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Man Full of Trouble Tavern

"Now is the time for drinking" (Horace)

Man Full of Trouble Tavern stands in the heart of historic Philadelphia — it is the only surviving tavern building from pre-Revolutionary Philadelphia. However, as of 1996, it is closed to the public. We take advantage of this space, therefore, to pay homage to the importance of taverns in those formative years of Philadelphia's youth.

The first commercial structure William Penn saw as he touched down in his new town of Philadelphia was the Blue anchor Inn, a tavern and hostel which was under construction in that year of 1682. The Blue Anchor was Philadelphia's first tavern. By the next year, 1683, there would already be six more.

Drinking establishments in Colonial Philadelphia, be they in the form of coffee houses, taverns, or unlicensed "tippling houses," were more than places to drink and dine. Taverns were where the community conducted business, got its news, argued politics, attended concerts and auctions, socialized, or just plain got polluted.

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In Philadelphia's early years there were no separate buildings which served as dance halls, theaters, or clubs — taverns, instead, provided all-purpose service. Until the Revolutionary Era, taverns and inns were the largest public buildings in Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin's "Junto," as they were called, was a group of civic-minded intellectuals, who initially met at the Indian King Tavern. The Philadelphia Dance Assembly danced the minuet at the City Tavern. The Marines trace their lineage back to Tun Tavern, a waterfront bar where many of the country's first leathernecks mustered in. The First Continental Congress first gathered in 1774 at the City Tavern and then chose to meet at the new Carpenters' Hall, the first large, non-tavern building available to large groups.

Considered upscale were the coffee houses, which sold wine and spirits in addition to coffee, and catered to a mercantile crowd — that era's equivalent of contemporary three-martini businessmen. The most famous of all, the London Coffee House, served as Philadelphia's de facto center for business in the mid 18th-century.

Larger and better taverns, such as the Indian King, were also licensed to sell wine and spirits, and often rented rooms. In these tony taverns, politicos, socialites, and the wealthy would not only drink, but dance, gossip, read newspapers from around the world, or, in the case of the City Tavern — discuss revolution.

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The hoi polloi hung out at tippling houses and not-so-fancy taverns. A tippling house was an unlicensed tavern providing strong drink and strong entertainment. Those who covered the waterfront — sailors, stevedores, and stewbums — were chiefly counted among the clientele.

The humbler taverns were licensed to dispense beer and cider only. One such tavern was the Man Full of Trouble built on the banks of the Little Dock Creek which has long since been filled in and lost to view. When the tavern opened, however, it was located in an area where shipwrights, dockhands, and cordwainers clustered — and patronized this inn.

Also patronizing the inn were sailors who dropped anchor for short stays in Philadelphia and who would likely head toward an establishment like the Man Full of Trouble Tavern. Located hard on the waterfront, the tavern offered a tar the promise of a warm beer, a warm meal, and a warm bed. The tavern had rooms for travelers in the second floor attic. Part of the reason the bed would be warm was that the men off the ships often slept four to a mattress.

Drinking and dining, smoking and joking, were done on the ground floor. The cellar, which contained the kitchen and was used for storage, was also where the maids and the hired men slept on cots — very 18th-century communal.

Over two centuries later, the Man Full of Trouble Tavern endures, but only having gone through many incarnations. After seeing life as B. Naylor's Hotel and ultimately as a wholesale chicken market, to name just a couple, the Man Full of Trouble, built in 1759, was refurbished starting in 1963, making it downtown Philadelphia's only pre-Revolutionary tavern to survive to the present era.

In 1966, a group of students from a historical sites archaeology class at Pennsylvania University looked for artifacts from the tavern's past, by sifting through the flotsam, jetsam, and ligan left beneath a brick drain in the Man Full of Trouble's cellar.

Numerous fragments of tobacco pipes and Delftware were found, in addition to coins, pieces of turtle shells, combs, shoe buckles, and toys. Surprisingly, they found a shortage of shards from broken glasses; however, the practice of the day would have it that drinks were poured into leather cups, pewter mugs, or wooden vessels, and rarely into glass. This gave the tavern's proprietor a better chance to break a profit, in an age when broken tumbler glass could economically break said proprietor.

By examining city records, it was found that the original building owner was one Michael Sisk and the original tavern-keeper who rented from him, a Joseph Beeks.

In 1773, James Alexander took over the running of the tavern — not the best time to try one's hand at saloon-keeping, as it turned out. Soon after his foray into running the "Man Full," Congress attempted to limit profits made at the expense of soldiers during the Revolutionary War by establishing price controls. This insult was followed by total injury: William Howe, general of the occupying British army in 1777, ordered all "public houses, taverns, etc.," closed. This he did to suppress vice and immorality.-

In fact, running a tavern was long subject to a host of regulations that would warm the heart of any modern bureaucrat more than a mite of madeira on a cold winter night might. Examples abound: Tippling on Sundays was subject to being fined as "an Heinous offense to God, and a reproach to the blessed name of Christ, and his holy Religion." Rum and brandy sales to Indians were prohibited. The advancing of excess credit was illegal. To the advantage of barflies, the watering down of booze was subject to fine. Any tavern-keeper found guilty of the disillusioning crime of dilution, had to pay treble the value of his offense, a moiety for the state and a moiety to the person discovering the deed.

