Highlights from the Collection: Tavern Artifacts

Archaeologists have excavated a number of tavern sites in Alexandria, including Arell's Tavern, McKnight's Tavern, and Gadsby's Tavern.

Page updated on Mar 8, 2020 at 10:30 AM

Tavern Artifacts

These artifacts were discovered on Market Square, in brick-lined shafts associated with Arell’s Tavern. Richard Arell’s Tavern was built by 1762. While largely a working-man’s tavern, Arell’s still saw illustrious visitors. George Washington’s diaries show that he dined at Arell’s frequently between 1764 and 1774. On July 5, 1774, George Washington, George Mason and others met at Arell’s to develop the Fairfax Resolves, the precursor of the Bill of Rights.

The tavern was situated in an alley on the Market Square. There were once a lot of buildings on this block, surrounding an open market building with a shed roof. A building thought to be Arell’s was demolished in the 1960s in the wake of urban renewal, despite the furor of local preservation activists. Several privies associated with the tavern were excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1960s, and the artifacts are now in the collection of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum.

Punch Bowl Creamware punch bowl

Punch bowl, creamware with painted decoration. English, ca. 1765-1810. Catalogue number AX94 MB-D-67.1796.

The saying on the bottom of this punch bowl reads, “Thus Happy with My Bowl & Friend May I in Pleasure Every Evening Spend,” a wonderful sentiment for a tavern.

Punch might be served hot or cold, and might include rum or brandy, citrus juice, fortified wines, refined loaf or brown sugar and water. It could be served in large punch bowls like this one, and ladled into glasses, or sometimes it was sipped from smaller punch bowls that were passed around. Fifty punch bowls of various sizes were found at Arell’s Tavern, along with numerous tankards and wine glasses.

Tea Bowl Pearlware tea bowl

Pearlware tea bowl, painted decoration. English, ca. 1795-1805. Catalogue number AX94 MB-B 67.1548.

The yellow border on this tea bowl (tea cup without handles) is similar to that found on many of the tea wares in the collection of the Alexandria Archaeology Museum. It is also similar to wasters (breakage from manufacturing) recovered in 2006 by Don Carpentier, a researcher and potter at Eastfield Village, New York, from a deposit dated to ca. 1795-1805 in the English pottery town of Burslem. The yellow borders have not been found in waster dumps at other Staffordshire potteries.

At taverns, tea was served to individual travelers or groups of friends in the afternoon (after dinner, which was served at our lunch-time). In the 19th century, tavern keepers also advertised tea parties, to which ladies were invited. These took place in late afternoon or early evening and generally included dancing. Significantly more tea wares are found at tavern sites than at private houses. Archaeologists found 36 tea bowls, 83 saucers and 24 tea pots at the Arell’s Tavern site.

By the late 18th century, tea drinking was common among all the social classes, and most people continued to indulge in the late colonial period despite the tea tax. After the Boston Tea Party, some people drank coffee or chocolate instead of tea for the duration of the war, either because of patriotism or because tea was expensive and kept locked up in tea chests. After the Revolutionary War, tea was again a mainstream drink. Alexandria tavern sites have some coffee cups, and even one chocolate cup, but teacups are much more prevalent. Because of the China trade, they were drinking Chinese teas – souchong, hyson and bohea in particular.

Clay pipesClay pipes

Clay pipes, English or Dutch, ca. 1760-1820. Catalogue number AX94 MB-B.

Smoking and drinking went together even in the 18th century. A lot of clay pipes were found at Arell’s tavern, all plain, of a style common from 1720-1820. These pipes had very long fragile stems, and broke easily. Users may have broken off the ends if they became clogged. Although the pipes may have been passed around a group of people, the tips were not broken off for hygiene as is sometimes said – hygiene and germs were not well-known concepts in the 18th century.

Whiskey Flask Glass whiskey flask

Glass whiskey flask. Probably English, ca. 1760-1820. Catalogue number AX94 MB-B 67.1651.

This small decorative glass whiskey flask was made in a part-size pattern mold. This means that the glass was blown into a small one-piece metal mold with a pattern on the inside. The glass, on a blowpipe, was then pulled out of the mold, heated again, and blown and expanded to create the shape and the indistinct pattern.