I must admit this topic is an entirely new area of research for me. When I was at the NJ State Archives last year and the librarian kindly suggested that I check the card index for tavern applications, I assured her that MY ancestor was not a tavernkeeper. The only way I could be so certain of that was by virtue of the preconceived ideas I had about him. Every relation in my line is a farmer - that's just so. This is how I learn my lessons - the hard way.....
Luckily I went back to that card catalog that day at the Archives and to my astonishment found a tavern application in May, 1776 by my Ernest Mann in Oxford, NJ. Not only that, but he also offers up his previous experience operating a house of entertainment in Philadelphia for many years previous. Oh my.
Now that I'm looking, the occupation of tavernkeeper or innholder is showing up everywhere. George Ernst, who died in 1759 in Phildelphia and was apparently a friend of the Mann family, was a tavernkeeper. Ernest Mann's brother, John (Johannes) was an innholder in Northern Liberties, PA until his death in 1790. Ernest Mann bought land in Oxford, NJ from a relative, Thomas Hayes, who was yes, a tavern keeper.
According to "The Taverns of Colonial Philadelphia" by Robert Earle Graham, "Inns and taverns can be thought of as synonymous terms, referring to business ventures licensed to lodge travelers and to serve meals and beverages to both travelers and men-about-town."
Oxford must have been a bustling place in 1776 and the ensuing years of war with the British. Built up around the Oxford Furnace, one of the first producers of iron ore, Oxford was thought to have supplied Washington's troops with equipment. Indeed, in December of 1776, Washington would cross the Delaware River at Trenton and defeat a Hessian (German) army of 1400 (Hessians were recruited by and incorporated into the British army). What was going on in the mind and heart of my German ancestor in his tavern in Oxford? Or in his brother's inn back in Philadelphia? One thing seems sure - they and their taverns were in the thick of the American Revolution.