The History of American Taverns

There is no doubt the origins of the tavern were immersed in English history, the English were always fond of replacements for their home, but where they could meet people and converse. The inns and taverns of Old England came well before coffee houses. And in the New World, America took the concept from the English and embraced it wholeheartedly. Frequenting taverns was an important a part of social life in early America, just as much as going to church. Citizens frequented taverns as often as daily, and it was not just to drink alcohol. Without TV and internet there was no better way of finding out what was happening in the world than meeting up with like-minded people.

And in colonial Massachusetts, and also in many other colonial colonies in America during the mid-17th Century, taverns played a critical role in circulating information about opposition to the British rule.

New England Taverns

The first taverns in New England were actually private homes, homeowners would let out a room and provide accommodation, food and drink for travelers. As more people started to explore the state and trade in other parts taverns grew bigger, travelers came by boat, horseback even stagecoach. By the late 17th Century a tavern was expected to provide many things, such as providing stables for horses, rooms for meetings, presenting stage performances and dances, and most importantly local residents met at the end of the day to discuss news, business and politics. Most stagecoach companies had their stops at taverns, which would have to supply workers to load passengers and freight.

The Growth of Taverns

Taverns grew to be the most important buildings in a community, they served not just the locals with a hub for many business transactions such as post offices etc., but they were also an important place for travelers to stay and conduct trade from outside of the town. Whilst also supplying accommodation, and food there was also alcohol, so a groundswell of opposition from prohibitionists started. Because of the size of many taverns the buildings were also used for many group meetings and functions. Some taverns were used as courtrooms, election centers and in times of war they became military headquarters. They were in essence the early town halls of America.

Tavern Names

Star & Garter

Early taverns had very colorful names: The Star & Garter, the Eagle, the Leather Bottle, the Bull’s Eye, the Globe, the Indian Queen and the Mermaid. Tavern names and signs were an early form of marketing, around the turn of the 18th Century many common folks were illiterate, and before even streets were numbered, signs were hung out to identify taverns. Some were even just stuffed animal heads and others made out stone, wood and metal were more ornate.

By the end of the 19th Century, most taverns had died out, because all of its trades had become specialized. There were now hotels, restaurants, stores, theaters, and the newly built railway did away with the need for stagecoach stops. The taverns of America helped to found a nation, not only were they places to imbibe alcohol and get drunk, they were an important hub of the community.