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Tippling Houses and Ordinaries

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Ordinaries and Tippling Houses were becoming quite out of control in Colonial Virginia, to the point where the General Assembly was required to act.

In June 1677 they ordered:

"The excessive number of ordinaries and tippling houses set for advance of private gaine, are found to be full of mischief and inconvenience by cherishing idleness and debauchereys, in a sort of loose and careless person". The number of drinking places, including tippling houses, was called "exorbitant".

Both Accomack and Northampton Counties were hit by this ordinance, but it appears Accomack County was the center of more "idleness and debaucherey" because of its more rapidly expanding population.

An ordinary was a sort of restaurant/hotel which offered food, lodging and drink. A Tippling house was where one went for a glass of "ardent spirits". The word literally means to habitually drink liquor or to make drunk.

The Ordinary had an inauspicious start on the Eastern Shore. One of the earliest, if not the first, was opened on King’s Creek in Northampton County and, as in later years, was a central place for the County Court to meet.

Within a few years Anthoney Hodgkins had opened an Ordinary on Old Plantation Creek, and Walter Williams, one in the neck of land between Hungar’s and Nassawadox Creeks.

In 1662 Hodgkins followed the court into Accomack County and established a Tavern near present day Bobtown. John Cole, who became the most persistent follower of the Court Houses, by 1673, had established a Tavern just north of Pungoteague.

As far as is known, all of these places served alcoholic refreshment.With residents traveling for miles to enjoy the "festivities" of the Courtday, the tippling at times made for a raucous event.

This led to the County Court Justices having to order the stopping ofhorseracing around the Court House grounds. In another case some free-lancerswereselling liquor-by-the-drink on the Court House lawn and the AccomackCountySheriff was ordered to chase them off.

A number of women operated taverns including Rebecca Bunting in Accomac, Margaret Dale at Pungoteague and Sarah Riley at Hunting Creek.

By 1677 John Cole had purchased land at Freeman’s Plantation (now Accomac) and offered to build the first County Court House there. Cole had an eye for business for the building appeared to serve both to house theCountyCourt and Cole’s Tavern, including the retailing of ardent spirits.

By 1706 Accomack County decided to build a Court House separate from,buton the same land as, the Tavern. This was on Cross Street in Accomac,diagonallyacross the street from the present Court Green, and behind theold Bell’sDrug store property.

By 1677 Ordinaries and Tippling Houses were required to be licensed and inspected. This was the year Rebecca Bunting got into trouble. The Court fined her for "… not keeping sufficient entertainment for horse orman."

Earlier another local Ordinary owner had actually been arrested for "… not giving sufficient victuals".

These Ordinaries were quite crude by today’s standards. Frequently the traveler had to sleep upstairs in a room crowded by other travelers. Frequently the "bed" could be a vermin infested straw mattress on the floor.

The Accomack County Court in 1707 noted, "It appears some taverns have been charging exorbitant fees to travelers". Within a short while the County effected price control.

In the earliest days prices were in shillings and pence, or alternatively, in pounds of tobacco. By 1777, these price controls had been in effect several decades. One list shows:

Item Cost
Good West India Rum 1 Gill 1s 6d
Virginia Brandy 1s 3d
French or New England Rum 1s 3d
Whiskey 1 Gill 1s
Tenarife Wine Quart 10s
Claret or Best Bordeaux 12s 6d
Brakefast (sic) 2s 6d
Dinner 4s


The Gill measure is based on 4 Gills to the Pint.

By 1798 the prices were converted to dollars and cents.

Item Cost
Brandy or Rum Quart 19¢
Wines 33 to 50¢
Breakfast 25¢
Hot Dinner 33¢
Lodging in bed with clean sheets 12¢


Apparently the cheaper beds had unchanged linen.

As the population grew, Ordinaries and Tippling Houses multiplied in Accomack County. Whether this ready presence was the cause of an 1884 incident is unknown.

It was then that my great-grandfather, George W. Barnes, along with James G. Fox, Teackle T. Westcott and Thomas B. C. Gibb were sitting on a Grand Jury. Excused for dinner, they went to the nearest place of refreshment and according to the Peninsula Enterprise, were fined $5.00 each for being "absent when called after dinner".

It was not stated whether the convivial atmosphere, enhanced by a tasty dinner, or the stimulation of a bit of liquid refreshment by one or two of these gentlemen, caused this minor blot on the pages of justice.

by A. Parker Barnes

Reprinted with the kind permission of his wife, Virginia Barnes

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