Sunday, October 25, 2009

An 1830s Boone County Tavern: Peter Wright, Proprietor

Compiled from the original register available at the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection–Columbia in the Wright family papers (WHMC Collection #1807).

Patrons who signed in at the Peter Wright tavern in Columbia between December 1834 and October 1836, are listed below. Though some names show up multiple times in the register, only one entry for each is included in the list. The original register contains entries on both left and right sides of the bound book and is hard to reproduce here. See Commentary at the end of the list of patrons for more on the tavern and the men who frequented it.

?????, George
[?]erby, Thos. ?
Alfrey, John
Alrich[s?/y?], H. S.
Archer, Wm. R.
Atwell?, B. F?
Ausley?/Ainsley?, W. P.
Austin?, B. B?
Bagwell?, John
Barger, J. C.
Bartlett, Geo.
Bass, Lawrence
Bay, S. M.
Bedford, John R.
Belt?, H. ?
Berg, Thos.
Birch, J. H.
Bledsoe, Rob F?
Boggs, J. Coleman
Boney?, John
Brown, Jno.
Bullock, P. P.
Burnett, ?
Callaway, Thos.
Carlisle, Thomas
Carrick, Sam V.
Carrick, Seth S.
Cass?, Mason
Charlton, N?
Chick?, Wm. M?
Christeance?, Evert
Christian, W.
Clark, Benj.
Clark, Chs. A.
Clarke, J? R.
Clarke, W? R?
Clay, Isaac S.
Coburn, William S.
Cocke, Stephen F.
Colley, W. S?
Copes?, ?
Cordell, P. W.
Corielle?, Furman
Crump?, _____
Cunningham, Saml.
Daugherty, James
Daugherty, P?/I?/J?
Daugherty, Wm.
Davis, T. N.
Dawson, S?
Denenham, Jonathan
Dingle, Carter? B.
Dixon, Charles?
Dooly, John
Duff?, Samuel H.
Early, Wm.
Elliott, Martin
Emett?, Thos. T.
Field, ? Jno. W.
Flournoy, Thos.
Flournoy, Wm. C.
Forsey?, Sh??
Fourth?/Fawcell?, ? A?
Gass?, Mason
Gatewood, A. S?
Gatlien?, William
Gibson, Christopher
Gilbert, Samuel
Goodwin, George M.
Gregg, J?/I?
Griffith, Rolla M.
Grooms, Charles H?
Hancock, F.
Harman?, Isaiah?
Harris, Jescenian?
Hart?, John G?
Hickam, A. B.
Hickam, A. J.
Hillman, G. W.
Hizer?, H. L.
Ho?, Black?
Hockaday, _____
Hoover, Jacob
Howard, G? W?
Hume, B. C.
Hume, D. B.
Hume, Daniel?
Hyatt, John
Jackson, Riley
Jackson, Wiley?
James, Isaac
James, Thos. G.
Jenkins, G. W.
Jenkins, Washington W.
Jenny, Joseph
Jones, John
Kemp, James
Kennan?, Alex M.
Kennard, A. M.
King, ?
Lawrence, L.
Leuth?, James S?
Lightburne, A.
Lyford?, O. P.
Martin, Henry W.
Matson, R.
McCanahan?, John H.
McCauslin?, S. B.
McClenny, Horace
McCoy, J? C?
McCurdy?, William
McQuitty, Andrew
Melloway, George
Miller, ?
Moore, Joel P.
Morris, Robert W.
Morris?, W? M?
Mullan, Brian, Phy
Nagle, ?
Nelson, Jno. T?
Nelson, William
Nichols, Robert
Nowlin, John S.
Oliver, Thos.
Parks, Joseph
Pendleton, E.
Peppers, James
Persinger, I?/J?
Persinger, Jos.
Philips, Jno.
Poston, Newton
Powell, S. A.
Prewitt, R. C.
Prewitt, W. C.
Price?, Jno. R.
Proctor, D. C., Rev'd
Richardson, R. F.
Roach, William B.
Roberson, Albin?
Robinson, Geo. S.
Robinson, S?
Robinson, W.
Rogers, ?
Rogers, Elijah
Rogers, James
Ross, James R.
Ross, M? M?
Ruby, R. C.
Saunders, Geo., Jr.
Saunders, R.
Saunders?, Wm.
Scott, E. M?
Sebree?, Laban
Sexton?/Seater?, John B.
Shipley, John
Slaughter, D. S.
Slaughter, Jesse
Smith, Wm. T.
Stevenson?, ?
Stevins?, ?
Stoddard?, ? ?
Stone, Nathaniel
Stork?, Com?
Stuart?, Chas. W.
Sweeny, F.
Syms, Randal
Teeter, Shelby
Terry, Jno.
Timberlake, ?
Timberlake, W. G.
Turner, James B.
Vanhorn, Barnet
Vaughn, A.
Walker, Jno.
Ward, George S.
Ware, James
Warren, Thos. B.
Waters, Geo.
Wilburn, Thos. J.
Williams, F. A.
Williams, Geo.
Williams, Harvey S.
Wills, G. W.
Wilson, James
Wilson, Wm. W?
Wonder, N? K.
Wonderlich, John
Wood, Augustus
Wood, Jos. W.
Wright, H. T.
Wright, Joseph F.
Wright, Kelly
Wright, Peter
Wright, Sampson
Wright, Wm.
Wright, Wm. E.
Wright, Wm. H.
Young, Daniel