Running a tippling house was even more dangerous — subject to fines and/or imprisonment. In 1714 alone, no less than 35 "true bills" were found on the books against unlicensed taverns (tippling houses).-

In 1796 Martha Smallwood bought the Man Full of Trouble. Women had long been players in the tavern-owning game. When publican Smallwood bought the "Man Full," a fifth of all the taverns, coffee houses, and tippling joints were managed by women. Looking into city records from a century earlier, historian John Watson found that licenses for taverns were "restricted to widows, and occasionally to decrepit [handicapped] men of good character."

It seems widow Smallwood, who inherited a Front Street tavern upon the death of her husband, attempted to introduce a bit of respectability to the "Man Full." An inventory of her belongings included her wardrobe — which proved her to be something of a fashion plate — containing 6 gowns, 9 frocks, 7 petticoats, 6 chemises, 10 pair of stockings, 20 handkerchiefs, a silk bonnet, a silk shawl, and two gold rings. The bar furniture consisted of 6 Windsor chairs, 2 room chairs, 3 old chairs, 14 rush-bottom chairs, an 8x5 bar, a mahogany card table, 3 painted pine tables, a large and small serving table, a 10-plate iron stove, a map, and 2 prints on the wall. Smallwood also had 6 china coffee cups and saucers, 11 saucers, 9 cups, 1 teapot of china, 3 bowls, 2 tumblers, 1 lot of crockery, 42 napkins, 7 tablespoons, 10 teaspoons, a soup spoon, a punch spoon, and a pair of sugar tongs. Sundry pots, pans, laundry equipment, fire equipment and pieces of old carpeting were found in the basement. Her estate was valued at $207.58. The proprietress with the fancy dress had also socked away $332.85 in cash. [source: "The Buried Past," see bibliography at bottom]

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Over the years, the "Man Full" changed owners several times. An 1864 photograph depicts the aforementioned B. Naylor's Hotel which specialized in oysters. By this time the building had added a lean-to which in the photograph was already leaning far too dangerously. A 1955 photograph, when the "Man Full" was a wholesale chicken outfit, shows a ramshackle building with missing windows and a roof that is badly pitched. The building was awkwardly wearing an iron awning, its poor fit reminding one of the tutus the dancing hippos wear in Disney's Fantasia. The time-worn structure leans on its neighbor the Paschall House for support, and the pair of buildings together look like two rickety buck teeth.

In the 1960s, Virginia Knauer, then a Philadelphia councilwoman, bought the Man Full of Tavern and the neighboring Paschall House in order to restore them. Knauer opened The Man Full of Tavern for public tours. Historian and walker extraordinaire, John Marion, found the space to be "low-ceilinged and the tavern room itself, inviting." Of particular interest to Marion, was an "Honesty Box" — a box holding pipe tobacco which demanded "a penny and the honesty of the pipe smoker" who should only take one pipeful of tobacco.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Historian John Watson, in his 1830 "Annals of Philadelphia," refers to a bar which at one time was called "The Man Loaded with Mischief." He writes of a sign in front of the bar located at the "corner uniting little Dock and Spruce Streets, north side" depicting a man carrying his wife piggyback. That location matches that of the Man Full of Trouble and indicates the bar was originally known by the Mischief name. Today, the sign at Man Full of Trouble depicts a time-bent gent (a monkey perched on his shoulder and a parrot on his hand) walking with his wife (carrying a bandbox with a cat sitting upon it).

In the Colonial Period, there was very little difference in the design of residential and commercial buildings. Signs helped to indicate a building's business purpose. As a vestige of the Duke of York's laws, established in England, signs were of great help to the illiterate and those unfamiliar with a town. All professions had their signs — a barber might use a sign with a hand and shears; a druggist a pestle and mortar. Common signs indicating bars had white or black horses or three crowns.

The Bull's Head Inn, on Strawberry Alley had a finely executed sign of a bull's head. In the 1830s, according to Watson, the sign for the tavern was sold to an Englishman who mistakenly believed that it was painted by noted American artist Benjamin West. In actuality, the sign was executed by Bernard Wilton, a painter and glazier who worked nearby. Watson continues to tell the story that one day Wilton was sitting in that then-unsigned tavern when a farmer's bull chanced to push its head through the door. Wilton metaphorically seized the bull by the horns and painted a sign for the tavern. Watson believed the eminent West had painted one if not two tavern signs in his time, but not for this location.

The Pewter Platter Inn at Front and Jones Alley used a large pewter platter as its sign. A sign in front of a 3rd Street Tavern showed a servant of Sir Walter Raleigh throwing water on his smoking master as he thought him to be on fire.

Struthers Burt, in his fine work "Philadelphia: Holy Experiment," tells of other terrific taverns and stellar signs. A tavern that doubtless attracted the puzzle-minded with its sign was the X10U8. For those not in the habit of deciphering such stuff that works out to "Extenuate (x ten u eight)."

