“The Best Accustomed House in Town”: Taverns as a Reflection of Elite Consumer Behavior in Eighteenth-Century Hampton and Elizabeth City County, Virginia
thesisposted on 06.09.2013, 14:20 by Christopher L. McDaid
This thesis examines how two mid-eighteenth-century tavern keepers in Hampton chose to mirror the consumer behaviors of the local elite in the manner that food and beverages were prepared and served in their taverns. In order to understand the consumer behavior of Elizabeth City County’s elite, fifty-four probate inventories from the 1760s were analyzed. The analysis focused on the material culture associated with dining, cooking, the consumption of alcohol, and the serving of the warm caffeinated beverages, tea, coffee and chocolate. Documentary and archaeological data indicated that social elites had adopted complicated behaviors associated with dining, cooking, drinking alcohol and serving warm caffeinated beverages. The complexity of quotidian behaviors noted in the archaeological and documentary data are explained by multiple factors. The first factor is the world-view or habitus of the gentry elite of colonial Virginia that was based on the competition for respect based on social status. The second factor was the increasing availability of consumer goods in mid-eighteenth-century Virginia which meant that individuals of less wealth and social status could acquire items that had previously been available only to the wealthy. The third factor was the transition from a social practice that privileged the age of status items to one that judged the fashionabilty of items and behaviors. The level of variety and diversity identified in the homes of the elite was observed in the materials excavated from the two taverns.