Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part I

The 1698 Romer Map of Schenectady shows many important landmarks and buildings in Schenectady. The Brewhouse is outlined in yellow. Courtesy of Grems-Doolittle Map Collection

The 1698 Romer Map is one of the earliest and most detailed maps of Schenectady. This map shows some of the more important buildings and features in Schenectady, including the church, the mill, the King’s Fort, and the brewhouse. Beer and heartier beverages were an important part of Colonial life and some of the more prominent original settlers of Schenectady brewed and sold these beverages in their taverns and inns. Alcohol was not just limited to the men in New Netherlands, women and children were also known to drink. Early Dutch settlers were so fond of imbibing that when Peter Stuyvesant became director-general of New Netherland, he passed several restrictions on drinking and selling alcohol. Stuyvesant believed that excessive drinking “causes not only the neglect of honest handicraft and business, but also the debauching of the common man," and set out to try and create some order among the Dutch settlers. Among the restrictions were rules on reporting bar fights, the banning of the sale of alcohol to Indians, and rules against “unseasonable night tippling”. Despite these restrictions, the tavern remained very important part of colonial life and served several functions for the settlers in Schenectady. In addition to the obvious function of quaffing beer and harder drinks, taverns allowed people to gather and spread news, discuss and debate politics, trade furs and other items, and provided means of entertainment.

Dutch artist Jan Steen painted many scenes of drunken revelry. This painting from 1654 titled "Peasants before an Inn" shows Dutch farmers dancing and drinking outside of a tavern. Similar scenes would probably take place in Schenectady and throughout New Netherland. Courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, OH.
One of the first innkeepers in Schenectady was Douwe Aukes De Freeze who settled here in 1663. His inn was located on the corner of Mill Lane and State Street, close to the first church in Schenectady. The first licensed tapster on record in Schenectady was Jacques Cornelise Gautsch Van Slyck who was licensed in 1671. The exact location of Van Slyck’s tavern is unknown, but is suspected to be between State and Water Street.  Van Slyck’s rival tapster was Cornelis Cornelise Viele. Viele applied for his license in 1672. The root of their rivalry was that Van Slyck believed he was given privilege to be the only innkeeper in Schenectady, and that Viele’s license would interfere with the business of his tavern. It was decided by the Executive Council that both men could have a license as long as “one should not in any way molest or hinder the other.” A third license was given to Antonia Van Curler, the widow of Schenectady founder Arendt Van Curler, in 1673. Governor Lovelace granted her the license partially in order to quell the quarrels between Viele and Van Slyck, but also for the loss of her husband and for the fire which destroyed her house and farm. The selling of liquor to Indians was normally forbidden, but Antonia’s license allowed her to sell a limited amount of rum to Indians, which neither Van Slyke nor Viele had.
Not to say that the law always dissuaded tavern owners from serving local Indians. Maria Du Trieux settled in Schenectady later in life and was quite familiar with the laws against selling liquor to Indians, having violated them a few times. Maria, along with husband Jan Peek, operated a popular inn in New Amsterdam that was known for late night and Sunday tappings. These tappings cost Jan Peek his license for a short time, his license was reinstated in November 1654 on account of being “burdened with a houseful of children.”  After Jan died, Maria was prosecuted for selling liquor to Indians. She was sentenced to pay 500 guilders and was to be banished from the island of Manhattan. Maria requested that her fine be forgiven on the grounds that she was “one of the oldest inhabitants of New Amsterdam.” Her request was granted and she ended up moving to Albany. From Albany, she moved to Schenectady to live closer to her children on the corner of Front and Church Streets.
Anna Kendall's house on North Ferry Street. Missing from the house is the "Cakes and Beer" sign. Courtesy of the Historic American Buildings Survey
Women in 17th Century New Netherland had some freedom compared to their counterparts in New England. Dutch Women were allowed to engage freely in business and wives of innkeepers, like Maria Du Trieux, would often continue the business after their husband had died. This practice seemed to continue even after the British took control of New Netherland in 1664. Innkeeper Caleb Beck died in 1733 and his widow Ann continued to run the hotel and dry goods shop on Church and Union Street. Other female tavern owners included Anna Kendall who owned a shop on North Ferry Street. A sign outside of her shop advertised “Cakes and Beer”, with an image of a bottle behind the lettering. When Anna’s second husband George Kendall died, she continued to run the shop. In addition to selling beer, she would partake in drinking and when she drank too much her son would bundle her up and take her home.

Captain Arent Bradt’s house was an important meeting place for many of Schenectady’s residents. Arent Bradt was a brewer and a member of the Provincial Assembly in 1745. Arent owned a lot of land bounded by State, Washington, Union, and Church Streets in Schenectady. It was on this lot that he opened a tavern. Schenectady's town government would sometimes hold meetings at Bradt's tavern. According to Ona Curran’s article “Tapsters and Taverns” in the June 1963 issue of the Schenectady County Historical Society's newsletter, records for April 1751 show that “the town of Schenectady paid two pounds to Bradt for troubles in his house and board for councilmen.” 
View of State Street from the late 1800s showing J.W. McMullen Marble Works, formerly the Bradt Tavern. This building was located on the site of the former YMCA at 13 State Street. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.

Halfway between Albany and Schenectady on the King’s Highway was the “Halfway House”, which was owned by Isaac Truax. Truax was described as a “jolly good tavern keeper and a good friend,” but his inn may not have been the safest. The King’s Highway was notorious for smugglers, thieves and others of ill repute. It was so dangerous that in 1756, a group of militiamen would escort travelers to and from Schenectady. A rumor of guests being murdered at Truax’s inn cropped up, and many years later an excavation at the site of the inn revealed human skeletons under the floor.
Painting of Issac Truax's Halfway House by K.C. Reynolds. Courtesy of the Schenectady History Museum.
As Schenectady’s population continued to rise during the mid-1700s, so does the number of taverns in the town. The taverns also become increasingly more political as tensions between the colonists and British heat up. Find out more in our next blog post on the taverns and inn of Schenectady.