Drunk and Disorderly in Colonial Pennsylvania

Dateline: 1681-1688, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Some people behaved back then much as they do today. But these men were a small number, so let’s not overstate things.

14 Mar 1681

Henry Reynolds, having appeared by this court to answer for his selling liquors by small measure in his house contrary to the governor’s and council’s order, upon his submission to the court, was discharged. (p. 13)

This court order is mentioned because he is a distant uncle by marriage, and it represents other troubles with selling liquor and public houses and ordinaries.

He was also accused of murder.

15 Mar 1683

Drunk and disorderly. Not a good beginning for Councilman John Richardson in the fledgling government.

Council: William Penn, Proprietor and Governor of Pennsylvania and counties annexed.

Capt. Wm. Markham, John Simcox, Wm Clarke, Capt. Thos. Holmes, James Harrison, John Moll, Capt. Edmund Cantwell, John Hilliard, Wm. Clayton, Ralph Withers, John Richardson, Francis Whitwell, Christopher Taylor.

Ordered that John Richardson pay five shillings for being disordered in drink and be reproved. (Minutes p. 60)

His family was very dysfunctional.

3 Dec 1686

John Simcock was a prominent member of the area, joining the Provincial Council and serving there for many years.

Thomas Persons, Samuel Baker, and William Hawkes, being presented by the grand jury for being drunk and Samuel Baker and the said Persons for swearing the latter, viz., Samuel Baker and William Hawkes was apprehended and brought to the bar;

Nicolas Pile, being attested, declares that Samuel Baker did swear several oaths that John Simcock was drunk for which he was fined thirty shillings, Benjamin Mendenhall attesting to the same.

William Hawkes was fined five shillings for being drunk and appearing so at the bar (p. 84)

10 May 1687

Richard Crosby was a prominent member of the orphans court, unless this is a different one.

Richard Crosby, being convicted for being drunk and abusing the magistracy of this court and county, was fined seven pounds. (p. 91)

3 Sep 1687

No one was allowed sell rum to the Indians. Thomas Colbourn was bound over to the court for selling rum to the Indians. He pleads not guilty.

Isaac Few, being attested, declares that a drunken Indian coming by him with an empty bottle, he asked him whether he was going the Indian [sic], made answer to Thomas Colbourn for rum and the same Indian coming back had two bottles which he saw full of rum. (p. 97)

Thomas Lassie declared the same.

The jury found Colbourn not guilty of selling rum to this Indian. In other words, if the two witnesses did not actually see the “rum transaction,” then the Indian could have gotten the rum from another source.

Same date

Robert Stephens was presented by the grand inquest for being drunk at Chester since the last court for which he was fined by the court 5 shillings (p. 100)

Same date

John Edge, being convicted before [Judges] John Blunstone and George Maris for being drunk, was fined by the court 5 shillings. (p. 101)

Same date

James Saunderlaine was fined 5 shillings for suffering [allowing] Robert Stephens to be drunk in his house (p. 101)

Same date

Neales Quist paid 5 shillings for being drunk at Chester (p. 101)

Same date

Thomas Bowles is called before the court and jury to answer the complaint that he was drunk.

Thomas Boules (Bowles), being summoned to appear at this court to answer the complaint of our sovereign lord the King and chief proprietary [William Penn] for suffering [allowing] the king’s liege people to be drunk at his house was upon the same indicted.


Albertus Hendrickson, being attested, declares that he did see Harmon Johnson so drunk at Thomas Bowles’ house that he lay and ____ [sic] [The blank is original. It probably meant that he vomited on himself, a subject too delicate for this clerk of court.] himself.

Thomas Usher, being attested, declares that Thomas Bowles sold him and William Cob two bowls of punch and at another time he sold the Trumpeter’s son a can of Tife.

The jury’s verdict: Know this that we do find Thomas Bowles guilty according to the indictment.

Hereupon judgment is granted that he paid 10 shillings with cost of suit.

Thomas Bowles was also presented by the grand inquest for selling rum by small measure without license.

Witness upon summons: Robert Brothers, Andrew Friend, John Taylor: remitted upon the condition that he do so no more and that he pay his fees (pp. 101-02)

Same date

Richard Crosby, being summoned, to appear at this court to answer the complaint of our sovereign lord the King and chief proprietary [William Penn] for being drunk and committing other misdemeanors for the same [was] indicted.

Witnesses appear and say they saw Crosby drunk and very “unruly” and “abusive.” One witness says he saw Crosby challenge “the Swedes and English or any other man at Cudgels, wrestling or any other such violent exercise and furthermore did strike him upon the head and did trip up his heels twice and then he heard him saw the Swedes were rogues and did take part with the Indians.”

He was found guilty and ordered to pay the fine of 5 shillings (pp. 103-04).

3 Oct 1687

The grand jury presented Robert Moulder for suffering [allowing] Thomas Clifton and Samuel Baker to be drunk at his house, where were present John Bradshaw, William Hawkes, and Isaac Warner (p. 105)

The case was delayed (see 3 Dec 1687).

Same date

Samuel Noyes paid 5 shillings for being drunk. (p. 107)

3 Dec 1687

Robert Moulder, being the last court indicted for suffering [allow] Thomas Clifton and Samuel Baker to be drunk at his house, was upon the same called to the bar, but nothing being proved against him he is acquitted paying his fees and ordered to keep an ordinary, provided he keep horse meat [food] and man’s meat [food] (p. 115)

In other words, he had to provide food (“meat”) for horses, not turn horses into meat!

10 Sep 1688

Thomas Robbins and Thomas Woodmans [sic], being convicted before [Judge] Bristow for drunkenness, breach of peace, breaking the great cabin door and the head of Samuel Harrison, mate on board the ship Trial, was for the same called to the bar, but upon submission to the court was ordered to pay 5 shillings with all court charges. (p. 130)

To wrap up:

It is wrong to believe these cases represent countless others, but people behaved badly back then, just like today. Also, these cases did not disappear, but they seemed to have diminished. Was something bad going in in 1687, like a drought?


Minutes of the Provincial Council, vol. 1, 1683-1700, (Jo. Severns and Co. 1852).

Record for the Courts of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Begun the 13th of September, 1681, Ending the 10th day of March 1696/7, (Philadelphia: Peterson and White Co., 1910).

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