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“Food, lodging, strong drink, and hors keeping for weary travelers.”

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Travelers in Colonial America grew to expect from a tavern, good food, strong drink, and plenty of oats for their horse.


During the 1700s, many tavern and inn signs advertised as being places of “entertainment”. Considering that travelers took to the roads in droves during that period, food and lodging was a necessity not only for the individual, but their horse as well.


Given the traveler’s dependence on his mount, provision of stabling or pasturage was a crucial part of the inn’s services: surviving accounts list oats, grain, or “horse-keeping” in addition to board, lodging, eating, and a selection of strong drink for the master.


In Colonial America, most settlements, towns or counties were required by law to provide at least “one sufficient inhabitant to keep an Ordinary [ i.e., tavern or inn].... that such passengers or strangers may know where to resort.” From Eagles & Lions & Bears: “These regulated establishments accommodated the needs of those who did not belong and were perceived by community leaders to be potentially disruptive to their careful ranking and position of each resident.”

As with this sign containing the image of a horse, American signboards included a wide variety of organic images: bulls, beehives, swans, grapes, fish, rising suns, sheaves of barley or wheat, and an occasional mermaid. All these referenced back to a pre-industrial world view defined by agricultural values and social hierarchies.”


Until near the end of the 18th century, many signs were relatively small, and vertically oriented. Almost all of these signs had decorative pediments (top portion of the sign) and shaped skirts (bottom portion of the sign), also called aprons. By the early-to-late 1800s, signs began to take on a more horizontal orientation; perhaps because of their location along railways and thoroughfares, endeavoring to keep pace with faster moving society.

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