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The famous remark of Louis XIV, "There are no longer any Pyrenees," may perhaps be open to criticism, but there are certainly no longer any taverns in New England. It is true that the statutes of the Commonwealth continue to designate such houses as the Brunswick and Vendome as taverns, and their proprietors as innkeepers; yet we must insist upon the truth of our assertion, the letter of the law to the contrary notwithstanding.

No words need be wasted upon the present degradation which the name of tavern implies to polite ears. In most minds it is now associated with the slums of the city, and with that particular phase of city life only, so all may agree that, as a prominent feature of society and manners, the tavern has had its day. The situation is easily accounted for. The simple truth is, that, in moving on, the world has left the venerable institution standing in the eighteenth century; but it is equally true that, before that time, the history of any civilized people could hardly be written without making great mention of it. With the disappearance of the old signboards our streets certainly have lost a most picturesque feature, at least one avenue is closed to art, while a few very aged men mourn the loss of something endeared to them by many pleasant recollections.

As an offset to the admission that the tavern has outlived its usefulness, we ought in justice to establish its actual character and standing as it was in the past. We shall then be the better able to judge how it was looked upon both from a moral and material standpoint, and can follow it on through successive stages of good or evil fortune, as we would the life of an individual.

It fits our purpose admirably, and we are glad to find so eminent a scholar and divine as Dr. Dwight particularly explicit on this point. He tells us that, in his day, "The best old-fashioned New England inns were superior to any of the modern ones. There was less bustle, less parade, less appearance of doing a great deal to gratify your wishes, than at the reputable modern inns; but much more was actually done, and there was much more comfort and enjoyment. In a word, you found in these inns the pleasures of an excellent private house. If you were sick you were nursed and befriended as in your own family. To finish the story, your bills were always equitable, calculated on what you ought to pay, and not upon the scheme of getting the most which extortion might think proper to demand."

Now this testimonial to what the public inn was eighty odd years ago comes with authority from one who had visited every nook and corner of New England, was so keen and capable an observer, and is always a faithful recorder of what he saw. Dr. Dwight has frequently said that during his travels he often "found his warmest welcome at an inn."

In order to give the history of what may be called the Rise and Fall of the Tavern among us, we should go back to the earliest settlements, to the very beginning of things. In our own country the Pilgrim Fathers justly stand for the highest type of public and private morals. No less would be conceded them by the most unfriendly critic. Intemperance, extravagant living, or immorality found no harborage on Plymouth Rock, no matter under what disguise it might come. Because they were a virtuous and sober people, they had been filled with alarm for their own youth, lest the example set by the Hollanders should corrupt the stay and prop of their community. Indeed, Bradford tells us fairly that this was one determining cause of the removal into New England.

The institution of taverns among the Pilgrims followed close upon the settlement. Not only were they a recognized need, but, as one of the time-honored institutions of the old country, no one seems to have thought of denouncing them as an evil, or even as a necessary evil. Travellers and sojourners had to be provided for even in a wilderness. Therefore taverns were licensed as fast as new villages grew up. Upward of a dozen were licensed at one sitting of the General Court. The usual form of concession is that So-and-So is licensed to draw wine and beer for the public. The supervision was strict, but not more so than the spirit of a patriarchal community, founded on morals, would seem to require; but there were no such attempts to cover up the true character of the tavern as we have seen practised in the cities of this Commonwealth for the purpose of evading the strict letter of the law; and the law then made itself respected. An innkeeper was not then looked upon as a person who was pursuing a disgraceful or immoral calling,--a sort of outcast, as it were,--but, while strictly held amenable to the law, he was actually taken under its protection. For instance, he was fined for selling any one person an immoderate quantity of liquor, and he was also liable to a fine if he refused to sell the quantity allowed to be drank on the premises, though no record is found of a prosecution under this singular statutory provision; still, for some time, this regulation was continued in force as the only logical way of dealing with the liquor question, as it then presented itself.

When the law also prohibited a citizen from entertaining a stranger in his own house, unless he gave bonds for his guest's good behavior, the tavern occupied a place between the community and the outside world not wholly unlike that of a moral quarantine. The town constable could keep a watchful eye upon all suspicious characters with greater ease when they were under one roof. Then it was his business to know everybody's, so that any show of mystery about it would have settled, definitely, the stranger's status, as being no better than he should be. "Mind your own business," is a maxim hardly yet domesticated in New England, outside of our cities, or likely to become suddenly popular in our rural communities, where, in those good old days we are talking about, a public official was always a public inquisitor, as well as news bearer from house to house.

On their part, the Puritan Fathers seem to have taken the tavern under strict guardianship from the very first. In 1634, when the price of labor and everything else was regulated, sixpence was the legal charge for a meal, and a penny for an ale quart of beer, at an inn, and the landlord was liable to ten shillings fine if a greater charge was made. Josselyn, who was in New England at a very early day, remarks, that, "At the tap-houses of Boston I have had an ale quart of cider, spiced and sweetened with sugar, for a groat." So the fact that the law once actually prescribed how much should be paid for a morning dram may be set down among the curiosities of colonial legislation.

