Have you heard the story about how rum once caused a riot in Portland?  No, we're not talking about the occasional Saturday night scuffle in the Old Port, either.

This was legit violent unrest caused by rum!

According to the Maine History website and the New England Historical Society website, the Portland Rum Riot happened in early June of 1855.

At that time, Neal Dow was the mayor of Portland.  He was from a devout Quaker family and he was a "teetotaler".  In other words, he was completely against alcohol.  He was also against slavery and it is said that he believed the two were connected.

At this time, about seven decades before Prohibition would sweep the nation, the State of Maine had outlawed alcohol.  Following the passage of Maine's prohibition laws in the 1850s, Neal Dow had his men frequently raid illegal bars throughout the City of Portland.

Marvin L / Unsplash
Marvin L / Unsplash

As the story goes, in the spring of 1855, word began to spread through town that Mayor Dow had nearly $2,000 in rum stashed away in the Portland city hall.  On June 2nd, a search warrant was granted to a group of residents.

The warrant holders showed up at city hall and asked to search the building.  Police on site turned them away.  As afternoon turned into evening, and more people got off work, a crowd began to gather at city hall.

Did he really have rum?  Yes!  But, it was not because he was planning to start making mojitos or doing shots.

The article explains:

The Maine Laws allowed towns to appoint an individual to buy alcohol for medicinal purposes. In the spring of 1855, Dow had gone ahead and authorized the city to buy $1,600 worth of ‘medicinal and mechanical alcohol’ for distribution to pharmacists and doctors. Technically, he broke the law, which required the appointment of a committee. But no committee had been appointed.

Before too long, the crowd at city hall had grown to about 3,000.  Most of the group were Irish. They began to throw rocks at the building.

Mayor Dow called up the militia to defend the building.  He ordered them to use deadly force.  That's when the riot turned deadly.

When John Robbins, a 22 year old from Deer Isle, broke into the vault holding the alcohol, he was immediately shot and killed.  The really tragic part is that he was to be married the next day.

Following the killing, the crowd did disperse, but not before seven more people were injured.

Neal Dow was brought up on charges over the incident.  But, he was acquited of obtaining the rum illegally.  Despite that fact, his political career was over.  He was beaten in his re-election attempt.

In 1861, at the age of 57, he enlisted in the Union Army and fought in the American Civil War.  By the time the war ended, he had made the rank of general.

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