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"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Monday, May 11, 2015

Keeping a Colonial Inn

The colonial inn's great room
Another area of research I had to do for my recent release The Highwayman was on the care and keeping of a colonial inn.
One of the most interesting things I found out was that during colonial times, an inn was more commonly known as an ordinary. And that wasn’t a term I could handily explain in the context of my story, without serious author intrusion, so I avoided using it. (I was already 1k over the allotted word count when I finished the first draft.)
First, I had to sort out the difference between a tavern and an inn. Both were considered general gathering-places of the day, where men of a community could meet not only for refreshment but to share local news and gossip, conduct business, and hold formal meetings. A tavern might serve meals, but only an inn or ordinary also provided for travelers to stay overnight.
Hartwell Tavern, Massachusetts
The most helpful article I ran across was kindly linked to me by one of my fellow Quillers: Daily Life of the American Colonies: The Role of the Tavern in Society. Some of the high points: important community events such as militia musters, council meetings, even trials often took place at the local tavern (public house) or inn (ordinary). Alcoholic beverages were commonplace, especially ale or hard cider, but drunkenness was strongly discouraged. Taverns or inns were a handy place to gather for breaks between church services on Sundays, and though most often frequented by males, one source says that three-fourths of colonial taverns were run by women, especially widows, who were encouraged into the trade in order to support themselves.

From Wikipedia:
Larger taverns provided rooms for travelers, especially in county seats that housed the county court. Upscale taverns had a lounge with a huge fireplace, a bar at one side, plenty of benches and chairs, and several dining tables. The best houses had a separate parlor for ladies, an affable landlord, good cooking, soft, roomy beds, fires in all rooms in cold weather, and warming pans used on the beds at night. In the backwoods, the taverns were wretched hovels, dirty with vermin for company; even so they were more pleasant and safer for the stranger than camping by the roadside. Even on main highways such as the Boston Post Road, travelers routinely reported the taverns had bad food, hard beds, scanty blankets, inadequate heat, and poor service.
While my fictional Brewster’s Inn might not be the most upscale establishment, nestled in the lower Shenandoah Valley along the Great Wagon Road in colonial Staunton, Virginia, you can bet that Sally and her parents take pride in keeping the place clean and serving very good food!

Some notable taverns and inns:

The Smithfield Inn, Smithfield, VA (Wikipedia)
The Old 76 House in Tappan, New York. The oldest example of Dutch public architecture, and established early on as a “safe house” for the patriot cause. Washington and the early Continental army met there whenever in town. This was also the location where Washington questioned Major John Andre of the British army, before his execution as a spy in 1780. (The tavern was also used to house the town records for many years.)

McCrady's Tavern and Long Room in Charleston, South Carolina. Purchased in 1778 and opened as a tavern, expanded upon over the next decade, and a hub of social activity including plays and banquets for Charleston residents. Washington was entertained at a banquet at McCrady’s during his visit to the city in 1791.

Cobb's Tavern in Sharon, Massachusetts—built in 1740’s, now a private residence.

The Indian King Tavern. Site of a New Jersey General Assembly meeting that ratified the Declaration of Independence in 1777, rumored to be frequented by Dolly Madison and a site on the Underground Railroad.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the info! We stopped and ate at an old tavern near Monticello once years ago. There was no choice of menu, you ate chicken. It came without silverware on a pewter plate with a pewter cup to drink from. The servers were in costume and guests sat around long tables on benches. It was fun!

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    1. Thanks, Pegg! And what a neat experience. I'd love to visit a historic tavern someday! Thanks for sharing that!

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  2. I enjoyed your post Shannon. Lots of information on our colonial days, which otherwise are forgotten.
    Blessings,Tina

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    1. Thanks so much, Tina! Glad you enjoyed it! I always appreciate your stopping to comment. :)

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  3. This is an excellent post, Shannon! I loved reading all about the inns and taverns and am glad you included examples of some historic sites! The settings of one of my first novellas was an inn and it was so much fun to learn about them and about how show my family operating it. Lots of fun!

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    1. You're ever so welcome, Carla! Glad you found it helpful and enjoyable! I sure enjoy the research ... always neat to see the tidbits I come away with.

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