Tavern Applications, 1736-1919

RECORD GROUP: County Clerk
SERIES: Tavern Applications
DATES: 1736-1919
VOLUME: 36.5 cubic feet; 6,290 records in 82 manuscript boxes; 45 rolls microfilm

Tavern Rates

Tavern Rates, September 1852
*** Click here to search the Tavern Applications database***
Tavern applications are documents from tavern owners requesting permission to own and operate a tavern, inn, or wholesale dealer. This series includes Tavern Rates for various years, 1810-1861.
Taverns or inns, in early colonial days, were more of a necessity than a luxury. Colonial law stressed the need for taverns or inns throughout the New Jersey Province as a place to accommodate strangers and travelers. Each town was required to provide an “ordinary” for their “relief and entertainment.”

As early as 1709, the Royal Governor, Council and Representatives in the General Assembly realized there was a potential problem with the increasing number of inns or taverns. The first Colonial Act, addressing the situation, “An Act for Regulating Ordinaries,” required all innkeepers to obtain a license issued by a Justice of the Quarter Sessions Court. No one could sell “rum, brandy, wine or other Strong Liquors under one quart or beer, Syder, Metheglin or other such Liquors under 5 gallons” without a license. The innkeeper also was required to pay a 20 pound recognizance (a legal obligation in a court requiring the person to do some act required by law, upon failure of which the person is obligated to pay a specific sum to the court) to keep “good order in their house.”

The Act of 1709 failed to gain control over the situation. By the mid 1730s, the inn had lost its meaning as a haven for travelers. The inns and taverns were becoming houses of disorder, violence and debauchery. According to the Royal Governor, alcoholism and drunkenness were out of control. Stronger regulations were needed. In 1739, the Provincial Assembly enacted “An Act for Regulating Taverns, Ordinaries, Innkeepers and Retailers of Strong Liquors.”

Under the Act of 1739, applicants for a tavern license were required to petition the Court of Quarter Sessions for approval. The petition was to be accompanied by letters of recommendation signed by neighbors and freeholders. The innkeeper also was required to provide a recognizance of 20 pounds, and two sureties (one who has become legally liable for the debt, default or failure in duty of another). Once the application was approved or rejected, the Clerk of Sessions (the Clerk of Pleas and Sessions was also the County Clerk) recorded the application in the Court minutes. The clerk also prepared a yearly list of names of persons who had been granted licenses. The lists were then distributed to every constable within the county.

The 1739 Act appeared to have curtailed the drinking habits of the Province’s citizens, but only temporarily. Once again in 1768, the Royal Governor felt it necessary to tighten controls with an Act entitled, “An Act for the better Regulating of Constables, Vendues and Taverns,” and “to prevent their being perverted to places of Gaming, Tippling, Drunkenness, Revellings, Extortion and other vices.” Applicants had to provide recommendations of at least six freeholders from the neighborhood where the tavern was proposed to be kept.

Under the new State government of 1797, additional regulations were added to the list of requirements for applicants. Under the February 24, 1797, Act of the State General Assembly entitled, “Act Concerning Inns and Taverns,” the granting of licenses remained within the jurisdiction of the Quarter Sessions Court, but applicants faced tougher requirements to obtain a license. The 1797 Act also stressed the need to “discourage gaming, tippling, drunkenness and other vices.” Town residents were urged to consider the number of taverns within a town “so as not to be too many.”

Under the 1797 laws, applicants still had to provide recommendations from the town’s freeholders as well as letters from the Commissioners of Appeals, and Overseers of the Poor, “or at least two thirds of them.” The innkeeper had “to be of good repute and honesty and temperance and known to have at least two spare feather beds more than are necessary for the family’s use.” The applicant, under the 1797 law, was bound to the State by a $100 recognizance and had to provide two sureties, who had to be freeholders, each in the sum of $50. The Court Clerk received $1.00 for the entering, drawing, and filing the recognizance; drawing the license and recording the entry in the minutes. Licenses were only good for one year, which meant the procedure had to be repeated on a yearly basis.

Transfers of licenses from one owner to another before the year’s expiration date followed the same procedures as if a new license was being issued. The new owner had to obtain a recognizance and petition the Court for approval. Recommendations by neighbors and freeholders and the usual sureties were all required.