Columbia, the county seat of Boone, was an optimistic but struggling town in the early 1830s. The town’s population at the 1830 census was 453–324 whites, 128 slaves, and one free black. There were only 59 families in the town. One of the early speculators in lots in Columbia was Samuel Wall. Captain Wall had bought at least five lots in the town by 1830 and on one of them established a tavern, a place for travelers to stop. Edward Camplin and Elisha McClelland also had taverns in Columbia about this time (Boone County Record Book C, p. 25). McClelland’s stand was taken over by the popular Richard Gentry in May of 1834 (Boone County Record Book. C, p. 223). Richard Gentry generally is credited with having the first tavern at the original site of Smithton as early as 1819 though Welford Stephens was granted the first license to keep a tavern at the new town site of Columbia in August 1821.

Walls’ tavern, as Gentry’s before him, served occasionally as the venue for meetings of the County Court as can be seen from a Record Book C entry: “At a term of the county court begun and held for the county of Boone at the court house thereof in the Town of Columbia on Monday the 5th day of November 1832 and adjourned from said place to Capt Saml Wall’s tavern house in said Town were present James McClelland, Joseph W. Hickam, Justices; W. Woodson, clerk; Thos C. Maupin, sheriff.”

Taverns were the local equivalent of an early hotel. Walter B. Stevens, writing in 1921, described the typical Missouri tavern owner and Capt. Wall and his successor, Peter Wright, both fit the description well. “The Missouri tavern was of its own class. Identified with the vocation of tavern-keeping in Missouri’s pioneer days are the names of some of the best known and most highly esteemed families in the state’s history. Taverns were established for “accommodation” in the true sense of the word . . . . In not a few cases, homes were opened as a matter of private “accommodation” which led to public “entertainment . . . .” (Stevens, Missouri Historical Review, vol. 68, p. 96).

Wall’s tavern in the early 1830s seems likely to have been located on the northwest corner of Broadway and Seventh Streets, Lot #213 in the original town plat of Columbia. The building itself was substantial, being made of brick and likely two stories high. No more precise description of this particular building has been found but John Crighton in his History of Columbia and Boone County described a typical early tavern. “The lobby of the tavern usually had a large fireplace, a bar, and tables for dining. Sometimes, the dining area adjoined the lobby. Sleeping rooms were in a wing or upstairs. Behind the tavern were service buildings–stables, a smokehouse, and toilets.” He goes on to add that “food and drink were abundant at the early taverns, and by our standards were extremely cheap. The standard price of a meal was twenty-five cents. The meat was mostly wild game–venison, turkeys, prairie chickens, ducks, and geese. In the absence of refrigeration, smoked and pickled pork products were served more often than fresh beef. The menus were short of fruits and vegetables–potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, and apples being the most frequently available.” (Crighton, pp. 364 & 365).

Peter Wright, Sr., (1787-1847) was an early comer to the Booneslick region, arriving in 1818 according to Wm. F. Switzler. By early 1821, he had purchased 352 acres of land “near the head of the Two-mile Prairie” and had erected a small dwelling house on it. He and his wife, Jane “Jenny” Edminson Wright, raised a family and became very active in community affairs.