No later than the year 1647 the number of applicants for licenses to keep taverns had so much increased that the following act was passed by our General Court for its own relief: "It is ordered by the authority of this court, that henceforth all such as are to keep houses of common entertainment, and to retail wine, beer, etc., shall be licensed at the county courts of the shire where they live, or the Court of Assistants, so as this court may not be thereby hindered in their more weighty affairs."

A noticeable thing about this particular bill is, that when it went down for concurrence the word "deputies" was erased and "house" substituted by the speaker in its stead, thus showing that the newly born popular body had begun to assert itself as the only true representative chamber, and meant to show the more aristocratic branch that the sovereign people had spoken at last.

By the time Philip's war had broken out, in 1675, taverns had become so numerous that Cotton Mather has said that every other house in Boston was one. Indeed, the calamity of the war itself was attributed to the number of tippling-houses in the colony. At any rate this was one of the alleged sins which, in the opinion of Mather, had called down upon the colony the frown of Providence. A century later, Governor Pownall repeated Mather's statement. So it is quite evident that the increase of taverns, both good and bad, had kept pace with the growth of the country.

It is certain that, at the time of which we are speaking, some of the old laws affecting the drinking habits of society were openly disregarded. Drinking healths, for instance, though under the ban of the law, was still practised in Cotton Mather's day by those who met at the social board. We find him defending it as a common form of politeness, and not the invocation of Heaven it had once been in the days of chivalry. Drinking at funerals, weddings, church-raisings, and even at ordinations, was a thing everywhere sanctioned by custom. The person who should have refused to furnish liquor on such an occasion would have been the subject of remarks not at all complimentary to his motives.

It seems curious enough to find that the use of tobacco was looked upon by the fathers of the colony as far more sinful, hurtful, and degrading than indulgence in intoxicating liquors. Indeed, in most of the New England settlements, not only the use but the planting of tobacco was strictly forbidden. Those who had a mind to solace themselves with the interdicted weed could do so only in the most private manner. The language of the law is, "Nor shall any take tobacco in any wine or common victual house, except in a private room there, so as the master of said house nor any guest there shall take offence thereat; which, if any do, then such person shall forbear upon pain of two shillings sixpence for every such offence."

It is found on record that two innocent Dutchmen, who went on a visit to Harvard College,--when that venerable institution was much younger than it is to-day,--were so nearly choked with the fumes of tobacco-smoke, on first going in, that one said to the other, "This is certainly a tavern."

It is also curious to note that, in spite of the steady growth of the smoking habit among all classes of people, public opinion continued to uphold the laws directed to its suppression, though, from our stand-point of to-day, these do seem uncommonly severe. And this state of things existed down to so late a day that men are now living who have been asked to plead "guilty or not guilty," at the bar of a police court, for smoking in the streets of Boston. A dawning sense of the ridiculous, it is presumed, led at last to the discontinuance of arrests for this cause; but for some time longer officers were in the habit of inviting detected smokers to show respect for the memory of a defunct statute of the Commonwealth, by throwing their cigars into the gutter.

Turning to practical considerations, we shall find the tavern holding an important relation to its locality. In the first place, it being so nearly coeval with the laying out of villages, the tavern quickly became the one known landmark for its particular neighborhood. For instance, in Boston alone, the names Seven Star Lane, Orange Tree Lane, Red Lion Lane, Black Horse Lane, Sun Court, Cross Street, Bull Lane, not to mention others that now have so outlandish a sound to sensitive ears, were all derived from taverns. We risk little in saying that a Bostonian in London would think the great metropolis strangely altered for the worse should he find such hallowed names as Charing Cross, Bishopsgate, or Temple Bar replaced by those of some wealthy Smith, Brown, or Robinson; yet he looks on, while the same sort of vandalism is constantly going on at home, with hardly a murmur of disapproval, so differently does the same thing look from different points of view.

As further fixing the topographical character of taverns, it may be stated that in the old almanacs distances are always computed between the inns, instead of from town to town, as the practice now is.

Of course such topographical distinctions as we have pointed out began at a time when there were few public buildings; but the idea almost amounts to an instinct, because even now it is a common habit with every one to first direct the inquiring stranger to some prominent landmark. As such, tavern-signs were soon known and noted by all travellers.


Then again, tavern-titles are, in most cases, traced back to the old country. Love for the old home and its associations made the colonist like to take his mug of ale under the same sign that he had patronized when in England. It was a never-failing reminiscence to him. And innkeepers knew how to appeal to this feeling. Hence the Red Lion and the Lamb, the St. George and the Green Dragon, the Black, White, and Red Horse, the Sun, Seven Stars, and Globe, were each and all so many reminiscences of Old London. In their way they denote the same sort of tie that is perpetuated by the Bostons, Portsmouths, Falmouths, and other names of English origin.