GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Ringstaff
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Public Vendue … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern.”
This advertisement from the New-Hampshire Gazette on April 14, 1769, sparked my interest because of what was being sold and where the sale took place: “TO BE SOLD … at Capt. Jacob Tilton’s Tavern … SUNDRY HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE.” The location of this “Public Vendue” or auction, Tilton’s Tavern, seemed unusual. How often does a bar have an auction for household furniture? In the twenty-first century when a bar holds some type of event it is often a car or motorcycle show, but not a furniture auction. According to Leigh Zepernick, a collections intern at the Old State House in Boston, “It is difficult to overstate the importance of taverns in 18th century life. In addition to providing food, drink, and lodging, they were venues for town meetings, legal proceedings, and business transactions. Taverns were a place to debate politics, play games such as cards or dice, and catch up with the latest news and gossip. They were the hub of social life, and in Boston in particular, they were ubiquitous. In 1765, there was one tavern for every 79 adult men.”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
As Matt notes, a lot more than eating and drinking took place at taverns in eighteenth-century America. Two decades after the New-Hampshire Gazette ran the advertisement about an auction at Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth, Edward Moyston distributed a trade card for the City Tavern in Philadelphia. His marketing made it clear that the City Tavern was a place for conducting business. Indeed, the “CITY-TAVERN” appeared in much smaller font than the headline for the trade card that announced the “Merchants’ Coffee-House & Place of Exchange” could be found at the tavern. Moyston had set aside the “two Front Rooms,” noting that they had been “specially appropriated to these purposes” due to a subscription agreement with “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen.” Although Moyston also marketed the rest of his establishment as “a TAVERN and HOTEL: Where Gentlemen and the Families are accommodated, as usual, with the most superior Liquors … and every article for the Table is served up with elegance,” he positioned the City Tavern as a place to conduct business. To that end, he likely supplied newspapers published in Philadelphia and other cities for his patrons so they could stay informed of politics and commerce. Those “Merchants, Captains of Vessels, and other Gentlemen” certainly also shared news and gossip with each other in conversations that took place as they cast up accounts and pursued new transactions.
Tilton’s Tavern in Portsmouth may not have been as grand as the City Tavern in Philadelphia (which has been reconstructed and serves visitors today), but it served a similar purpose. As the advertisement Matt selected demonstrates, it was a gathering place familiar to readers of the New-Hampshire Gazette and other members of the community. Holding an auction at Tilton’s Tavern was business as usual in the eighteenth century, one of the many activities that took place at an establishment where people gathered to exchange information and goods in addition to consuming food and beverages. Its convenience and central location likely made it a preferred venue compared to the home of the patron who intended to auction furniture and housewares.