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Rum Punch and Revolution

Taverngoing and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia

By Peter Thompson

Publication Year: 1999

'Twas Honest old Noah first planted the Vine
And mended his morals by drinking its Wine.
—from a drinking song by Benjamin Franklin

There were, Peter Thompson notes, some one hundred and fifty synonyms for inebriation in common use in colonial Philadelphia and, on the eve of the Revolution, just as many licensed drinking establishments. Clearly, eighteenth-century Philadelphians were drawn to the tavern. In addition to the obvious lure of the liquor, taverns offered overnight accommodations, meals, and stabling for visitors. They also served as places to gossip, gamble, find work, make trades, and gather news.

In Rum Punch and Revolution, Thompson shows how the public houses provided a setting in which Philadelphians from all walks of life revealed their characters and ideas as nowhere else. He takes the reader into the cramped confines of the colonial bar room, describing the friendships, misunderstandings and conflicts which were generated among the city's drinkers and investigates the profitability of running a tavern in a city which, until independence, set maximum prices on the cost of drinks and services in its public houses.

Taverngoing, Thompson writes, fostered a sense of citizenship that influenced political debate in colonial Philadelphia and became an issue in the city's revolution. Opinionated and profoundly undeferential, taverngoers did more than drink; they forced their political leaders to consider whether and how public opinion could be represented in the counsels of a newly independent nation.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. 1-20

Colonial Philadelphians, like other Americans of the time, regarded habitual drinking as sinful but the moderate consumption of beer, cider, rum, and wine as healthful and unremarkable.' Of course, definitions of "moderate" consumption varied. Ministers, magistrates, and moralists regarded some forms of drinking, and some varieties of drink, as pernicious. Nevertheless,...

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1. "For Strangers and Workmen": The Origins and Development of Philadelphia's Tavern Trade

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pp. 21-51

As HE CONSIDERED THE PLACE of taverns in the development of his colony, William Penn was ever mindful of the biblical injunction "righteousness exalts a nation but sin is the shame of any people."1 In an early draft of Pennsylvania's "Fundamental Constitutions," Penn reasoned that "virtue and industry"...

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2. "Contrived for Entertainment": Running a Tavern in Colonial Philadelphia

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pp. 52-74

THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO CONDUCTED Philadelphia's tavern trade came from various backgrounds, and each brought different resources to the trade. Some licensees had previous business experience, whereas others had none. Some publicans were cushioned by personal wealth from the ruinous consequences of business mistakes, while others were vulnerable to the slightest constriction...

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3."Company Divided into Committees": Taverngoing in Colonial Philadelphia

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pp. 75-110

FROM THE FOUNDING OF PHILADELPHIA until the eve of the Revolution, diverse clienteles shared the city's public houses. During this period, rich male citizens, the city's aspiring patriciate and current judicature, used taverns. Their minions and personal secretaries-the men whose world Jacob Hiltzheimer recorded...

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4. "Of Great Presumption": Public Houses, Public Culture, and the Political Life of Colonial Philadelphia

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pp. 111-144

IN 1689 WILLIAM PENN WROTE TO THE provincial council of his fledging colony asking, "Whatever you do, I desire, beseech and charge you to avoid factions and parties, whisperings and reportings and all animosities, that putting your shoulder...

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5. "Councils of State": Philadelphia's Taverns and the American Revolution

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pp. 145-181

IN THE FINAL THIRD OF THE EIGHTEENTH century, Philadelphians of all ranks and backgrounds grew disillusioned with the mixed company previously typical of their city's taverns. Although taverngoing retained its popularity, and although Philadelphians continued to discern and contest social and...

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Epilogue: "All the Apparatus of Eastern Fable"

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pp. 182-204

ON JULY 15, 1782, THE CHEVALIER de la Luzerne, France's minister to America, staged a grand fete at his Philadelphia residence. The event celebrated the dauphin's birthday and, more generally, Franco-American friendship on the eve of peace. The minister invited eleven hundred guests. Since no...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 205-206


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pp. 207-248

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 249-256

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pp. 257-258

This project's journey to published manuscript could not have been accomplished without the help of numerous individuals and two institutions. While a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, and thereafter, I have luxuriated in....

Index of Tavernkeepers, Petitioners for Tavern Licenses, and Public Houses

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pp. 259-260

General Index

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pp. 261-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780812204285
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812216646

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 1999

Series Title: Early American Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783 -- Social aspects.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Political culture -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 18th century.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Taverns (Inns) -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- History -- 18th century.
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