Man Full of Trouble Tavern

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]


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.


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.


Copyright © 1999- by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Publishing electronically as On the Internet since July 4, 1995.