The ordinary tavern sponsored games and other entertainments as well as provided overnight lodging along with food and drink. In some towns, the courts met in a room at the tavern; in many ordinaries, the merchants conducted their business and shared the latest news from home and abroad. The tavern’s significance in the founding era of our nation related to another main attraction: joining comrades and sometimes opponents in political discourse and debate.
Samuel Colt is credited for opening the first tavern or “ordinary” in North America in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. Colonial governors offered inducements in the form of land grants and selective tax exemptions in order to encourage people to open taverns. Other than licensing, there were relatively few restrictions on who could open a tavern, and many were owned and operated by women and freedmen.
Outside the church, the tavern was the most important institution in most towns. Taverns were used as meeting places for political assemblies (like the militia or the courts). When people needed to conduct business meetings or hold markets, their choices were generally the church or the tavern. Since the Colonial Legislatures often offered inducements to tavern owners, they saw these businesses as “operating for the common good,” which ultimately meant that tavern meeting rooms could be appropriated for government business like courts, polls, and meetings of the militia.
People relied on taverns as the primary means of spreading news and ideas. Newspapers and stories were often shared by travelers in taverns. As conflicts erupted between the Crown and her colonies in the 1760’s, it was in the taverns that men discussed their responses and ultimate aims. It was in the Green Dragon in Boston is where the Sons of Liberty planned civil disobedience (including the Boston Tea Party). The City Tavern in Philadelphia is where delegates to the Continental Congress adjourned to draft their resolves. The Roe Tavern in Setauket where the Culpepper Ring spies were purported to practice their craft. It was in the colonial tavern that the revolutionary spirit launched our nation. Without taverns, it is likely that the various colonies would have remained separate and subjugated to the greater British Empire.
“To drink at a table without drinking to the health of someone special, should be considered drinking on the sly, and as an act of incivility.”– Poor Richard
Activities you are likely to see at the tavern include
- Competitive Coasting: Toasts would solidify the bonds of groups. Toasts add a competitive element of drinking. To give a proper toast requires courage, it’s sort of a mini performance, one that requires facing the chance of achieving great success, or stumbling over what you say. Toasting elicits laughter, dispenses well wishes, and venerates people, events, and ideas (like liberty). During the Revolutionary War, Americans’ toasts often took the form of vexes on the British:
- “To the enemies of our country! May they have cobweb breeches, a porcupine saddle, a hard-trotting horse, and an eternal journey!”
- “To George III, who, like the sun in its meridian, spreads a luster throughout and enlightens the world.” To which the French diplomat offered a reply “To the illustrious Louis XVI, who, like the moon, sheds his mild and benevolent rays on and influences the globe.” Followed by Benjamin Franklin who raised his glass and said “To George Washington, commander of the American armies, who, like Joshua of old, commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and both obeyed.”
- Parlor Games: Just like today, people of the 18th Century enjoyed parlor and tavern games, often gambling. There are two primary types of parlor games: card games, and dice games but certainly some establishments, especially in London, also had draughts, backgammon, chess, darts and billiards. The aim of most tavern games is not to create a competition but rather an excuse to sit together and discuss the day’s news.
- Sharing of news and current events: Because the roads were poor, travel in the 18th Century was difficult and slow. Even a trip of only 10-15 miles would require an overnight stay somewhere along the route and definitely required meals and refreshment. With travelers came news. Because they were often well informed about current events in the various communities along the highway were expected to retell all the stories they heard and people would come from the surrounding countryside to hear about happenings in distant locales. Travelers also often brought their newspapers, pamphlets, and even books which when they had finished reading, they frequently left, or even loaned, at the tavern.
- Glees and Tavern Songs: Glees and songs made for and about drinking are, of course, nothing new. The oldest ones were coined by a youthful group of mischievous, wandering clergy called the Goliards in the 12th-century. This collection of poems and songs are largely irreverent and cheeky take downs of hypocritical leaders, moral double standards and political institutions of the day. Americans used drinking songs as a way to band together in ale and song. In the ultimate homage to a night of drinking, Francis Scott Key borrowed the tune of a bawdy British drinking song (“To Anacreon in Heaven”) about overindulgence and questionable relationship choices when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Siege Weekend is Saturday 11/13 – Sunday 11/14 from 10:00 to 4:00pm. We will re-enact the greatest bombardment of the American Revolution and unlike that somber day in 1777, the British will land troops and fight to take over the fort.
Our tavern will be set up in the bake-oven (mess hall) casemate near the flagstaff. We will open our doors around noon and close up when the fort closes. There will also be extended hours for our reenactors and special guests who remain when the gates are locked.
This is an 18th Century tavern so if you want to purchase anything (of course there will be beer but also coffee and hot chocolate), you need 18th Century money. Fort Mifflin script (Continental Dollars and Pennsylvania Pounds) will be sold in the giftshop. While you are in the gift shop, be sure to pick up your Loyalty Oath and a copy of Beers and Beers Stories by the Regimental Brewmiester.