Sweet Richard (two versions)

“Sweet Richard” is a name that has been used for more than one tune, and more than one set of figures.  What’s more, the same set of figures, danced to the different tunes, becomes a very different dance!  We’ve danced more than one version.  

An interpretation of the dance was previously published in Hendrickson and Keller’s Social Dances from the American Revolution, (Sandy Hook, Connecticut, 1992).  That book is based on the notebook of George Bush, who was an officer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War (and who was not an ancestor of the presidents).  Bush did not write out the music for this dance in his notebook.  Another Revolutionary War soldier, the fifer Aaron Thompson, also wrote the dance in the notebook he kept during the war, and did write down the music for it, but Hendrickson and Keller used the tune “Sweet Richard” from Wright’s Compleat Collection (London: J.Johnson, ca. 1740), saying that it “is a bit smoother than Thompson’s version.”

Whether or not Wright’s tune is smoother than Thompson’s, it is a completely different tune. Wright’s tune has an eight-bar A music (repeated), and a twelve-bar B music (repeated), for a total of 40 bars.  Thompson’s tune has a four-bar A music (repeated) and an eight-bar B music (repeated), for a total of 24 bars.

We went to Yale University in July, 2016 (THANK YOU to the staff at Yale for all of their help!)  to find and copy Aaron Thompson’s notebook, which is primarily from the years between 1777 and 1782.  Aaron Thompson was a fifer in the Third New Jersey Regiment and included many things in his book, including pages and pages of tunes, as well as pages with “queries” (math puzzles), penmanship exercises and notes about the war.  Five of the tunes have dance instructions with them, one of which is “Sweet Richard”.

Here is how the Waysiders dance Aaron Thompson’s version of Sweet Richard:

  • A1   First and second couples set twice to partner and change sides, the ladies passing between the gents
  • A2   First and second couples set twice to partner and change sides, the gents passing between the ladies
  • B1   First couple cross over and go below the second couple, cross over again and go below the third couple,
  •         Lead up the center and cast off
  • B2  First couple circle left once around with the third couple,
  •         First couple Rights and Lefts with the second couple (above them)

We use pas de bouree steps for this dance.   Here is the score:


and here is the tune to listen to:


Here is how we dance the version of Sweet Richard which is based on George Bush’s manuscript and Wright’s tune.  Although Hendrickson and Keller suggest pas de bouree steps as being period-appropriate, we use skip-change steps, since that step seems to fit better to this tune, and we believe that both steps were in use in the late 18th century.

  • A1   First and second couples set twice to partner and change sides, the ladies passing between the gents
  • A2   First and second couples set twice to partner and change sides, the gents passing between the ladies
  • B1   First couple chassee down the center, beaten step, return,
  •         Set to partner, cross over and go down the outside one place
  • B2  First couple two-hand turn once and a half around,
  •        First and second couples Rights and Lefts

Since this only involves the top two couples in each triple minor set, so we often dance it as a duple minor dance (though in the 18th century longways dances appear to have been done solely in triple minor formations).

Here is the score:


and the tune to listen to:


Sweet Richard is also included in Twenty Four Country Dances for the Year 1771, published in London by Samuel and Charles Thompson, with a tune.  Aaron Thompson’s tune is a close variant of that 1771 version.  Asa Willcox, who wrote out a notebook which he labelled “Book of Figures” in 1793, included a description of the dance Sweet Richard which is so close to Aaron Thompson’s description as to suggest that both of them copied their description from the same source.  (We believe that the Asa Willcox who wrote down a notebook full of dance descriptions was probably the Asa Willcox who served in the First New Hampshire regiment during the Revolutionary War, so  they might have met during the war (especially during winter encampments when there was less fighting and more dancing).

Below are the sets of directions we have, in chronological order.

Here are the directions from D. Wright’s Compleat Collection of (200) Celebrated Country Dances; Both old and new that are in vogue, with the newest and best directions to each dance, the whole carefully corrected; Vol 1; London Printed for J.Johnson (ca. 1740).
1st Cu. lead thro’ the 2d Cu. & sett in the 2d. Cu./Place, cast up & cast off __ 2d. Cu. do the same ___The/1st Man change Place wth 2d, Wo. & stand still, &/their Partners change. The two Men cast round/the two Wo. into their Places & turn, the Wo./lead between ye two Men & turn at ye same time_/The 1st Cu. lead thro’ the 3d. Cu. & thro’ ye 2d. Cu./ Right & left quite round with the 2d. Cu. and turn.
Here are directions from Samuel and Charles Thompson, 1771:
The 1st Cu. cast off, Hands 4 round with the 3d. Cu cast/up. Hands 4 round with the 2d. Cu lead down two Cu. the/2d. and 3d. Cu. follow cross over one Cu. Right and Left
Here are the instructions from Aaron Thompson, ca. 1777:
Ladyes foot change places with the Gentlemen, Gentlemen/foot it Same time Cross over two couple lead to the top/Cast off hands round four Right & left at Top

Here are the directions from George Bush, ca. 1779:
First & secd. coupl. set two Ladies passg between/the Gentlemn. – set & Genl. return   pssg. between the two/Ladies, Dance down two coupl inside up again/cast off cross over on couple & right & Left

Here are the directions from Asa Willcox, 1793:
Ladies foot it & change places with the Gentm./Gentm. foot it the Same time cross over lead to the/top cast off one Couple.  hands round four with 3rd Couple/right & left at top –




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