Beer has been a part of American culture since our ancestors first arrived. In fact, the ship Arabella left England with 10,000 gallons of beer and 120 casks of malt to make good cheer in the New World. A good pint will cure what “ales” you, plus it prevents scurvy and other diseases.
Harvard students low on dough paid tuition fees in wheat and malt to supply the campus brew house. Early records indicate that it was mandatory for every town to establish a licensed ordinary or else incur a fine.
At the time, inn holding was considered a very reputable occupation, and Newbury had a top-shelf resort operated by Tristram and Dionis Coffin, who the records indicate were licensed for business on May 26, 1647.
The Coffins ran a ferry on the Newbury side of the Merrimack, receiving “two pence a person out, and two pence back, and four pence a beast.” The original structure is no longer standing, and to set the record straight, Tristram Jr., rather than his father, owned the historical Coffin House, located on 14 High Road (1678) in Newbury. Many sources list this as the location of the tavern, which is incorrect.
Records indicate the Coffins owned 40 acres across from Carr Island. In later years, the road to the inn, known as Coffin Lane, was located on the west side of present day Jefferson Street, down by the shore of the Merrimack River.
In 1645, the government passed regulations requiring that “every person licensed to keep an ordinary shall always be provided with good wholesome beer of 4 bushels of malt to the hogshead, which he shall not sell above 2 pence the ale quart. Whosoever failed to comply with the provisions of this law should forfeit for the first offence 40 shillings & for the second offence shall forfeit their license.”
In general, Puritan laws were not open to interpretation, and those who stepped out of bounds were hauled in for examination.