Similarly, during the crippling financial Panic of 1837, a unique blend of tavern patrons encountered common ground on a nationally important topic. A group of men, including a local doctor and a traveler, discussed the Panic. The traveler “spoke contemptuously” of the script being circulated in place of currency and proceeded to tear several such notes apart, not realizing that those particular notes belonged his fellow patron the doctor. This brief glimpse into tavern conversation provides insight into political activism of the antebellum period. The traveler was so outraged at the lack of secure national financial institutions that he defaced money owed him.
In another rare insight into tavern conversation, the future of a Brooklyn Township doctor was debated and discussed within the walls of an unnamed tavern. One evening in early 1837, Nathaniel S. Ludington was called into the tavern by two men, one of whom was Abraham Williams. Williams revealed to Ludington that his wife, Ann Williams, had been sexually victimized at the hands of a local physician. Ludington suggested that the problem of the “abuse committed upon the body”8 of Mrs. Williams be resolved without attracting unnecessary public attention. The case went to court and Mr. Williams received a monetary settlement from the unnamed doctor with the understanding that no public attention would be given to this occurrence. The importance of this incident cannot be understated. In this instance the tavern was used as a diffusive location where the situation could be calmly discussed and strategy developed to resolve this potentially explosive conflict. Whether or not Ludington and Williams consumed alcohol during their meeting remains unrecorded in the annals of history. Alcohol was, however, an inseparable part of early tavern culture.
One feature of the antebellum tavern that is often overlooked is what the tavern patrons chose to drink. Their tastes, while drawn from European backgrounds, are as different as America from England. Although a child of English law and custom, America blended together, if not always amicably, men and women of all nationalities. The Germans brought lagers to the United States and the Russians brought vodka.9 From England came ales while rum was imported from the Caribbean. Despite the myriad of possibilities, especially as the nineteenth century progressed, Western Reserve settlers chose to drink two decidedly American beverages. Hard cider and whiskey dominated the palettes of early American tavern patrons and again demonstrates certain principles of republican freedoms espoused in Revolutionary tradition.
Hard cider, which gained national prominence in William Henry Harrison’s historic 1840 presidential campaign, provided the Reserve with a readily available, inexpensive, high alcohol content beverage. Tavern keepers often held multiple jobs to supplement somewhat sporadic or sparse income provided by their public houses. These men usually turned to farming and regularly produced apples for both personal consumption and sale. Connecticut cider was considered “specially famous” in the years preceding the American Revolution and immigrants to the Reserve, often from this state, brought their love and knowledge of this American-style beverage to the area.10 As evidenced by the imagery used to propel Harrison to the presidency in 1840, hard cider elicited distinctly American connotations.
The McIlrath account book, kept by Abner McIlrath of Cleveland, contains numerous entries of patrons buying barrels of cider from the tavern.11 Cider consumption such as that recorded by McIlrath became closely tied to American virtues. It was a national beverage, relatively unpopular in Europe. Yet despite its impact on the presidential election symbolically providing chronological closure to this work and on Americanizing, republican society in general, cider was not the top beverage of the nineteenth century Midwest. That title goes to whiskey, the preferred choice of most Western Reserve settlers.