Early American Taverns

The definition of a tavern in today’s dictionary, means an establishment offering beer and liquor for sale while allowing consumption on the premises. During the colonial period, the tavern meant much more to the early settlers and travelers of the day. Just rounding the corner, a building appeared filled with aromas of food, wood burning and smoke. A jolly tune was playing on the fiddle and laughter filled the air. It was rustic to gaze upon it, but the walls were sturdy and the well was a welcoming sight to us all. A man met us at the wagon and invited us to dine with him and his patrons. I found myself smiling as I unhitched the team. The 18th century public citizen would have recognized the tavern as also being an inn, a public house and/or an ordinary. Majority of these taverns were also the private residences of the owner or operator. Beer and liquor license were fairly easy to obtain and if a person wanted to open a tavern for business, they would primarily only need the land and the building to begin the quest.

Settlements were established with the onset of a tavern. It may seem odd today to think of a new town beginning with a bar. But, during the 18th century, this was accepted widely and considered practical. A tavern was redeemed as a public space where a gathering of people were welcome to share their stories and their opinions. A tavern was also known for a space to rest from a weary day of traveling, a space to share a table of food and even learn new customs. Trade was accepted with means of haggling and bargaining from one farmer to a merchant or buyer. Political debates were welcome both private and public. Clubs were organized within the walls and admission guaranteed respect or displeasure among the neighbors. The exchange of money was allowed for purchasing drinks, lodging and much more. The tavern allowed society to grow, prosper and learn. Many taverns were also post offices and proclaimed the news of the day from far away places or just a few miles down the road. The tavern was the social media center of the 18th century and it participated in many roles throughout the colonies.

The Fireplace, Black Horse Tavern, Pennsylvania

As thousands of families traveled the Great Wagon Road in search of new opportunities, they often stopped at the taverns located along the way. From Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the Piedmont area of North Carolina, these taverns signified the civilization and the growth occurring within it. For years, the taverns lined the landscape in the northern colonies and beginning during the mid 18th century, the taverns began to appear rapidly in South Carolina, Georgia and the Northwest Territories. The keyword in describing these early taverns thrives from diversity. The differences between one to another are fascinating to research and historic to preserve for the future. The first tavern opening within the United States, would belong to the New York area. A map dating from 1626 displays a tavern located near the East River. The business was owned by Governor Kieft and he built it because he grew tired of providing lodgings for people in his personal home. The settlement quickly grew in the Manhattan area with the first streets named Broadway and Pearl. In the beginning, this was true with many early tavern owners. It was not the need to become a business owner, but rather the need to allow lodgings and shelter apart from the private residences of long ago.

Inside the Ye 1711 Inn Located in Connecticut

Tavern prices for various items depended upon the county court of that particular area. Tavern locations were very popular near courthouses due to the volume of citizens conducting business on a daily or monthly basis in the focused area. The county court would issue a license for operations, but not all tavern owners abided by the law. Although majority of tavern owners were men, many women took up the business as well all throughout the entire colonies. Many taverns offered much more than food, drink and lodging. Prostitution was widely known to exist at many taverns and a coffee house tavern would only recognize business organizations and upper class gentlemen upon entry, such as a private club. Such is the case for diversity among the early taverns.

August Term 1774

Tavern Rates for Rowan County, NC

  • Rates are listed as £ pounds to shillings to pence
  • Gallon West India Rum-0/16/0
  • Gallon of New England Rum-0/10/8
  • Gallon Brandy or Whiskey-0/10/0
  • Beer-0/0/.6
  • Peach Brandy-0/0/.4
  • Quart Toddy made with West India Rum-0/1/4
  • Stabling each horse 24 hours with hay-0/0/8
  • Stabling each horse 24 hours with English grass or clover-0/1/0
  • Corn or Oats for horse-0/0/2
  • Breakfast or supper with hot meat and small beer-0/1/0
  • Lodging per night good bed and clean sheets-0/0/4
  • Boiled Cider per quart-0/0/8
  • Punch per quart with orange or lime juice-0/2/0

In most cases meal pricing would vary due to the size and portions of the actual meal. Majority of taverns during this time period would charge 1 shilling for 1 complete meal which included drink. Between the years of 1753 and 1775, a total of 129 men and women were licensed to keep public houses of some type in Rowan County, NC. The list below names several of these tavern owners during this time.

William Steel operated a Salisbury tavern from 1764 until his death in 1774.

Alexander and John Lowrance were living in west Salisbury having never applying for a license by the county court. Account books exist of a tavern from 1755 until well after the American Revolution.

