Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rich, Robert (d.1679)

RICH, ROBERT (d. 1679), quaker and universalist, ‘born of a worthy family, and having many great and noble relations,’ may have belonged to a branch of the Warwick family. In 1651 and 1652 he was established in London as a rich merchant and shipowner, and possessed plantations in Barbadoes and New England.

He became a quaker in 1654, and for two years lived, ‘after the mode of that sect, a severe, strict life.’ In September 1655 he was imprisoned at Banbury, and wrote an address to the magistrates and recorder of the town. Next year he joined the small fanatical body whose adoration unhinged the mind of James Nayler [q. v.] During the latter's trial at Westminster (beginning 5 Dec. 1655), and the seven days' debate in parliament as to whether his sentence should be capital, Rich stood for hours each day ‘crying’ texts and queries to the members as they passed, and distributed (15 Dec.) letters, papers, and addresses, which he had written and printed to prove Nayler's innocence of blasphemy (Copies of some Few of the Papers, 1656, 4to). When Nayler was in the pillory at the Exchange, Rich placed over his head the legend ‘This is the king of the Jews,’ and sat by his side the whole day. Burton says when Nayler's forehead was branded, Rich ‘the mad merchant sat bare at his feet … sang … and sucked the fire.’ He accompanied Nayler on his penitential ride, at Bristol, on 17 Jan. 1656, going beside him bareheaded and ‘singing very loud.’ During Nayler's subsequent imprisonment Rich petitioned parliament, under the name of Mordecai, on ‘behalf of the seed of the Jews,’ praying that persecution might cease, and that he might suffer the remainder of Nayler's sentence.

Rich never loyally obeyed the regulations of the quaker society. He disputed Fox's wisdom in suppressing ranterism, and the treatment of his friends, John Pennyman [q. v.], and John Perrot [q. v.], he always resented. Gerard Roberts, George Whitehead [q. v.], and Ellis Hookes wrote against Rich's insubordinate views. In 1658 he met George Fox at Bristol, and sent money to Bishop Jeremy Taylor for the poor in his diocese. In 1659 he left England for Barbados, where he remained twenty years. He maintained his interest in the Friends, and in November 1662 visited many in prison on the island at Bridgetown, and directed their wants to be supplied to the value of two thousand to three thousand pounds of sugar.

Rich's charity embraced all sects, and in 1666, after the fire of London, he wrote to John Raynes, his agent in London, to distribute 210l. among the poor of seven churches, respectively catholic, episcopalian, presbyterian, independent, anabaptist, ‘of the first born,’ and quakers. His letter to Raynes was published. The quakers declined his gift. An anonymous and undated pamphlet, ‘Judas and his thirty pieces of silver not received,’ relates the dispute which followed. Rich expressed his view of the matter in ‘Love without Dissimulation, or a letter to Mr. John Raynes,’ and ‘Mr. Robert Rich his second Letters from Barbadoes,’ London, 1668. Rich arrived in London from Barbados on 9 Sept. 1679, and died on 16 Nov. following. He was a man of education, ‘comely in person and presence.’

Besides the letters and papers already mentioned, Rich published ‘Hidden Things brought to Light; or the Discord of the Grand Quakers among themselves,’ 1678, 4to, and ‘Something in Answer to a book … called “Hidden Things,”’ published anonymously, 1679, 4to. ‘Abstracts of some Letters to Bishop Jeremy Taylor, the Earl of Windsor, James Naylor, George Fox, &c.,’ was published after his death by John Pennyman, London, 1680, 4to; also ‘An Epistle,’ London, 1680, 4to. ‘The Epistles of Mr. Robert Rich to the Seven Churches’ (originally sent in 1666), with verses by other hands, were reprinted by ‘J. W.’ in 1689, London, 4to.

[Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1651 p. 117, 1652–3 pp. 48, 116, 193, 197, 460, 1653–4 p. 331; A True Narrative of the … Tryall of Naylor, 1657, p. 40; Works, passim; Burton's Diary, i. 266, 346; Mercurius Politicus, No. 345, 15–22 Jan.; Sewel's History of the Rise, &c., i. 183, 186, 187, 376; Smith's Catalogue, ii. 479; A Loving and Friendly Invitation, &c., by J. Taylor, 1683; The Saints' Testimony, &c., London, 1655.]

C. F. S.