Peter Wright was a prominent figure in the early years of Boone County’s history. Wright literally helped to “create” Boone county. As the county’s first surveyor, he worked with his counterpart from Howard county to locate the dividing line between Howard and Boone counties. He surveyed Broadway and laid out the entire town. Wright continued to serve as county surveyor for a number of years and was one of the first County Court judges. He was also one of Boone County’s first legislators, elected in 1822 and serving in the legislature that convened in St. Charles.

In 1834 Peter and Jenny Wright took over the Wall tavern in Columbia and operated it for the next two years. It appears to have been one of only two such boarding places in Columbia at the time. As required by law, he applied to the County Court in November 1834 for a “license to keep a Tavern at the stand lately occupied by Samuel Wall . . . ” and immediately began accepting overnight guests. It appears he also spent some time refurbishing the place and proudly announced in the [Columbia] Missouri Intelligencer newspaper on 11 July 1835 under the heading of the UNION HOTEL that he had “taken, for a term of years, the elegant Brick building formerly occupied by Capt. Wall, which has undergone considerable repairs . . . .” (See ad image at top of this post.)

We are fortunate to still have the original register from the Wright tavern. It is available at the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection–Columbia in the Wright family papers (WHMC Collection #1807) . Though the donor of the book indicated the register was “possibly for the Vanhorn tavern,” research has shown that it was indeed for the Peter Wright tavern. The register is a treasure trove for those interested in local history and Missouri taverns but it is also an unusual find for genealogists, especially those with early Boone county roots. The register provides proof of the guests’ “residence” at an early date and provides hard-to-find original signatures for those who signed.

The register has five columns of information–date, name, residence, destination and remarks. Entries range from 12 December 1834 to 24 October 1836. Records in County Court Record Book C strongly suggest that Peter Wright got out of the tavern business at the end of 1836 because the register ends at that time and he does not appear to have renewed his tavern license as would have been required.

Over less than two years, about 225 people signed in at Wright’s tavern, not counting the “registrations” of his own boys. That equals to a paying guest only about once every three days, though there were two extended periods in the record where no guests registered. It is worth checking the list at the end of this article to see if one of your ancestors happened to stay at Wright’s tavern in Columbia.

Tavern guests in the 1830s were a diverse group of men (for every name in the register for the Wright tavern appears to have been for a male though there must have been at least an occasional female among the guests as Peter Wright himself advertised his place as suitable for families). Many signers had strong opinions that they recorded. Politics was a frequent subject and one man’s remarks would often prompt others to chime in. “Clay forever,” “Clay & Webster,” “Equal rights & priviledges (sic),” “Huzza for Jackson,” and “Free suffrage for all” were some of the sentiments expressed by travelers checking in to the Wright tavern. One wanted “Van Burin (sic) for next president of the U. States.” Most political comments were positive but one man just simply declared “Down with political Demagogues.”

Patrons at Wright’s tavern were a well-traveled lot. Besides Missouri, they hailed from: Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. One local area mentioned several times was Coal Hill in Boone County. Coal Hill was a settlement in Section 13, Township 49, Range 12, about two miles southeast of Brown’s Station. Much of the area in the north part of the county was rich in coal. The Wright family owned land here and probably was the “driving force” behind Coal Hill. The family cemetery where Peter Wright is buried is located in this section amidst the more recent huge excavations left from open strip mining of coal.

Lifes tribulations were often mentioned in the remarks. H.T. Wright, obviously connected to Peter Wright’s family, was mostly a chronic complainer: “My Horse threw me down and dirted [sic] my coat” on one occasion and “The dam mule neads spurs. Roads as bad as they [?] be well” on another trip. But on at least one occasion, H.T. Wright was satisfied and had nothing to complain about. This time he wrote: “[I] feel very good[.] joust had some thing to drink[.] I don’t know what they cald it but damme if it warnt good Sure.” Weather, of course, caught it’s share of complaints. Very wet or very dry weather was sure to be mentioned. Poor John Jones of Ft. Leavenworth was in a bad way and wrote: “Cold[.] Elbows out of the coat and nothing to drink and no appearance of any.” Shelby Teeter was on a mission “in search of a horse and wants plenty whiskey.”

All in all, the records that Peter Wright maintained during his brief entry into the tavern business provide an unusual glimpse into Columbia’s earliest hotels, the people who frequented them and the people who chose to run them.

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