Fayette County History & Genealogy

History of Fayette County

From R. S. Dills' History of Fayette County


The granting of licenses for keeping tavern was in accordance with a territorial law passed by the first general assembly of the northwest territory, and approved December 6, 1800.

By this law no person was permitted to keep any tavern or public house of entertainment in any town, county, or place within the limits of the territory, unless first recommended by twelve respectable freeholders of the county in which such house was to be kept. All persons, except tavern or inn keepers, were forbidden under severe penalties to sell any person alcoholic drinks in small quantities, and tavern keepers, under like severe penalties, were required not knowingly to suffer any disorders, drunkenness, rioting, betting or gaming for money. They were also required to furnish good entertainment for man and beast, under penalty of five dollars for the first offense, and eight dollars for each succeeding offense.

After nearly four score years have passed away, and the primitive taverns and the primitive men have disappeared with the gliding years, the modern grumbler at some slight annoyance in a firstclass hotel of the present day, may wonder what was understood by "good entertainment" in those early times, when the entire family, landlord, landlady and children, judges and attorneys of the court, servants and travellers, cats and dogs, were all quartered for lodging into one sleeping room, and that, too, perhaps the dining and sitting room, parlor and kitchen. Under this law licenses were given by authority of what was in early days called a "court in course," according to an act of assembly, passed April 16, 1803, which made it the duty of the associate judges to hold a court for the transaction of county business on the next judicial day after the adjournment of the court of common pleas. This court acted in pretty much the same capacity as the present body of county commissioners.

The loss of the records renders it uncertain who was the first to whom license was granted. From an old volume of court records we learn that these licenses were as late as 1852 granted by the court of common pleas. It is extremely doubtful, therefore, if a "court in course" was ever held in this county.

In the beginning of the year 1817, on motion to the common pleas court, one William Vaughan was granted a license to keep tavern at his house in Madison Township, one year, on complying with the law. Tavern, in those early days, was a very comprehensive term, and must have been not much unlike Tam O'Shanter's stopping place:—

"When chapman billies leave the street
And drouthy neibors neibors meet,
As market days are wearin' late
And folk begin to tak the gate
While we sit bousing at the nappy
And gettin' fou and unco happy,
— Ae market night
They had got planted unco right
Fast by an ingle bleezing finely
Wi reaming swats that drank divinely."

It is said that the first tavern in this county was kept in 1810 by William Harrison, on the Parin lot, north of the court house, in an old cabin which is still standing, occupied at present by — Parvin. Another was kept in the Vandeman corner by John Torbin, in 1810 or 1812; Norman Jones, 1811 and 1812; Evans and sons on Court and Fayette in about 1816.

December 18, 1817, John Evans and Nicholas Neely received licenses to keep tavern in Washington. In the following April, William Rankin was allowed the same privilege at his residence in Paint Township. Also Joseph Parrott and Matthew Gillespie in the same township, and in September, Sanford Corder, John Evans and Aaron Johnson started the same business in Union Township. Immediately following this, Aaron Johnson was arrested for gambling, but plead not guilty, which rather casts a damaging shadow upon the morality of these ancient institutions. Some department, however, must have been remunerative, for in October 11, 1819, we find John Oliver paying twelve dollars for the privilege of keeping tavern. But as travel increased and improvements advanced, these unique places of entertainment disappeared and have been superceded by the more commodious modern structures in which splendid table furniture takes the place of the substantial pioneer food.

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