Cornwall Taverns

During the 19th century it was not uncommon for many local villages across the Island to erect taverns or inns.  Much like today the early settlers appeared to have been fond of the odd drink or two.  Those who desired to sell "strong" drinks were required to obtain a license.  Records of annual "Licensed Retailers of Spirituous Liquors” can be found in early Council Office log books as well as newspaper announcements.  Although the government was more or less consistent in keeping records, they are unfortunately not very detailed.  The exact locations of the taverns were never specified.  The lack of details can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Prince Edward Island was still in the early days of settlement, homesteads and roads were still becoming established.  Some areas still did not have place names and those that did were ambiguous at best.  That being said, the records only go as far as indicating taverns on certain properties (which could be hundreds of acres) and the names of the men who leased them.  To pin-point the general area of the tavern, early maps with the names of the settlers and their acreage were used to cross-reference the license records.  Although numerous names appear on the license ledger for Lot 32, those who were confirmed as non-Cornwall area residents will be omitted from this particular history.

The most interesting information regarding taverns and their colorful keepers comes from early history papers written by life-time Cornwall residents.  Unfortunately, the sources of these stories were rarely referenced.  However, it is known that a great deal of the information for at least one source was obtained by means of oral history and folklore. 

In his book, The Old Cornwall and the New 1799-1964, Frank MacArthur recounts several stories of tavern keepers including Noah Wibbey, a man named Connaway and Mike Walsh.  Other histories also mention Noah Wibbey.  The story goes that he ran a tavern called “Noah’s Ark”.1  It is also said that this tavern was located on the Drake property2 which was situated next to Zechariah Mayhew.3  Apparently at one time a depression of the taverns cellar was visible.4  Noah “Whitby’s” name appears only three times in the ledger books.  He held a license to sell spirituous liquors from 1850-1861 in the West River area.5  A land conveyance dated 1840 indicates the transfer of land between William Wilson and Noah Whitdby.  The land was a parcel consisting of 23 and 2/3 acres in “Elliot River” along the Mill Creek, Lot 32.  Although the dimensions of the property in question are vague and hard to pin-point, it does seem to be in the same general area as described by two earlier sources.

MacArthur also mentions a man by the name of Connaway who also ran a tavern in Cornwall and even goes as far as mentioning, by name, those who frequented the tavern, those who would, “rather fight than eat.”6  As amusing as the story may be there is no official record of any Connaway licensed to operate a tavern anywhere on Lot 32.

Unfortunately research cannot confirm that a man named Mike Walsh owned a tavern in Cornwall.  However, a man named Thomas Walsh owned a tavern on Lot 32, York River in 1825.  The ledger books even mentions the name of the establishment, which is very rare.  It was called the Ferryman.  Walsh paid 2.00 for the annual license (currency is not indicated, it could be in British pounds or another form of Prince Edward Island Currency).  According to an 1825 map Thomas Walsh owned some sort of establishment located very near the end of the Ferry Road.7  It is entirely possible that the “Ferryman” was a convenient place for travelers to stop in and have a drink before or after taking the ferry to Charlottetown.

Setting folklore aside, official records do tell us that there were a decent number of taverns and a few stores in the Cornwall area over the 19th century.  At least half a dozen different men owned taverns in the Cornwall area.  Between the years 1825 and 1869, John Pye, Edward Mayhew, Nicholas Morshead, Thomas Walsh, James Traenor, and John Leonard all ran taverns in the Cornwall area.8  Michael Fernsy, Angus McDonald and John MacArthur were also registered as store owners along ‘North River,’9  but their exact location cannot be confirmed.  Other tavern owners that cannot be confirmed as Cornwall residents, but ran taverns in Lot 32 included Samuel Brown, Samuel Widgery, Otto Curtis, William C. Rodd, and John Mallet.10

Considering the small population of Lot 32 by the mid 1800’s (1,200 people within the entire Lot in 186111), there seemed to have been a great number of taverns!  Although folklore and oral tradition may make for a more interesting story, they unfortunately cannot be confirmed.  It is entirely possible though that certain establishments operated without licenses and bootlegging was a common practice.  Whatever the truth may be, it can be said for certain that the settlers throughout the Cornwall area enjoyed a strong drink or two!

*** Note: The spelling of Noah Wibbey’s surname appears differently in almost every record.  Different spellings include; Wibbey, Whiby, Whitby, Whitdby, Whidby, Whibbey, etc. ***

tavern map

Map created by Sara Richard