The 1797 law remained in effect for forty one years. A major change was made on March 1, 1838 when, “A Further Supplement to the Act entitled, “An Act Concerning Inns & Taverns, passed the 24th day of February 1797” transferred the power and authority of issuing licenses from the Quarter Sessions Courts to the Court of Common Pleas. Another change to the old colonial law was that residents, who objected to another tavern or inn in their town, were given the benefit of legal recourse through a Remonstrance (legal document presenting reason for objections). The Remonstrance was signed by all objecting residents. Town Remonstrances were also filed when the town’s citizens objected to any additional licenses being granted anywhere in their town.

Shortly after the new Constitution of 1844, another law was issued by the General Assembly. The Act of April 17, 1846, entitled, “An Act Concerning Inns and Taverns. A Revision,” stressed that county courts should not license more inns and taverns than “shall be necessary to accommodate and entertain travelers and strangers; and to prevent as much as possible inns and taverns to be kept for the encouragement of gaming, tippling and drunkenness and other vices.”

The 1846 Act also eliminated the requirement of recommendations from the Commissioners of Appeal and the Overseers of the Poor, but stipulated certification by at least twelve reputable freeholders of the town.

By the late 1800s, lifestyles had changed and so did the colonial meaning of an inn or tavern. The State authorities had to take steps to modernize the laws. On April 4, 1872, the General Assembly passed “An Act to Regulate the sale of Ale, Strong Beer, lager, porter, wine and other malt liquor in the State of New Jersey,” the first of many laws regulating the sale of liquors and malt liquors. The new laws emphasized restrictions on quantities “to be drunk on or about the premises” and the types of liquors sold but application, recording and filing procedures by the Clerk of Common Pleas remained unchanged.

The Act of April 4, 1872 was only the beginning of the modernization of liquor licensing. In the period 1872 to 1890 over thirty Acts of Legislation were passed on this subject. These laws expanded the information recorded in the applications. Prior to 1883, applications only mentioned the town where the tavern or inn was to be operated. Exact locations were not required on the application. The same was true with regard to the name of the establishment. Through an Act entitled, “An Act to further regulate the licensing of inns and taverns and places for the sale of malt, vinous, spirituous and other intoxicating liquor or drink, approved March 13, 1882,” applications had to designate the exact location within the town and, where possible, a name given to the establishment.

Among the more significant changes was the addition of the Wholesale Liquor license. Through an Act entitled, “An Act to Regulate the sale of Intoxicating and Brewed Liquors, passed March 7, 1889, approved March 20, 1889,” wholesale dealers were required to obtain a separate license to sell spirituous, vinous, malt and brewed liquors, in quantities from one quart to five gallons. The key words differentiating the tavern or inn license from the wholesale license was “not to be drunk on or about the premises where sold.” Fees for the wholesale liquor license were much higher, ranging from $150 and up. Application procedures to the Court of Common Pleas and the recording and filing procedures by the Clerk of Pleas remained the same.

Another important change after 1872 was that town councils in certain cities, townships and boroughs within the State were given the authority by the Legislature to issue licenses within their limits. It appears from the dates of the Tavern Application series that the towns, boroughs and villages within Monmouth County did not exercise the authority, as licenses continued to be granted in the Court of Common Pleas until the passage of Prohibition in 1919.

Early tavern applications (1736 1838) were submitted to the Quarter Sessions Court. Included are the required recognizance and the recommendations of neighbors and town freeholders which were filed by the Clerk of Pleas & Sessions. Also included with the applicant’s documentation is the petition to the Quarter Sessions Court. Lists of licenses granted, within a Court term, also can be found in the minutes of the Quarter Sessions books.

Under the March 1, 1838 Act, the power and authority of granting licenses was moved from Quarter Sessions to the Common Pleas Court. Again, each applicant was required to submit the recognizance to the Clerk of the Court along with the recommendations and petition. Remonstrances, if any had been filed with the Court by objecting town residents, were attached to the petition. It was at this point that the Clerk of the Court was required, by law, to note on the back of each petition the status of the applications (such as granted, refused or withdrawn) and the date filed. All documents pertaining to the granting of the license were held by the Clerk of Common Pleas. Lists of licenses granted each term by the Court of Common Pleas also can be found within the minutes of the Common Pleas Court books.

