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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Simon Huntington, Jr.(1659-1736) and Lydia Gager Huntington(1663-1737): Pious Bartenders

Simon, Jr. and Lydia Gager Huntington home in the 1890s, Unlike many antique homes in New England, this one has remained in its place since erected in the late 17th or early 18th century.

The Simon, Jr. and Lydia Gager home in the 2000s. Same location on Norwichtown Green.

Simon Huntington, Jr. (1659-1736) and Lydia Gager Huntington (1663-1737) are perhaps a good representation of successful third generation English-Americans (and remember, they still thought of themselves as English!) in New England. They married in 1683 and were leaders in Norwich society by the time of their deaths in 1736 and 1737 respectively. Their parents and grandparents had done the back-breaking work of immigrating and moving from settlement to settlement during the period of 1633-1659.

Life was getting easier for these children of English pioneers. 17th century Norwich families worked hard, worshiped hard, and led through example. This precedent would stand the test of time well into the 19th century.

Many families were rewarded with profits. A vigorous participation in trade was the best way to get ahead. Most families had plowable land, a woodlot, and herds. They could trade/barter their excess farm/home products to gain wealth. The key was the ability to get good land. Always. Also, to have a large family.

Simon, Jr. and Lydia checked most of these boxes (except the large family--they had four children, relatively small by Norwich standards). They accrued modest wealth over the course of their 53-year marriage. In fact, they were respected leaders in Norwich society and politics. One of the reasons we know this is because of Simon's inherited role as deacon and their stint at running what they called an "ordinary."

In 17th century Connecticut, taverns or inns were called ordinaries but they were also referred to as "houses of entertainment." In the 18th century, they would come to be known as "taverns" and "inns." Conventional wisdom would not put piety and bartending together. But, that is where we would be wrong.

17th century woodcut engraving of a tavern scene in an English home. The details are telling: clay pipes, head coverings, long hair, pewter tavern flagons, cups, wood floors, and diamond-paned windows. Perhaps the young boy is bringing a flagon to the one guy who doesn't have one. Everyone in the family helped run the house/tavern. Most likely an English woodcut engraving.

It appears that Simon, Jr. inherited both roles (ordinary-keeper and deacon) from Simon, Sr. on or around senior's death in 1706. By then, Simon, Jr. and Lydia had built a new house (see picture above) on land given to them by Simon, Sr and Sarah. This house would supposedly be referred to as "the Huntington Tavern" as time went on. It reportedly was built around 1690.

A 17th century tavern table sold at Nadeau's auction house in 2020. Source: Antiques and Arts Weekly.

Only townsmen-approved men could run an ordinary. "Grave and respectable citizens were chosen to keep the early ordinaries and sell liquor," wrote Alice Morse Earle. And, she pointed out that they were usually deacons. The owner had to police his guests because as the 17th century wore on strict puritanism was basically finished, and drunkenness (or tippling) was a problem. Thus, the keepers had to be upstanding citizens--not tipplers themselves. Enter: Simon Huntington, Jr.

Another early 18th century tavern table with original paint? Owned by Diana Atwood Johnson. Sold in 2020 for $18,000 by Nadeau's auction house. Source: Antiques and Arts Weekly.

As already mentioned, most industrious Puritan/Yankee families had many income-generating side-hustles. Simon, Jr., Lydia, and their children (Simon IV, Sarah, Ebenezer, and Joshua) created their income mainly through animal husbandry, meat production, dairying, spinning, coopering, and trading/selling. Keep in mind that everyone was trading as there was no currency system yet-this would start to change with the turn of the 18th century according to Richard L. Bushman.

Also according to Bushman, many shrewd and pious Connecticut families further expanded their wealth through the privilege of running "a house of entertainment." That is another clue as to the wealth that Simon, Jr. was creating for his two male heirs. And little did he know it, but this was seed money for the revolution that was coming.

Finally, the Simon, Jr. 1736 inventory points to all of their profitable "side-hustles:"

  • plenty of beds for overnight guests (approved out-of-towners)

  • Lots of pewter ware (for serving paying guests) and woodenware

  • casks for liquor

  • cooper's tools in the "shop"

  • spinning wheels (wool and flax)

  • lots of cattle (dairy, meat, and work)

  • tools for haying

  • carts for hauling goods

  • A generous supply of cloth for sale

At some point in the early 18th century (or earlier), Simon, Jr. was a full blown merchant. Afterall, he came from a solid merchant background. In his youth, he was trained by his fathers, and others, to be a cooper, farmer, and animal husbandman. But, he also was learning the fine art of trading merchandise for profit, like his ancestors before him.

It is important to remember that the Huntingtons did not come to New England as country farmers, rather, as the children and grandchildren of urban Puritan merchants. By the early 18th century, they were doing quite well.

Sources used to write this blog: Alice Morse Earle, Stage-Coach and Tavern Days (1900); Frances Manwaring Caulkins, The History of Norwich... (1866); Richard L. Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee... (1967); and Simon Huntington III probate inventory dated 1736.


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