Books  
comments_image Comments

America's "Founding Fathers" Detested the Paradise of Delightful Debauchery and Freedom That Was 18th Century America

There was a lot of fun to be had in early America, before the prudish patrician types did everything they could to stamp it out.

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share
 
 
 

This culture enlarged the freedom of everyone, but of blacks especially. In 1732 Philadelphia’s common council noted with alarm “the frequent and tumultuous Meetings of the Negro Slaves, especially on Sundays.” The lawmakers called for an ordinance to restrain them but never passed one. In the 1740s, the city’s governors heard several complaints about “great numbers of Negroes” drinking and carousing in public, but, according to the historian Jessica Kross, “In the end the common council seems to have taken no action about slave drinking.” A 1744 grand jury chaired by Benjamin Franklin estimated that one out of ten houses in Philadelphia “sell strong drink,” that most were “nurseries of vice and debauchery,” and because of the intense competition for customers, were in general “under greater temptation to entertain apprentices, servants, and even Negroes.”

Lower-class taverns were the first racially integrated public spaces in America. Black, white, and brown Americans came together through mutual desire centuries before the federal government brought them together by force. Although the law in all the colonies barred blacks from public houses, the law was often ignored by tavern keepers, white patrons, and by free blacks and even slaves. Early court records tell of drinking establishments across the colonies that disregarded the color line. Typical was a Burlington, New Jersey, grand jury’s charge in 1707 that a laborer named William Cale kept a “common house of drinking . . . and there received harbored and supported diverse vagabond and other idle and suspected persons of evil conversation as well as diverse servants and Negroes of the inhabitants of the town.” Occasional attacks by law enforcers did little to stem the inflow of various colors into American taverns. Again, the less “respectable” a public house was, the more likely it was to facilitate the mixing of races. "is was most notable inside the dark drinking houses of New York City. Here, as throughout American history, the lowest “scum” were interracial pioneers. “All colonies prosecuted those who kept disorderly houses, but the infraction included a range of activities from selling liquor without a license to operating a brothel,” writes Salinger. “New York’s version of the practice was unique; it was synonymous with multiracialness.” The freedom in such places at times spilled into the streets and terrified the guardians of social order.

John Hughson was an illiterate, thieving piece of trash and one of the unknown heroes of American liberty. Hughson’s tavern, near the site of what became the World Trade Center, was filthy, ramshackle, and nightly filled with the bottom of human life in colonial New York City. Like almost all such places, it was a place where freedom and desire brought together “whorish” women, “brutish” immigrants, and shiftless, sensual slaves.

Neighbors complained about the lowlifes the tavern brought to their street, as well as the noise from raucous singing, shouting, cursing, jesting, drumming, fiddling, and dancing. According to court records, Hughson’s tavern was one of many businesses that gave free and enslaved blacks a place “to resort, and be entertained privately (in defiance of the law) at all hours.” According to one judge, the greatest crime committed by these slingers of drink and purveyors of commercial sex “was not only of making Negro slaves their equals, but even their superiors, by waiting upon, keeping with, and entertaining them with meat, drink, and lodging.” On holidays and Sundays, Hughson served feasts where the rabble acted like kings. “They sat all round the table, and had a goose, a quarter of mutton, a fowl, and two loaves of bread,” said a witness. “Hughson took a flask of rum out of a case and set it on the table, and two bowls of punch were made; some drink drams; a cloth was laid.”

 
See more stories tagged with: