The Tavern of John McHeath


The Stage Coach Inn was located about
twenty miles from McHeath’s Tavern.

Local history books provided the setting and conflict for my story, The Least of These.

The Revolutionary War was a brutal time in South Carolina when neighbors chose sides, resulting on a whopping one-third of the population as active Loyalists. This created a more true civil war than any in U.S. history. Neighbors destroyed each other’s homes, raped, scalped, and hacked each other to bits. Corpses were even dug up and abused.

A re-created tavern at the Living
History Park, North Augusta, S. C.

Real-life character Tarleton Brown and his young fictional savior, Mary Edith Dillon, sided with the Patriots. I needed a loyal subject of His Highness King George III to act as their foil.

From The Village of Barnwell by William Hansford Duncan, I learned the focal point of colonial life in my town was a tavern located on Red Hill, run by a man named John McHeath.

McHeath’s inn was famous for its whiskey. However, taverns were not only where folks went to throw back a few shots. They were often the only community buildings available. They could be used as courtrooms, schoolhouses, and even church services. To prevent drunkenness during these tamer activities, a set of wooden bars would be lowered to block access to alcohol. Even today, 

Note the bar that was lowered for
non-alcoholic activities.

we say, “The bar is closed.”

Taverns were prevalent along main thoroughfares and trading routes in the backwoods. McHeath’s Tavern served as an oasis on the Charles Town-Augusta stagecoach road where travelers stopped for food, drink, or a night’s rest, if needed. Locals showed up to hear gossip, make contacts, or enjoy a game of cards, or patrons might enjoy the occasional brawl or cockfight. I can imagine some gritty political discussions, too.

Inside the tavern at the Historic
Camden Revolutionary War Site
With that, the stage is set. Let the drama begin.

RESEARCH TIP: I learned much of this information from the tavern keeper at the “Living History Park” in North Augusta, South Carolina (http://www.colonialtimes.us/). Re-enactors are a great source of knowledge since they tend to be very passionate about their topic and strive for accuracy to the smallest detail. And like any enthusiast, they love to talk about their interest. 

Also helpful, I found a facsimile of a colonial tavern at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site of Camden, South Carolina. Since McHeath’s inn is long gone, it helps to have one I can enter, walk around, and get a feel for.

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