these persons, I shall answer them together, and speak nothing but the truth. I confess my name is Rum, and have been esteemed and valued by many persons of great worth, in many parts of the world; and I have done good service to the Commonwealth, of which I am a good and loyal member. In the first place, Gentlemen, besides making many an honest man’s pot boil, I do service to the Commonwealth by raising the excise a third part; I am esteemed by all sober, moderate people, for the good I do when seasonably consulted, and put to a right use. I am one that never forceth anybody, but leave them to do as they please, either to keep me company, or let it alone.

And whereas, some say they are ruined by Sir Richard Rum, and that he deprives them of the use of their limbs, and brings poverty, and a thousand other miseries upon them; it will plainly appear to the Honorable Court, that it is their own fault and not mine, because I force none to keep company with me. And, as for the colonies and provinces in America, that complain so bitterly of me, may it please your Worships, I have been informed, that some of them are of a selfish, jealous temper, and behave themselves with a cold and envious deportment towards all strangers, as well as me. For my own part, I never went to any of their houses, nor into company with any of them, till I was sent for; nor did I ever offer any abuse to any person, till they first laid violent hands on me, and shamefully abused me, as well as themselves.

Sir Solomon. Truth, I cannot see wherein you are blamable at all, if you make this appear. Have you any evidences to call?

Sir Richard. Yes, several −−−−−−−−−. Call Barbadoes, with all the West India islands, with masters of vessels, and merchants.

Enter Barbadoes with the Leward Islands.

[Barbadoes and Islands.] May we speak without offence, who do intend to speak nothing but the truth.

Judges. Yes, speak the truth boldly, for that is the cause we sit here for.

Barbadoes and Islands. In the first place, may it please your Worships, we are of opinion, that whosoever speaks against Sir Richard Rum, can never be any better than enemies to the Commonwealth. For, without the help of Sir Richard, we that live in the Islands could not subsist; for he is the best branch of our trade, and if we should fail and sink in our trade, what, I pray, would become of poor Ireland? How would they dispose of their butter, beef, and Great Britain would be at no small loss. Besides, what would New England do with their horses, refuse fish and lumber, and provisions? And what would New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania do with their bread, beer, and other provisions? By this it is plain, and may be made to appear evidently, that upon us depends the prosperity of trade in many other countries. And if our trade should decay, how would the merchants do to employ builders in New England? And then, what would they do with their timber, hemp, tar and iron, which they begin to make there in considerable quantities? And how would the poor be employed?

[Clerk.] Call Newport on Rhode Island.

Newport. We are sensible that many persons, in this place, have kept this prisoner company too much, and have hurt themselves not only in their good name, but in their estates, and, without doubt, have contracted much guilt; but, at the same time, we cannot find how the prisoner at the bar is guilty, for as he said in his own defence, he forceth nobody. And whereas it is alleged he is crafty and insinuating, and also ungrateful; we do not find that he deceives sober, moderate persons. And as for his ingratitude, the best way is, not to suffer him to come under any obligation to them. We are sensible that he has done much good to many men in this place; he hath raised many from almost nothing to a great estate, in a very few years, and helped to build many good vessels, and employs a great number of men daily, both by sea and by land, and most of them that do not abuse him, thrive.

[Clerk.] Call friend John the Quaker.

Sir Solomon. Friend John, what hast thou to say in behalf of the prisoner at the bar?

Friend John. For my own part I may say, he hath many times comforted me, both at sea and on land; and, if the affirmation of a Friend may be accepted, I can assure the Court, that I never knew the prisoner to abuse any person, or give offence to anybody till they first abuse him; for I think he hath made it appear, that he forceth nobody, but is a peaceable, honest neighbor, also profitable to such who have so much prudence as to keep him safely, and to dispose of him seasonably; and, therefore, I am persuaded that no man, in his right wits, will condemn him; nay, the judge and jury may plainly see these accusers blame the prisoner for their own faults.

[Clerk.] Call Mrs. Hostess and Mrs. Fillpot.

Enter Mrs. Hostess.

[Mrs. Hostess.] What impudent fellows be they, that say they would have such a famous worthy man’s life taken away? If you take away his life, you take away mine too. Gentlemen, I beseech you not to take notice of what those cruel blood−sucking men say; they do not care what becomes of us, and many Innholders and retailers that must starve if this person suffer…

Court. Gentlemen of the jury, you have heard the evidences on both sides, as to the validity of them you must judge. Sir Richard is accused of ingratitude, which in some measure may be true, yet no person is bound in law to support another in his extravagance, nor to do more than they please. Therefore, we think, if you believe the credit of Sir Richard’s witnesses, you must acquit the prisoner. Or if you think the other of most credit, then you are to find him Guilty; but this is left to you, so go together.

Sir Richard. Gentlemen of the jury, I have one word to say before you go: consider, I pray you, that my life is at the stake, and in the first place, as to the witnesses against me, they are of two sorts; first, particular persons, and secondly, whole colonies and provinces… And if they should get their will, and I be put to death, yet I can tell them, as some of my last words, they may not expect to prosper. And because I know not but they may banish or put me to death, to discover that I am in charity with them, I do advise, first, that every person, from the highest to the lowest, to count their expense, and compare their out−going with their incoming. Secondly, beware of that monster, Covetousness. Thirdly, let each of you endeavor to be acquainted with his own self. For you will find, that as long as your old inclinations continue with you, you will presently get acquainted with some of my relations, and consume your time and money too, though I were dead and gone…And, fourthly, I advise them to lay aside or put to death, that pernicious rogue, Mr. Self−Conceit and Mr. Flattery, which peeps abroad now−a−days very much. And, last of all, that they beware of abusing strangers as they have abused me; and let them also consider, that it is not long since they or their fathers have been strangers in these parts of the world, as well as I; who, on account of some difference between them and their parents, removed into these remote regions, some of them, upon no other account, than to enjoy the liberty of their consciences; but now, as I am told, they are not so kind and charitable towards those who differ from them in opinion, as might justly be expected from them; wherefore, some are ready to think that if the present age mend not their manners, their posterity will be under a necessity of looking out for some place to enjoy the liberty of their bodies…

[Narrator.] After Sir Richard had made an end of his speech, the jury went out, and after half an hour’s stay, returned into Court.

Clerk. Gentlemen of the jury, are you all agreed in your Verdict?

Jury. Yes.

Clerk. Who shall say for you?

Jury. Our foreman, Timothy Tosspot.

Clerk. Sir Richard Rum, hold up your hand. Gentlemen, look on the prisoner. What do you say, is he Guilty of the crimes for which he stands indicted, or not Guilty?…

Foreman. NOT GUILTY.

Omnes[All]. Yes, yes.

Clerk. Down on your knees and thank the Court.

[Narrator.] Which being done, and the Court charges paid, proclamation was made for discharging the prisoner.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Indictment and Trial of Sir Richard Rum
iii, iv, 5−10, 13−23
John Ford, Temperance Press
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village