Adam Hall,Agnes Osbrough and James Rody were all charged in 1762 for selling liquor without a license. These were the only three known charged during the 18th century in Rowan County, NC.

Thomas Bashford tavern keeper charged with over pricing wine.

William Temple Coles operated a tavern.

Peter Johnson was charged with keeping a disorderly public house.

John Oliphant lived along a ford on the Catawba River and operated a tavern.

William Edmond warned others to beware of the tavern owned by John Oliphant due to over pricing.

Robert Parris sued Peter Johnston for debt not paid. The evidence was ledger book presented by Robert that listed toddies and slings purchased by Johnston on credit.

Ann Caduggen, alias Ann Nichols operated a public house.

Majority of taverns would offer at least 1 large table, several benches and plates, spoons and knives for eating. The tavern located in Bethabara was 15ft.x20ft. and consisted of 2 stories. This tavern was most likely the largest in the immediate area during the time period of 1757. The most active months for taverns in the Piedmont area of North Carolina was the month of August. This would have been after the harvest of wheat and prior to the corn harvest. The slowest months were November and December. Court dates would also attribute to more visits from the local citizens in the area.

Tavern records are not easily accessible nor are they easy to locate. Ledger books were often left with the individual’s family members and were often discarded at some point. However, early maps offer great details to the exact locations of these establishments and local historical societies can offer more details if available. If you have learned that your ancestor operated a tavern during the 18th century, you can rest assure they lived an extraordinary life filled with spectacular events. They were often the first one to welcome new families to the area and were most likely to know the gossip news of the day as well. They were not exempt from hardships or relieved from the terrors of Indian attacks or conflicts of war. In fact, numerous taverns were often attacked by both and many owners lost their lives because of their business.

The road was the key to their success and majority of tavern owners were forced to participate with road maintenance within their area. The owner was also responsible for the upkeep of his or her establishment and to gain a respect from neighbors and citizens of the community. It is safe to say that the taverns of this era were definitely the hub of social media during the 18th century. Piedmont Trails wishes you all great success with your research and Thank You all so much for your support. Enjoy Your Journey to the Past !!

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Early Settlers On The Banks of The Deep River

The Deep River of North Carolina spans a length of 125 miles from present day Sandy Ridge Road in Guilford County to Chatham County near Moncure. Several Indian artifacts have been found along it’s banks and in researching the name of the river, “sapponah”, an Indian name meaning deep river seems to be the origin. John Lawson recorded in his diary of many bison, several Indian nations and fertile soil along the river during the years of 1700 and 1701. The river is filled with large rocks and boulders with soft waters. This allowed easy paddling down the river for early travels and trade. The history of the river is enormous ranging from the early years to present day. New settlements were established with new grist mills, saw mills, schools and buildings of worship. Land grants are recorded for the Deep River area as early as 1749 located then in Anson and Bladen counties. Several skirmishes occurred during the American Revolutionary War and one of the first cotton mills was built in Ramseur along the river. This article will give details about the early settlers during 1749-1755. Majority of these families migrated from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia. They traveled in small groups to reach the lands that John Lawson described 50 years earlier.

The title page of A New Voyage to Carolina by John Lawson 1709 Image courtesy of Archive.org

Benjamin Foreman-Received a land grant dated October of 1749 consisting of 149 acres lying on the north side of Deep River in Bladen County. The beginning of his tract was located approx. 1/4 of a mile from the mouth of Buck Creek and near Hobby’s Island. Measured to a forked oak tree and followed the Deep River to the first station. Benjamin died in 1796 in Chatham County, NC. At the time of his death, he owned 2 horses, 3 cows and 6 hogs. He also owned 1 cart and 1 pair of wagon wheels. A special note as well that consisted of, “panel of books”.

George Fagon-Received a land grant dated September 30th of 1749 consisting of 200 acres. Located approx. 4 miles above the Great Falls along the Deep River.

Abraham Creeson applied for a land grant in January of 1749 for 200 acres. The deed was never issued and recorded. The chain carriers were Edward Hughes and Richard Wainpot. These were men who worked for surveyor Charles Robinson. After Abraham’s death, his son Joshua Creeson settled in present day Surry County. His first born was named Abraham Creeson.

John Smith applied for 2 land grants, both consisting of 140 acres along the Deep River. The grants were issued in April 2, 1751 and both tracts are located at the Bear Creek connection to the Deep River. John was born April 4, 1729 and died during the year of 1815. He is buried at the Richland Cemetery located in Liberty, Randolph County, NC.

