Who Went to Taverns?


People traveling from one town to another had to be able to stop along the way for something to eat and drink, and to find a place to spend the night. Taverns were located in seaports, where ferries crossed rivers, and along main roads. Taverns along the road were usually spaced about ten miles apart.

Local Farmers and Other Workmen

Men who worked near a tavern would gather there for food and drink, to visit with friends, and to catch up on the news. Men enjoyed playing games such as checkers, chess, and darts. People often discussed politics or other important events; sometimes there were arguments. The local post office was often located at the tavern, so people would stop there for their mail and to hear the latest gossip.


Church was an all-day affair in New England, well into the nineteenth century. If families had traveled from the countryside to get to church, they would stay in town during the break between morning and afternoon services. The tavern provided a place to warm up (churches were usually not heated) and to enjoy a mid-day meal.

Social Gatherings

Some taverns were large enough to have a ballroom on the second or third floor; social events with music and dancing would take place there. Traveling entertainers, such as actors and magicians, would stop at taverns to put on shows. Dancing teachers might arrange to hold lessons there, attracting young people from the town and the surrounding countryside. In the winter, sleighing parties would stop at the tavern to have a hot drink and warm themselves by the fire.


If a traveler arrived on horseback, or in a cart pulled by horses or oxen, these animals would also need food, water, and a place to sleep. It was important for taverns to have stables that could provide for the needs of the animals.

A Closer Look at the Painting

What types of visitors do you see at this tavern? Why do you think they are here? What animals are visiting the tavern? Are all the animals visiting, or do they live here?