Vaughn Scribner, Ph.D.    Assistant Professor, University of Central Arkansas  

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Inn Civility: Urban Taverns and the Negotiation of Early American Civil Society 

(under contract with NYU Press)


Urban taverns were the most popular, numerous, diversifying, and accessible public spaces in colonial America. From genteel City Taverns to seedy “disorderly houses,” taverns were wholly engrained in the diverse web of colonial urbanity. Inn Civility uses the urban tavern space to investigate elitist colonists’ frustrated efforts at cultivating a civil society from the early-eighteenth century to the end of the American Revolution. Although colonial gentlemen styled themselves arbiters of civility and order, the confusing reality of urban society often outstripped gentlemen’s civil pipedreams. The American Revolution only further complicated mid-century ideas of civil society. Colonists steadily transformed urban taverns to match the tumultuous political atmosphere of Revolutionary America: rebellious “committees of safety” employed rural taverns as spaces of violent coercion, while Loyalists fled to the relative safety of burned-out garrison cities and their equally-dilapidated drinking spaces. As the war waned, Patriot tavern goers aggressively hashed out the initial precepts of American liberty and civility while reflecting upon how an American Republic might operate. America’s founders accordingly had to abandon mid-century notions of civil society, at least temporarily, if they were to maintain power in the new nation.