The main drawback in the research use of early applications is the frequent absence of a tavern or inn name. It was not until 1883 that the applicant was required to designate the building and locality. Although it was not required before 1883, some early applications do provide a description of where the tavern or inn was located. A few even mention a well traveled road or a well known landmark or resident in the area. In a rare instance, the establishment’s name is mentioned. After 1873, many tavern, inn, and saloon keepers, by the nature of their particular business, were required to obtain both a tavern and inn license and a wholesale liquor license.

A folder of Tavern Rates is in Box 1.

This series is open to researchers without restriction.

The Tavern Applications are available on microfilm in the Archives reading room. A searchable online database index is available on Archives webpage at Tavern Applications. Two computer indexes are available in the reading room. One is arranged alphabetically by owner name, the other is arranged alphabetically by town and chronologically within the town.The following fields are included in the indexes:
SUBSER – type of license, either tavern and inn license or wholesale license.
OWNER NAME – name of owner.
TWN TWP – location of establishment.
TAVNAME- name of tavern or inn or wholesale dealer, whenever given on application.
BDATE – beginning date is the first year of ownership. Many businesses were under one ownership for many years.
EDATE – end date is the last year the applicant petitioned for a license.
TSFRDTO – name of new owner if the license was transferred before the year’s expiration date.
REMON – remonstrance; a Y (yes) indicates a remonstrance had been filed against the granting of a license.
Additional notations are included in the index particularly regarding partnerships. If there was more than one owner, the application would be filed by the name of the first owner. Partners appear in alphabetical order in the index with the notation, “2nd or 3rd owner SEE ……..,” referring to the first owner’s name where all documentation pertaining to the tavern, inn or wholesale dealer is filed.

During the processing of the Tavern Application series, lists of “licenses granted” were found among the applications and petitions. These lists had been prepared by the County Clerk from the minutes of the Quarter Sessions and later, the Common Pleas. In some cases, when the applicant had filed the petition in the Court, it was recorded in the minutes. If and when the license was granted, the name would have been added to the list of “licenses granted” during the court term. When an applicant appears both within the applications and on the lists, the notation will refer to two different microfilm rolls where the information can be found. In other cases, the names of tavern or inn owners appeared only on the list of “licenses granted.” In this case there is no other documentation relating to the applicant. The notation in the index will indicate that information relating to that particular applicant will appear only on the list of “licenses granted.” Some of the lists were found after the series had been microfilmed. If this is the case, the notation will indicate that it has not been microfilmed.

Two special indexes provide additional information: bottlers and a yearly total of licenses granted. The first special index printout is a list of tavern owners who also had a bottler license.

The second special index provides the number of licenses on file for each year in chronological order. Missing years and sharply varying totals may indicate that the records are incomplete. However, high annual totals are generally reflective of economic expansion periods such as 1889, when 107 liquor license applications were filed.

Tavern applications are arranged alphabetically by tavern owner. The 23 tavern owners who also filed for a bottler’s license are noted as “Bottler” in the Notes section.

Monmouth County Archives
125 Symmes Drive
Manalapan, NJ 07726
Phone: 732-308-3771

In 1988, the original collection consisting of 56 boxes of documents was transferred from the Hall of Records to the Archives for permanent storage. On February 9, 1994, twenty-five additional boxes of tavern applications, which had been placed in the Monmouth County Historical Association for safekeeping prior to the opening of the Archives, were returned to the Archives under Accession No. 1994-01 from Barbara Carver Smith. The 25 boxes were processed and added at the end of the original collection, which is indicated on the finding aid shelf list.

Records in the original collection were microfilmed in 1993. The supplementary set of records was microfilmed in 1999. The database was created September 22, 2006, and updated by George Joynson in May 2015. The finding aid was created February 1994, revised April 1996, and revised by George Joynson in June 2015.

In Bottler Records, a few tavern owners also applied for bottling business. Their tavern or wholesale applications included their designation as a bottler. Lists of licenses granted within a Court term, also can be found in the minutes of the Quarter Sessions minute books.