Nicholas Smith applied for 450 acres of land and the deed was issued on April 1, 1751 in Bladen County. His land is located along Buck Creek and Deep River. Nicholas died in 1828 in Richmond County, NC. His will contained no less than 10 notes where he had lend money to his friends and neighbors.

Zebulon Gaunt applied for a land warrant in 1752 along the Deep River consisting of 640 acres. However; the land was never issued to him. Instead, James Carter received the deed in January of 1761, nearly 10 years later.

John Haggart applied for a land warrant dated April 10, 1752 for 640 acres along the Deep River in present day Randolph County. The deed was issued 5 years later on December 24, 1757.

Phillip Haggart applied for a land warrant on April 10, 1752 consisting of 640 acres. The land joined both Abbotts Creek and the Deep River in present day High Point and Jamestown areas. The deed was issued in January of 1755.

James Carter received 642 acres along the south fork of the Deep River in May of 1753. The original deed states 701 acres but it seems that this was incorrect as I researched the remaining deeds pertaining to the property and noted the original tract was 642 acres.

James McCallaum applied for a land warrant in 1753 consisting of 300 acres near the present day county line of Guilford County and Alamance County. James married Mary Harris on April 14, 1787 and was issued 9 pounds on a pay voucher from the American Revolutionary war in 1783. James died before 1800.

Mill along Deep River

William Allen is claimed to be the first settler of Ramseur along the Deep River in Randolph County. After much research, I was able to locate several families living in the area prior to William Allen in 1792. It now appears that the McGee family was living along Betty McGee Creek and Deep River connection and operating a small mill when William Allen acquired the property in 1792. William did name the settlement Allen Falls and attempted a log dam at the water connections in 1799. But this failed years later due to flooding. Hezekiah Allen and Henry Kivett are attributed to have built the first saw mill and grist mill in the Ramseur area. Joseph McGee was actually the first mill operator of this area. His death allowed the land to exchange from McGee to Allen in 1792. To date, I have found no proof of Hezekiah Allen, but I was able to locate Henry Kivett and his home located in Liberty, Randolph County. Henry died in 1882. Years later, the name of Allen Falls failed as well and the settlement was renamed Ramseur.

For years, researchers have been trying to pinpoint the exact location of Thomas Cox and his mill along the Deep River. Herman Cox was the first Cox member to settle along the river in 1757. His brothers, Isaac and William also settled along the Deep River. All three applied for land grants and owned a great deal of property. Thomas Cox operated his mill in 1784 and it appears to be at the water connection of Mill Creek and the Deep River. The discovery of this mill was located on a old map among the archives.

Proof Discovery of Thomas Cox and his mill along the Deep River

During the year of 1754, permission was granted to Deep River Friends to hold monthly meetings and worship. For the next several years, these meetings were held in the home of Benjamin Beeson until the first meeting house was built in 1758. This Quaker Meeting house was built in present day Guilford County near the Deep River. Many believe that the original members were all from Nantucket, Massachusetts, but this simply is not true. Many of the original members were born in Pennsylvania, Virginia and even North Carolina. Majority of these families traveled the Great Wagon Road into the area with the exception of the Nantucket group. This group traveled by way of the Atlantic Ocean to the Carolina coast. For a partial list of the original members, click here.

Howell Brewer applied for a land grant in Bladen County during the year of 1753. The deed was issued in February of 1754 for the amount of 200 acres along the Deep River. The property is located in present day Randolph County. Howell is listed on the 1790 census living in the same area with a total of 11 persons living in his home.

Phillip Hogget received a land grant dated January of 1755 in the amount of 420. The property is located along the banks of Deep River and Richland Creek. Phillip continued to live in Guilford county until 1800 when he moved to Randolph County.

Buffalo Ford, along Deep River, was one of the most popular crossings located in present day Randolph County. Island Ford was yet another popular crossing. The historical data in relevance to the Buffalo Ford dates back to when the buffalo roamed the Carolina wilderness. Indian trails would follow the buffalo trails, thus the creation of this ford crossing the Deep River.

Island Ford at Deep River

The Deep River of North Carolina continues to provide it’s history and genealogy everyday. The best resources for researching this area is on a local level. If you are planning a genealogy trip in the future, the Deep River area from Guilford County to Chatham County, NC is filled with data from the Colfax area to Moncure. As always, Piedmont Trails wishes you great success with your research. Enjoy Your Journey !!