On July 23rd 1770, Henry Bowen was granted license to 'keep a publick House of Entertainment'. From that day, until he sold it to Joshua Bicknell and Enoch Remington in 1783, Bowen kept a tavern, inn, and country store just north of Old Barrington Village's colonial meetinghouse. The new Bowen Tavern was in front of a home at 474 County Road. Henry Bowen was a meticulous bookkeeper and the records he kept give us a glimpse into life in both Old Barrington Village and Colonial New England.
During the 18th Century, a stage coach travelling between Newport and Boston would take two days to make the trek and--conveniently--pass directly by Bowen's establishment. And so, when Mr. John Tripp and his wife made the journey on May 10th, 1776 they stayed the night as Bowen's guests. In the morning they were presented with an itemized bill showing 11 separate entries. Among these items were: 1 gill Brandy at 5 ½ pence; ½ mug Cyder at 1 ½ pence; 1 bowl Toddy at 9 pence; and 'lodging you and wife' at 6 pence. It is interesting to note that the cost for a bowl of 'toddy' (a warm alcoholic drink, usually rum or whiskey, mixed with sugar) was 1.5 times the cost of lodging.
While lodging at Bowen's, it is likely the Tripps would have rubbed elbows with a who's who of locals, whose patronage has likewise been memorialized in Bowen's ledgers.
The Rev. Solomon Townsend, minister at the meetinghouse 1743-1796, lived next door to the Tavern and appears to have been fond of rum. Interestingly, Bowen's ledgers show that when he wasn't there in person, his housekeeper Elizabeth would be sent to fetch a couple quarts for the Reverend.
Josiah Viall, the local Blacksmith, who is credited for both shoeing Bowen's horses, as well as mending his 'flip iron,' 'generally took his pay in liquor' with his favorite being 'Jamaica Spirits.'
Perhaps the most colorful of Bowen's patrons was the shoemaker Samuel Allen, who lived just across the road. As a prominent figure in town, Allen was a member of both the Town Council and State Legislature. He was also a delegate to the Continental Congress who voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution in 1790. Like other prominent figures in Rhode Island during this period, Samuel Allen was also a slave owner.
Of note in the Tavern's records, Allen was party to some mysterious incident for which Bowen charged him a total of 5 shillings and 7 pence for 'breaking my arm chair', 'breaking…my window' and 'splitting…a panel door.' One can only wonder what that was about!