by Linda Lee Graham
The Man Full of Trouble Tavern is the only pre-Revolutionary tavern surviving in Philadelphia today.

The Neighborhood

Built in 1759 on the banks of the swampy, mosquito-infested Dock Creek, the Man Full of Trouble was a humble establishment. It catered to the “lower sort,” leaving the more genteel establishments to men like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

It was located in one of the worst parts of town. Tanneries emptied their waste into the adjacent Dock Creek, effectively turning the creek into an open sewer and a deadly source of disease.

Once residents petitioned the city to take action, the tavern’s surrounding neighborhood improved. The clean-up was completed in a series of slow steps. By the 1780s most of the filth of Dock Creek was filled in and paved over.

The Drawbridge and Dock Creek, Early Philadelphia, Its People, Life & Progress, {{PD-US}}

A Man loaded with Mischief, or Matrimony. A Monkey, a Magpie, and Wife; Is the true Emblem of Strife © Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Its Name

The tavern may have first been called Man with a Load of Mischief. Its earliest sign depicted a man carrying a woman piggyback.

Today’s sign depicts a less boisterous image—a man with a monkey on his shoulder and a woman on his arm.

Today’s sign

Good Entertainment A New Book of Figure Studies © Trustees of the British Museum. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Its Patrons

The Man was licensed to sell only beer and cider—no wine or spirits. Near the waterfront, the establishment was frequented by sailors, dockhands, shipwrights, sailmakers, port merchants and the like. It was a place to eat, drink, smoke and exchange high talk and loose gossip.

It’s probable its patrons drank primarily from leather cups, pewter mugs, and wooden vessels. Excavators found little evidence of drinking glasses in the cellar.

Travelers lodged on the second floor. Space was scarce, and beds would often hold three to four men at a time. When those were full, there was also the floor and the staircase.

The cellar housed the kitchen and storage area. It also served as a dormitory of sorts for the hired help, both men and women.

Man Full of Trouble Tavern, Philadelphia, PA

The Tavern Today

In 1962, Virginia and Wilhelm Knauer purchased the tavern, rescuing it from a state of decrepitude and possible demolition. After restoration they invited graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania to excavate a small area of the Tavern’s cellar.

The artifacts found offer a glimpse into the everyday lives of the early patrons. Among them were small bits of clay tobacco pipes, pieces of leather, bones, turtle shells, and chips of blue-green window glass. Scant evidence to be sure, but a meaningful treasure nonetheless.

The Man is now closed to the public.

David and Liam frequented the Man Full of Trouble Tavern often in Voices Beckon, a coming of age romance set in 1780s Philadelphia.

“If ever ye can’t find me, Davey, try the Man Full over on Second. I’ve taken a liking to the place. Food’s fair, and it’s easy to roust up a game.”    Liam Brock

Voices Beckon

  1. Horace Mather Lippincott, Early Philadelphia: Its People, Life & Progress  Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1917
  2. Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts, Michael Parrington. The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993

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