Tavern Tales: Sarah Kemble Knight


Painting is by Adriaen Ostade Feasting Peasants in a Tavern, 1673


The #TavernTales posts for the next couple of weeks will focus on the travels of Sarah Kemble Knight. Between late 1704 and early 1705 she traveled, on her own, from the Boston area to New York and back. Her journal is one of the earliest primary sources from a traveler describing taverns in the colonies. Though her journey took place in New England, the descriptions of the taverns there, and the behavior she encountered, are pretty much the same for Chesapeake taverns at that time.

Below is a description by Ms. Knight of her stay at a tavern on October 3, 1704. She is kept awake by the loud, drunken debate of some locals trying to convince each other why the region was named Naragansett.

“But I could get no sleep, because of the Clamor of some the of [townsmen] in the next Room, Who were entered into a strong debate concerning the name of their [region], (viz.) Narraganset. One said it was named so by the Indians, because there grew a Brier there, of a prodigious Highth and bigness, the like hardly ever known, called by the Indians Narragansett…. His Antagonist Replyed no–It was from a Spring it had its name, which he well knew where it was, which was extreme cold in summer, and as Hott as could be imagined in the winter, which was much resorted too by the natives, and by them called Narragansett, (Hott and Cold,) and that was the originall of their places name–with a thousand Impertinances not worth notice, wch He utter'd with such a Roreing voice and Thundering blows with the fist of wickedness on the Table, that it peirced my very head….”

Eventually the men finished their debate and left to go home.

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