Taverns of Colonial Farmington

Author: Alex Tremblay

There was no place more necessary to early American life than the tavern. For travelers it was a much needed place for rest and food, and for locals, a place of fun and respite from daily life. Yet taverns were a constant thorn in the side of those trying to keep civil order or lead a religiously upright life.

In a meeting of the General Court of Connecticut on June 3, 1644, representatives passed a law requiring all towns in the colony to have at least one ordinary with the abilities to house, feed, and entertain any traveler. These laws were revised periodically in an effort to control what happened in them. Ordinary was the term that was originally given to all public houses such as inns, taverns, and alehouses. Even moreso than in England, taverns served as meeting places, libraries, and post offices, in addition to being places of recreation and drinking. Especially during the winter, church services were sometimes held in them.

One situation unique to the New World was whether taverns ought to entertain Indians. In Connecticut, Indians could and did legally visit taverns. Yet there were laws banning the sale of alcohol to Indians. In a letter to the editor printed in the Boston Evening-Post, the writer discussed how, even with the ban in place, people were still giving and selling alcohol to Indians, knowing full well that they became violent when intoxicated. The writer was saddened by the practice, because he saw it as corrupting an otherwise good and peaceful people, breaking both their bodies and souls. Despite the strong feelings of fear and concern about giving Indians alcohol, there was a popular belief that it was more wrong to “deprive the Indians of any lawful comfort which God alloweth to all men.” Connecticut lawmakers struggled over the dilemma.

Taverns were located along main routes of travel to make it easier for travelers to find them, though the travelers never fully knew what to expect upon arriving at one. The requirements were to be able to house any horses safely, have food for the travelers, and put them in a bed during their stay. Lodgings could range from a room not unlike the shed where the horses were tied up for the night with bread and water for a meal and some mats to sleep on, to a room and services that were more like the equivalent of a modern bed and breakfast.

Between 1741 and 1789 Farmington had at least 39 new registered taverns and inns open their doors. To register a tavern or inn, a person had to be chosen by the people of the town and then approved by two magistrates from the state (later from the county). That did not keep others from opening up unlicensed establishments. The main reason for the licensing of a tavern or inn was to regulate the sale of alcohol, required to be in standard measures so the excise (tax) man could collect his due.

The Elm Tree Inn, 785 Farmington Avenue

The Elm Tree Inn, 785 Farmington Avenue

Both the Elm Tree Inn (ca. 1760-1800), run by Capt. Phineas Lewis as a tavern in Farmington, and the Fuller Tavern (1769-1846), now in a part of Farmington known as Berlin, were well-known stops along a travel route from New York to Springfield, Boston, or Providence. They are also noted as having the distinction of entertaining General George Washington on two separate occasions when he was traveling through Connecticut. Rochambeau’s map of his camp in Farmington prominently shows the location of a tavern.

Barnes' Tavern. Rochambeau's Farmington camp, 1782.

Barnes’ Tavern. Rochambeau’s Farmington camp, 1782.

Established taverns on well traveled routes had staying power. Cook’s Tavern started operation as a tavern in 1769 in a part of Farmington that is now Plainville. This tavern has the rare distinction of never fully ending its business, just transforming itself into a restaurant in 1934. The ownership changed hands from the Cooks to its current owners, who now run it as the restaurant J. Timothy’s Taverne.

Sources:

“Historic Buildings of Connecticut » Blog Archive » Elm Tree Inn (1655).” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://historicbuildingsct.com/?p=1938.

“Historic Buildings of Connecticut » Blog Archive » Fuller’s Tavern (1769).” Accessed May 11, 2015. http://historicbuildingsct.com/?p=15141.

“History.” J Timothy’s Taverne. Accessed May 11, 2015. http://www.jtimothys.com/our-story/history/.

Hammond (James Hammond) Trumbull, ed. The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, April 1636 – April 1665. Vol. 1. Hartford, Ct: Brown & Parsons, 1850.

Lanning, Anne Digan. “Women Tavern-Keepers in the Connecticut River Valley, 1750-1810.” New England Celebrates: Spectacle, Commemoration, and Festivity, The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings 2000, 25 (2000): 202–14.

Lathrop, Elise. Early American Inns and Taverns. New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1935.

“Ordinary, N.” OED Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed May 6, 2015. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/132360.

Sismondo, Christine. America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011.

Recommended Reading:

Brennan, Thomas E., David Hancock, and Michelle McDonald, eds. Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices From the Tavern, 1500-1800. Vol. 4. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011.

Conroy, David W. “Puritans in Taverns: Law and Popular Culture in Colonial Massachusetts.” In Drinking: Behavior and Belief in Modern History, edited by Susanna Barrows and Robin Room. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1991.

Daniels, Bruce C. Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1995.