The Striped Pig, A Comic History

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

The “Striped Pig” is referred to in the Old Sturbridge Village booklet Rum and Reform in Old New England. In this selection from A History of the Striped Pig, 1838, we learn of the pig, it’s death and post mortem examination. This tongue−in−cheek story obviously drove home the point of the temperance reformers; the pig symbolized all drinking men.

Transcription of Primary Source


“There was a woman loved a swine; “Grumph!” said he. “Piggy,” says she, “will you be mine?” “Grumph!” said he.”

The last ‘muster’ field* at Dedham, in Norfolk County, will be long remembered, as remarkable for having produced two rare monsters of the swinish race;—the one a quadruped hog, ‘ring−streaked’ and striped, like the kine of old Laban,—and the other a biped brute, a rum−seller, acting in his trade under the appropriate banner and in the appropriate company of the ‘striped pig’ aforesaid…

On that memorable day there appeared, high raised aloft among the tents and booths which checkered the military parade ground, the banner of the rum−seller, bearing thereon as a proper heraldic device, not a hogshead merely, but a ‘whole hog,’ —a hog, not in its simple and natural state, but a hog ‘disguised’ with paint, (or liquor.) This curious and aptly chosen emblem was accompanied by a false advertisement, that in the tent below might be found a great natural curiosity, by any person disposed to invest his fourpence−halfpenny in sight−seeing. This lying program, not less than the device which it accompanied, was a fair manifestation of that spirit which is ‘a mocker’ and a deceiver.

Within the tent below stood the worthy couple already described,—the ‘striped pig’ and his associate,—surrounded by all those elements and implements of intoxication which have brought so much woe and death into the world, prepared for the use and enjoyment of customers.

At first but a few individuals were tempted to enter this den of iniquity. A shrewd Yankee pauses long before he will pay his money to see a pig, or any other beast, whose exact picture is before his very eyes without a fee. But one or two did straggle in, and multitudes gathered about the tent and stared at the sign, and discussed its merits and wondered at its meaning.

It was not long before the earliest visitors came out of the tent, looking considerably less silly than when they went in, and winking their eyes most knowingly, and smacking their lips…Inquiries were made, whispers were exchanged…and ere long it was known all over the parade ground, that the enlightened spirit of inquiry which carried visiters to the pig, was abundantly rewarded by dividends and donations of ‘grog,’ in whatever form was most desired.

A strange monster to be seen for six cents, and a glass of rum gratis! What tippler could resist the attraction?…Hundreds went and looked and drank, and went and looked and drank again, until…they actually saw double, and beheld two striped pigs… All this was considered a capital joke by the ‘striped pig party;’ for old Norfolk has for several years been a thorough temperance county, and no licenses for the sale of spirits have recently been granted. But the pig’s partner found no difficulty in obtaining from the selectmen of Dedham a license to exhibit his striped monster and himself…on the day of the muster, and the gift of a glass of grog was regarded as an admirable evasion of the ‘oppressive law,’* and an equally admirable expedient to bring the pig into notice…


We find the following touching obituary in the paper of November 13th, published the morning after the election.

‘Died yesterday, at the ballot−boxes, of delirium tremens, that wonderful beast, that “most delicate monster,” the striped pig! He died hard…we have learned that a post mortem examination of the pig was made by divers learned doctors last night, from which examination we have gathered the following items.

‘1. On searching the cerebral cavity it was found that the pig had no brains, excepting a small portion… Instead of the medullary substance, the brain−pan was filled with a dark semi−fluid, which resembled blackstrap, emitted an alcoholic odor, and burnt readily, with a blue flame, when brought in contact with the lamp. ‘2d. The heart of the pig, which was reduced to less than one half the common size, was entirely ossified, and, what was exceedingly curious, it had assumed the exact appearance of a common junk* bottle.

‘3d. There was a high degree of inflammation discovered in the abdominal viscera,—the occasion of which was in part the ardent spirit with which they were suffused, and in part a strange mass of undigested and indigestible substances, the precise nature of which could not, for some time, be determined; but which at last proved to be composed of paper, on which were printed hand−bills, circular letters, resolutions, appeals, and other documents published by the pig−party. This papyraceous mass had accumulated in the stomach of the pig, irritated the mucous membrane, and gangrene had supervened. The stench was so overpowering that the examiners could not pursue this part of their search so thoroughly as was desired.

‘Not to go further in our paper of this morning, we will only add that we expect a full account of the discoveries of the surgeons in a few days.’

P.S. Our devil* has just come into the office in a great panic, with the assertion that the pig is not yet dead,— that he revived under the lancet, sprang upon his feet, bit several of the operators, one of whom has just gone off with hydrophobia, and then escaped from the dissecting−room into the streets! We know not what to think. A friend at our elbow suggests that if the devil has told us the truth, this pig must be the beast referred to in the Apocalypse, (chap. xiii, 3,) of whom it was said, “one of his heads was wounded to death, and his deadly wound was healed, and all the world wondered after the beast!” We shall give our readers the earliest authentic news on this subject which can be procured.’


  • devil − printer’s devil, printer’s apprentice
  • junk − a type of inexpensive glass with a greenish−brown color
  • muster field − location where the local militia trained. Muster or training days were often treated as holidays since people went to observe the training.
  • oppressive law − refers to a Massachusetts State law, “An act to regulate the sale of spirituous liquors,” that became effective July 1, 1838. The statute prohibited the sale of liquor in quantities less than fifteen gallons. The act was repealed on Feb. 11, 1840.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
A History of the “Striped Pig”
3−5, 8, 69−72
Whipple Damrell
Place of Publication: 
Old Sturbridge Village