TAVERNS + RUM = A REVOLUTION
Updated: Aug 3
The taverns & inns of early America, played a prominent role in the American Revolution. Without them, military and political leaders would have been forced to coordinate actives while meeting in private homes. If they didn’t have the secrecy and anonymity provided from the taverns, the whole revolution might have failed.
Taverns were community centers and often the only public building in town. They doubled as … General Store, Post Office, Library, Courthouse, School, Hospital and most famously, headquarters for political societies (Sons of Liberty) & militia groups. Taverns and inns where seen as a necessity, for even a journey of ten miles might require an overnight stay.
In the city, taverns would range from a simple grog shop (a grog is any of a variety of alcoholic beverages. The word originally referred to a drink made with water and rum) to a distinguished British establishment. The taverns & inns in the country where primarily someone’s house with awful conditions and often with fleas. You might even have shared a bed with up to six people.
There were several words used to describe taverns, such as Pubs, Public Houses, Inns and Grog Shops. A “Public House”, meant just that, somebody’s house open to the public, licensed to sell food, lodging and alcohol. Many of the taverns & inns were owned and operated by widows.
The term “bar” is not used during early America, however, it’s routes begin here. A counter wedged in the corner would have had a hinged set of bars that would be lowered to secure the alcohol when the owner of the establishment had to attend to other activities outside.
AMERICANS DRANK ALL DAY
Hangovers may be bad, but cholera and dysentery are worse. Due to unsafe sources of drinking water, Americans developed a social tolerance for day-long consumption of low to moderate alcoholic beverages like spruce beer, cider and watered-down rum, known as a “grog”.
DRINKS SERVED IN TAVERNS
Of the drinks served in taverns, beer, cider & rum where common, port was served in the more distinguished establishments. Since the Colonies traded with the Caribbean, rum and molasses where readily available. Many of the drinks included an egg as an ingredient. Alcohol was considered a calorie supplement and food item.
Claimed to be America’s oldest cocktail, the first Coow Woow was supposedly shaken in 1664. However, the original iteration, mentioned in a 1684 letter from the future archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Tenison, was dismissed as a poor man’s drink of “molasses and ginger.” One imagines a fiery gasoline cultured with throat cutting impurities. Somewhere down the line, bartenders tamed the dragon.
Probably the most popular drink in colonial America was the Flip. A twenty five year old John Adams wrote of a party at Thayer’s Tavern that included “a wild Table of both sexes, and all Ages, in the lower Room, singing, dancing, fiddling, drinking flip … This is the Riot and Revelling of Taverns And of Thayers frolics.” This mealy beverage, sometimes known as a bellow-stop, perfectly illustrates the colonial view of drinking as a calorie supplement.
The John Greenwood painting Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam (above) depicts a tavern scene with a few notable Rhode Islanders, drunk and being thoroughly doused with rum punch and vomit.
The vivid pictorial tradition of early tavern signs is said to have been born in preliterate, multilingual Europe. Below, the “Crowfut’s Inn” is an example.
“The Drinker’s Dictionary”
In January of 1737, the thirty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin published “The Drinker’s Dictionary”, with 228 different expressions for “drunk”. Here are our TOP 10.
1: Been among the Philistines
2: Clips the King’s English
3: Drunk as a wheel-barrow
4: Got a brass eye
5: Got the night mare
6: He carries too much sail
7: His Flag is out
8: Lost his rudder
9: Smelt of an onion
10: Wet both eyes
WASHINGTON’S FAREWELL BLOWOUT
Rather than seize power for himself, George Washington voluntarily resigned his military post at the end of the war, astonishing Europe’s rulers and instantly making him a hero of republicanism. His resignation legitimized the Continental Congress, whose members expressed their gratitude by throwing Washington a bender fit for a would-be king.
According to the evening’s surviving receipt, Washington and fifty-four other gentlemen crammed in the City Tavern in Philadelphia and conquered 7 bowls of rum punch, 8 bottles of cider, 34 bottles of beer, 54 bottles of madeira, and 60 bottles of French Bordeaux.
Information & images for this post were provided from the book, “Taverns of the American Revolution” by Adrian Covert