During the early nineteenth century, travelers in the Upper Tar River region sought shelter at night in taverns of varying quality. Many of these establishments also served the local population, offering food, spirits, and the opportunity to socialize. Rural taverns often were housed in the owner’s one- or two-room log or frame house, but those in towns usually offered more sophisticated accommodations.
Towns such as Louisburg, Warrenton, and Williamsboro (in present-day Vance County) were located on roads leading from Richmond and Petersburg to points south. Taverns in each of these communities offered rest for weary travelers, and their stables provided food, water, and shelter for horses. Owners were required to pay for a license to sell alcoholic beverages, and these licenses became costlier and more restrictive during the antebellum period.
Green Hill operated a large tavern in Louisburg, a village of perhaps twenty houses, in the early years of the nineteenth century. The property was comprised of nine town lots bounded by Main Street, Franklin Street, and Back Street (now Church Street). Jonathan Mason, a lawyer and former United States senator from Boston, stayed in this tavern in 1804. He found the accommodations less satisfactory than those of Johnston’s tavern in Warrenton.
In 1818 Hill sold the property to Robert H. Wynne and Smith Patterson for $10,000, a considerable sum at that time. The partners operated the tavern under the name of Wynne and Patterson. Within two years, however, the proprietors had incurred so much debt that they lost the property. In 1820 John D. Hawkins acquired the tavern and its contents, which included 25 beds and furniture, a sideboard and its contents, 100 “setting chairs,” a secretary containing books, 24 silver teaspoons, 12 silver table spoons, 2 sets of tea china, a “House Clock,” a bureau, 4 dining room tables with “circular ends,” 48 plates, 2 large looking glasses, 3 floor carpets, 6 pairs of brass candlesticks, shovels and tongs, and additional household and kitchen furniture.
Two years later, an ad placed in the Raleigh Register, and North-Carolina Gazette by Philemon Hawkins boasted that his Swan Tavern, formerly operated by Wynne and Patterson, featured numerous bedrooms that were “airy and well provided with every article of furniture necessary to afford comfort.” Hawkins promised that “his Bar will always be supplied with Ice and the choicest liquors, and his Table with the best the country will afford.” Hawkins may have operated the tavern for many years, as he was listed in the 1850 census as a hotel keeper.
The State Archives in Raleigh has preserved a fascinating tavern account book maintained in Louisburg between 1834 and 1844 by Young Patterson, who served for a number of years as Franklin County’s clerk of court. The entries reveal that local citizens enjoyed meals and drinks at the tavern and that travelers and their horses lodged there, sometimes for extended periods of time. On April 14, 1834, Joseph Macklin paid Patterson $1.13 for stabling his horse and for lodging, supper, and breakfast for himself. In May of the same year, Patterson charged Hugh Crichton $81.60 for boarding his family and servant for three months and twelve days. On July 4, 1834, William P. Williams and other citizens of Louisburg paid a dollar for a celebratory meal at the tavern. The location of this business is unknown.
North of Louisburg, in Williamsboro, the Grove Tavern was offered for sale in 1824, following the death of its owner, Stephen Sneed, Sr. Sneed’s executors described the complex in some detail: “It consists of a long range of two story Buildings, containing an elegant Ball-room, a very good Cellar, and thirteen other apartments, most of them with fire places, a back House, containing a good Dining-room, Lodging-room and Kitchen; a Smoke-house, Corn-house and an excellent Stable. The Garden is in good order, and the whole establishment is very convenient to one of the very best Springs known in the country.”
Given the range in quality of accommodations available to travelers at this time, they could not be assured of spending an evening at such an elegant establishment.
Published in The Franklin Times on September 29, 2016.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wishes to credit information found in George-Anne Willard (ed.), The Franklin County Sketchbook (1982), Guion Griffis Johnson, Ante-Bellum North Carolina: A Social History (1937), and Michael R. Hill, “Historical Research Report: The Person Place of Louisburg, North Carolina” (1980). Newspaper advertisements were located through the Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers database of Gale Cengage Learning.