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June 01, 2007
In doing genealogical research, there are words and terms found in records and manuscripts for which the researcher does not know the meaning. Some of these terms lead to interesting finds in the world of research, and one such word is the noun, ordinary.

An ordinary is presented as a public house or tavern, a house of private entertainment. The usual fee for a license or permit to keep an ordinary for one year was $18/$20 during the period 1778-1881. One such record reads as follows:

'On motion of John L. Hereford who produced the Sheriff?s receipt for Eighteen dollars the tax imposed by law and the court being satisfied that he is a man of honesty, probity, and good demeanor and not addicted to drunkenness or gaming leave is granted him to keep a house of public entertainment at the house now occupied by him at Henry Court house for twelve months from this day.' ( May 14, 1827, Minute Book 1, page 349)

Some of the persons during this period who kept an ordinary, other than John L. Hereford, were Mordicai Hord, Brice Martin, W.J. Jones, S.H. Lavinder, John Marr, Ruben Payne, Isaac McDonald, Thomas G. Dyer, Josiah Shaw, George Hairston, Henry Clark, Zachariah Philpott, John Redd, William Spencer, Cornelius Cayton, and Benjamin Watkins. Women also had ordinaries, and two were found in these records?Mary Hickey and Pernetta Meade.

At times for whatever reason an application was refused by the Justice and the court. One such record was the application for Pernetta A. Meade of Martinsville. The vote 'resulted as follows: for granting said license - 8, against granting said license - 14, and therefore it is considered by the court that said license be refused to the said applicant.' But, two months later being satisfied that she is of sober habits and good character she is permitted to keep an ordinary at her home in Martinsville. No reason was given why the application was rejected, nor later accepted.

We always find it interesting as to the prices of items during these periods.

The court would set the rate for liquors, diets and lodging, pasturage and stablage, and in March of 1780 prices were listed as follows:

Good West India Rum, gallon - 36.0.0
Brakfast, if hot, one person - 1.4.0
Corn p gallon - 1.4.0
Oats - 1.4.0
Lodging for each person - 0.9.0
Brandy per gallon - 25.0.0
Stablage for each horse - 0.6.0
Diner for each person if hot - 1.10.0
Pasturage - 0.6.0
Fodder per bundle - 3.0

By May of that same year, prices had increased such that the Good West India Rum per gallon was listed as 57.6.0!

From the old taverns and ordinaries, sayings have been passed down from generation to generation and these sayings are still used today. At local taverns and ordinaries, people drank from pint and quart-sized containers. A barmaid?s job was to keep an eye on the customers and keep the drinks coming. She had to pay close attention and remember who was drinking in pints and who was drinking in quarts, hence the term 'minding your Ps and Qs'.

Early politicians required information from the public to determine what the people wanted, what they considered important, what they didn't. There were no telephones and no TVs, so the politicians sent an assistant to the taverns and ordinaries to ?go sip some ale? and listen to what the conversations were about, listen as to the concerns of the people. The assistants were told to cover all of the ordinaries, and at different times they were told to 'go sip here' and 'go sip there' and these two words 'go sip' were eventually combined. Thus, we have the term 'gossip'.

It is always interesting at the Historical Center, so come and join us, research your family, research the old records and see what you will find!

Pat Ross
'The Roots that make Us One are Stronger than the Branches that Divide Us.' Author Unknown








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