Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture

Leading Early American Scholarship Since 1943


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In Public Houses

Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts

David Conroy

Cloth ISBN 9780807822074

Paper ISBN 9780807845219

Copyright 1995 by the University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  Choice Outstanding Academic Title (1995)
  Herbert Feis Award, American Historical Association (1996)

Visit the University of North Carolina Press web page for this book.

Everyone knows that taverns were colorful and important in colonial life. But not until David Conroy’s book have we understood how the dynamics of tavern life and the phenomenon of drinking reveal changing patterns of power—the sources of power, how power was used, and how it was contested. In Public Houses is a brilliant blending of social, political, institutional, intellectual, and cultural history. Among this generation’s scholarly outpouring on colonial and revolutionary New England, Conroy’s book is one of the most fascinating and important.

--Gary B. Nash

Conroy insightfully recreates struggles over the context and meaning of drink, the controversial role of poor and female tavernkeepers, and the nature of public order in the eighteenth century.

--Barbara Clark Smith

Offers an entirely new dimension to the uneasy connection—and competition—between the elite and plebian worlds of eighteenth-century Massachusetts, where social hierarchy, economic distress, and political opportunism accompanied the Revolution into the modern era.

--David Konig

Elegantly written, closely argued, and well supported.

--American Historical Review

A fascinating and important book. . . . Conroy's solid research effort and fine writing provide an extra measure of confidence in his excellent book.

--Journal of Social History

In Public Houses is an extraordinary work of history that gracefully traces the origins, growth, and functions of these centers of collective drink during the first two centuries of American history. . . . Challeng[es] conventional wisdom on the rigid distinction between oral and print culture, the anglicization of Massachusetts, and the influence of the Puritan ethic during the Revolution.


Informed by careful use of concepts and methods from political and cultural anthropology, as well as from the new social and cultural history, this excellent book reveals the complexities of New England's social and cultural development as well as the themes of literacy and evolving modernity in their formative era.

--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

This is a book one completes with a mounting sense of excitement that the author has brought a subject to life. . . . For historians of popular politics, Conroy through his luminous examination of the taverns has established not merely a site where events took place but a source of egalitarian, democratic values with rich implications for others to explore.

--William and Mary Quarterly