The landlord of colonial days may not have been the greatest man in town, but he was certainly the best known, often the most popular, and ever the most picturesque and cheerful figure. Travelers often did not fail to note him and his virtues in their accounts of their sojourns. In 1686 a gossiping London bookseller and author named John Dunton made a cheerful visit to Boston. He paid tribute to colonial landlords in his story of colonial life. He describes George Monk, the landlord of the Blue Anchor of Boston, thusly:
This picture of an old-time publican seems more suited to English atmosphere than to the stern air of New England Puritanism.
Grave and respectable citizens were chosen to keep the early ordinaries and sell spirituous liquors. Among the first houses of "intertainment" was one at Cambridge, Massachusetts, kept by a deacon of the church, afterward Steward of Harvard College. In that town, the first license to sell wine and strong water was to Nicholas Danforth, a selectman, and Representative to the General Court. In the Plymouth Colony, William Collier and Constant Southworth, one of the honored Deputies, sold wine to their neighbors.
Dwight noted that Englishmen often laughed at the fact that inns in New England were kept by men of consequence. He states:
Lieutenant Francis Hall, traveling through America in 1817, wrote:
An English traveler who visited this country shortly after the Revolution speaks in no uncertain terms of "the uncomplying temper of the landlords of the country inns in America." Another adds this testimony:
Brissot comprehended the reason for this appearance of independence. He wrote in 1788:
Captain Basil Hall, a much-quoted English traveler who came to America in 1827, designated a Salem landlord as the person who most pleased him in his extended visit. Sad to say he gives neither the name of the tavern nor the host who was "so devoid of prejudice, so willing to take all matters on their favorable side, so well informed about every-thing in his own and other countries, so ready to impart his knowledge to others; had such mirthfulness of fancy, such genuine heartiness of good-humor..."
In 1828 a series of very instructive and entertaining letters on the United States was published under the title, Notions of the Americans. They are accredited to James Fenimore Cooper, and were addressed to various foreigners of distinction. The travels took place in 1824, at the same time as the visit of Lafayette, and frequently in his company. Naturally, inns, hotels, and modes of travel receive much attention.
President John Adams and Dr. Benjamin Franklin often mused on the personalities of tavern- and inn-keeping landlords. The landlord often was a man of position -- a politician, or public officer, such as a selectman, road commissioner, tax assessor, constable, or moderator -- and even on occasion, he may have performed all of these duties at the same time. Likewise, they were usually men of cheer, for a gloomy landlord made customers disappear like flowers before a frost. And these cherry hosts were fond of practical jokes.
In the year 1704 a Boston widow named Sarah Kemble Knight journeyed by land on horseback from Boston to New York, and returned a few months later. She kept a journal of her trip [The Journal of Madam Knight, originally published by Theodore Dwight, New York, 1825]. She was a shrewd woman with a sharp eye and even sharper tongue, so her record is very interesting. She stopped at the various hostelries on the route, some of which were well-established taverns, and others miserable makeshifts. She includes some glimpse of rather rude fare. She describes one stopping-place:
At another place she complained that the dinner had been boiled in the dye-kettle, that the black slaves ate at the table with their master, "and into the dish goes the black hoof as freely as the white hand ..."
At Rye, New York, she lodged at an ordinary kept by a Frenchman. Later, she spent one night at Matthias Sendion Inn at Norwalk, CT, on her way back to Boston from New York. Although no names were mentioned, his tavern was the only one next to the meeting house. She wrote an uncomplimentary description of the inn, the host, and the town in general:
(Presumably the "Grandfather" in the above passage is a euphemism for the Devil. The "church and tavern being next neighbors" had more to do with desire of the church leaders to keep a close watch on activities in the tavern; and they especially wanted to ensure that no one kept to the tavern during meeting!)
Manners were rude enough at many country taverns until well into the 18th Century. There could be no putting-on of airs, no exclusiveness. All travelers sat at the same table. Many of the rooms were double-bedded, and four who were strangers to each other often slept in each other's company.
An English officer wrote of this custom in America:
After one was asleep, a landlord might enter, candle in hand, to escort to your side a stranger, who calmly shared the bed until morning. Anyone who objected to a stranger as a bedfellow might be regarded as obnoxious and unreasonably fastidious. Even at remote taverns, the taverner's family had exclusive apartments, while in crowded inns, it was never even suggested to him that other travelers should share his quarters.