Alcohol, bars, and innovation have a storied relationship. One thing is certain, to truly comprehend the roles alcohol, and more specifically bars, have played in America’s history, one must harken back to the colonial era when taverns, as they were then called, helped shape American history.
While alcohol was a prominent fixture in colonial life, oftentimes the location where one consumed said alcohol was equally as relevant. Public houses, and more specifically taverns, played an especially important role — they weren’t simply places to drink. Rather, they served as a venue to meet like-minded individuals, and functioned as clearinghouses and test beds of revolutionary ideas. As the colonies took shape, taverns became central locations for several aspects of colonial life. Taverns were a “utilized as meeting places for assemblies and courts” and became a central location for discussion and debate. In taverns across the colonies, literate patriots drank and read the news of the day aloud to their fellow revelers, thereby stoking revolutionary fervor. The network of taverns not only provided travelers with a place to rest and enjoy a beverage, but also a place to bring news from other colonies, and promulgate ideas from the likes of Thomas Paine, James Chalmers, and Thomas Jefferson.
However, arguably the taverns’ most important role in American history is the role they played in the beginning of the Revolutionary War. As anger spread throughout the colonies, many took to the tavern to discuss, argue, and debate what needed to be done. One location in particular, Boston’s Green Dragon Tavern played host to the infamous “Sons of Liberty” who, presumably after a couple of pints of spruce beer or molasses-infused porters, plotted the “Boston Tea Party.”
The implications of the tavern go beyond just the spread of ideas. Two of our nation’s most significant institutions, the Freemasons, and the United States Marine Corps, trace their origin back to the same colonial taphouse. According to historical records, the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia hosted the first meetings of St. John’s Lodge No. 1 (the first American lodge of the Grand Lodge of the Masonic Temple). On November 10th, 1775, the tavern also became the birthplace of the United States Marine Corps. Historically, the tavern was a popular destination for military recruitment, with Ben Franklin recruiting for the Pennsylvania Militia there in 1756. Eventually, the tavern would play host to Washington, Jefferson, and the First Continental Congress, who would task the tavern’s owner, Samuel Nicholas, “to raise the first two battalions of Marines” out of the tavern’s guests (although some speculate this occurred at another tavern owned by the Nicholas family, the “Conestoga Waggon [sic]”). The USMC still commemorates November 10th annually, with Marines everywhere raising a glass in honor of the Tun Tavern.
One might ask, who were the proprietors of these taverns throughout the colonies? While you may have images in your mind of a burly colonial ruffian, many taverns were actually run by families and in many cases women. One such women was Charity Tucker Bellerjeau Britton…
Charity Tucker was born in 1720 into the prominent Tucker family of Trenton NJ and spent her entire life there fully involved in the community. She married first, Henry Bellerjeau, and their first son, Samuel Tucker Bellerjeau, was born in 1738. Henry died in 1746 and she married shoemaker Joseph Britton. At some point she began to operate a tavern at the home she shared with Joseph Britton and continued to own and operate it after Joseph died in 1755. Trenton had about a dozen taverns and stagecoaches travelling between New York and Philadelphia often stopped at one of them for a meal or for overnight. Her Indian King Tavern was a large, two-story frame house with four rooms on each floor, and a large kitchen building attached to it. During the Revolution, her sons served in the militia, so the family suffered greatly when the British and Hessians occupied Trenton in December 1776 with two battles were fought in her hometown. Her tavern was located on King Street which was in the thick of both battles. Her son Isaac took over the family business in July 1779 and operated it through the rest of the Revolution. Unfortunately, the family lost the tavern at a sheriff’s sale in 1783. She died on April 13, 1790, at Trenton NJ.
Taverns were very prominent in the northeast and down the Atlantic Coast and many highways and most of the Revolutionary War era taverns famously discussed were not in the south. However, there were some nearby including Torrence Tavern which is near current day Mooresville. Like it’s northern relatives, this tavern also served as a meeting place of the day. Following the Battle of Cowan’s Ford was the Battle of Torrence's Tavern about February 1 or 2, 1781. This occurred when local militia gathered there following that Cowan’s Ford battle and shortly thereafter, Colonel Banastre Tartleton’s men marched by the road and found them there…