A certain William McDermott had a sign that read, "I, William McDermott, lives here; I sells good porter, ale and beer; I've made my sign a little wider; To let you know I sell good cider."

As a last example, the Quiet Woman had a picture of a headless woman — surely one who would be completely quiet! The innkeeper relented to the pressure from wives of its patrons and changed the sign — and the name of the bar!

STARS AMONG THE BARS

Watson further speaks to some of the more famous Colonial Philadelphia taverns. The Indian King was a famed tavern run by John Biddle and his wife who were noted for their gracious hospitality. Visitors from throughout the colonies lodged there, and locals such as Ben Franklin and Charles Thompson, the Secretary of the First Continental Congress, frequented the tavern. Masons conducted meetings at the Indian King.

Historic Philadelphia, published by the American Philosophical Society, notes further that during the Revolutionary War the Indian King served as an entrepot for the reporting of sick soldiers in and near Philadelphia after Washington's retreat across New Jersey prior to Trenton. Owen Biddle, who was later to design the Arch Street Quaker Meeting House, was tried by the Board of War for impressing an indentured servant boy into the Ninth Virginia Regiment in an attempt to meet quota requirements.

Barmeister John Biddle lost his Indian King during the Revolutionary War when the British took over the tavern and renamed it The British Tavern, which catered to the British Navy. The evacuation of Philadelphia was ordered by General Clinton from this tavern.

The Crooked Billet Inn, right off the Delaware River, was for a time the tavern of longest "uninterrupted succession" in the city, "being named in earliest times." Benjamin Franklin, fresh off the boat from Boston, made a beeline for the Crooked Billet. The Crooked Billet's sign was composed of several crooked pieces of wood hammered together transversely.

A Mrs. Jones kept a celebrated public house by the name of The Three Crowns which was frequented by Richard Penn (William's grandson) in addition to other governors, generals, and members of the gentry who feasted at the tavern regularly.

Known and visited by persons "from Boston to Georgia," Peggy Mullen's "beef-steak house" was one of Philadelphia's most famous taverns. Watson writes, "Colonel Morris says it was the fashionable house of his youthful days. Governor Hamilton, and other governors, held their clubs in that house — there the Free Masons met, and most of the public parties and societies."

For a while, prior to moving to the Graff House (another stop on our "Virtual" tour), Thomas Jefferson kept a second-story room at the Indian Queen Tavern where he wrote and studied. The notorious Indian-massacring Paxton Boys were reported to have shot up the stable adjoining the Indian Queen Inn in 1755 when they stayed there.

Watson relates a tearjerker of a story that played itself out at Dibley's Tavern. A poor man came there from Maryland with his wife and two daughters who were of great gentility and beauty. The whole family made use of the harness room over the stable for their dwelling. It turns out the guy was a jockey and ostler (stable worker) who duped a widow into marrying him. He lived extravagantly and ruined the family — they fled to Philadelphia so as not to have to face their old friends. One of the daughters attracted the attention of a French businessman now living in New Jersey. The wealthy Frenchman asked the now-optimistic ostler for his daughter's hand. The family looked like it was back on the road to stability. At the wedding, the young bride danced with such verve that she caught a chill and died five days hence. Watson was told this story by a woman who attended both the wedding and the funeral.

Military and "Western men" liked both the Conestoga Inn and the Black Bear Inn for they both had great wagon yards in which to park rigs. Historic Philadelphia relates that in 1774 the propietress of the Conestoga Inn advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette that she was selling a "likely young Negro Wench." During the 1777 British occupation, the same proprietress was found to be a kind-hearted courier delivering messages to Colonials jailed in the Walnut Street Prison. In 1787, some delegates of the Federal Constitutional Convention wheeled into the Conestoga for lodging.

The Half Moon located on Chestnut Street across from the State House became a convenient meeting place for politicians, public servants (and lobbyists, no doubt) whose business took them to the State House.

Of course, the lyrical and siren call of wonderfully named taverns continues to this day.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • "The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia" by John Cotter, Daniel Roberts, and Michael Parrington, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, ©1992
  • "Historic Philadelphia," American Philosophical Society, ©1953
  • "Walking Tours of Historic Philadelphia" by John Francis Marion, Camino Books, Philadelphia, ©1974
bullet In 1773, there were over 120 taverns in Philadelpia — 21 taverns on 2nd Street alone.
bullet General Charles Lee died at the Conestoga Inn.
bullet At the Indian Queen Tavern, Lafayette recuperated after being wounded in the Battle of Princeton
bullet In 1801, surprisingly few of those admitted to the Philadelphia Almshouse (for the destitute) were alcoholics (3.6% of the males; 3.9% of the females), given the great number of taverns and the climate of drinking in the city [source: "Early Life in Colonial America" by Billy Smith]
bullet Cornplanter and Half Town, two Indian chiefs, lodged in the Half Moon.
bullet Location: 127 Spruce Street (Map)
bullet Built: 1759.
bullet Style: Colonial
bullet Tourism information: Closed to the public
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