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Tavern Tales: An Election Entertainment

William Hogarth, An Election Entertainment

This week’s #TavernTales post uses William Hogarth’s print, An Election Entertainment, to explore the connection between taverns and elections.

Hogarth created a series of four paintings in 1754-1755 that satirized a particularly notable election in Oxfordshire at that time. The first two paintings use taverns as their setting because they were central to many aspects of civic life.

This particular painting was chosen because it shows the Whig’s hosting a party inside a tavern to influence voters. Outside the tavern is a group of Tory’s who are going through the town to try to get voters for their side. Here in the Chesapeake, the tradition of using taverns, and alcohol, to acquire voter support occurred throughout the colonial period.

A case in point is the 1758 Frederick County House of Burgess election in Virginia. One of the candidates for that election gave potential voters 47 gallons of beer, 35 gallons of wine, 2 gallons of cider, 3 ½ pints of brandy, and 70 gallons of rum punch. That candidate won 309 out of 370 votes. His name? George Washington.

Here on the South River we have a Maryland Gazette item from October 1768 that references this practice of candidates hosting gatherings of potential voters. In the advertisement, Ann Tilley (a local tavern keeper), is asking for some debts to be paid from an election party or two. The advertisement says that “the gentlemen who stood at [the last] election have refused to pay me.” It seems that because the candidates were not settling their debts, Ann needed to do a public announcement to get her debts paid in other ways.

This painting also has a few other interesting items that connect to other social things occurring in the 1750s. One to point out is the black sign in the foreground under the man’s foot. It says “Give us our Eleven Days.” This is in reference to September 1752 when Great Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (which we still use today). In that month people went to bed on September 2nd and woke up on September 14th. Hence the eleven missing days.

Image used for this post is from the Web Gallery of Art:

Original painting is at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.


Want to learn more Tavern Tales? Come to Drinks with the Director!

On Saturday, July 4 from 12:30 - 2:30pm, executive director Rod Cofield will play bartender, serving up punch and cider while sharing the important role of taverns in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enjoy a relaxed afternoon of drinks and conversation on taverns, archaeology, and early America. Learn more and sign up to participate.

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