“Like true Englishmen,” wrote Colonel William Byrd, of Westover, of the men who founded Jamestown, Virginia, “they built a church that cost no more than fifty pounds, and a tavern that cost five hundred.”
Unfortunately we have no details about this first inn in America, and can only suggest the date of its construction, which must have been between the years 1607, when the city was founded, and 1616, when the settlement was at its ebb. Despite the proportionately large sum of money spent upon its building, according to Colonel Byrd, the Jamestown tavern probably was not any too good. Even a century and a half later, the inns, taverns and ordinaries in Virginia, according to Thomas Auburey, Rochefoucauld, and Smyth, were not regarded as much more than shelters for the traveller. Henry Cabot Lodge declares “the taverns were probably the most uncomfortable habitations in the province,” although he admits that in the latter half of the eighteenth century “a good inn could be found” here and there in the towns.
Wherever there was a port, in the colonies, there the traveller would be certain to find an inn. At long distances along the high-roads between the great towns there also could be found inns or taverns. Interior travel in the early days of the colonies could be accomplished only on the back of a horse, which necessitated accommodations for the traveller’s steed as well as for himself. Post roads were established early in, the eighteenth century, and just as they had improved and multiplied the inns in England, so they increased travel in the colonies. The first post offices established in the colonies were created by Act of Parliament in 1710.
Very few particulars are available about the earliest inns in the colonies. Only a few of them were even passably good. In a general way they were patterned on the inns of Europe, but it should be remembered that they were here in a sparsely settled country which was little more than a fringe of civilization on a wilderness extending westward across a continent.
One of the earliest inns of which we have a picture, and no one dare vouch too strongly for its authenticity, although it probably is fairly faithful, is the Blue Anchor Inn, which was erected in Philadelphia some time during the year 1682. When William Penn landed in the city of his dreams, in November of that year, he was welcomed at the inn as he stepped ashore from the boat which had brought him up the Delaware River from Upland, now Chester, Pennsylvania. Aside from the Jamestown inn, in Virginia, and the official inn in New Amsterdam, the Blue Anchor, in Philadelphia, was the earliest historic inn in Colonial America. It is true the Habitation built by Champlain at Quebec might be regarded as an inn. But it also was a fort, a military head-quarters, and the chief French Settlement in French America in the early seventeenth century, or a year after Jamestown was founded, 1608. l’Habitation was a group of buildings, but it also had claims to be classed as an inn.
What was known as the Hancock tavern, in Boston, and regarded as the oldest inn in the Massachusetts capital, was even earlier than the Blue Anchor, but its chief history is entwined with that of later times. Indeed, some New England historians dispute the claim that it occupied the site of the first inn in Boston.
The Blue Anchor Tavern, or inn, which stood in Front Street, Philadelphia, until early in the nineteenth century, had caused so much speculation regarding its origin and history, especially as the proprietor of a rather modern saloon situated a block away claimed for his house the honor of being the real Blue Anchor Inn, that the Colonial Society of Pennsylvania had a report on the subject made by one of its members, Thomas Allen Glenn. This report, together with a picture of the original Blue Anchor Tavern, was published in the January, 1897, number of the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.
In the course of his investigations and researches, Mr. Glenn discovered that taverns or inns were fairly plentiful on the Delaware River by the time William Penn paid his first visit in 1682. “In the year 1671,” the historian wrote, “it was proposed by Captain Carr, on behalf of the towns-people of New Castle, and Plantations on Delaware, to the Governor and Council, `That ye number of Strong Drink be ascertained, That is to say, three only for ye towne and some few up, Ye River, who ye Officers, shall think fitt and approve.’ Of some few up ye River, the Blue Anchor be-came one.” It should be understood that in 1671 Penn had no idea of ever possessing the great territory which in 1681 was granted him by King Charles II.
At the time this proposition was made the Duke of York claimed both sides of the Delaware River, and these territories were administered from New York, by the British Governor, Sir Edmund Andross, although the Dutch claimed all this region as the New Netherlands. Mr. Glenn was not able to definitely find the date of the building of the Blue Anchor, which was a brick structure, but he reported that at the time of Penn’s arrival it was owned by Captain William Dare, the first landlord. The building had a front of sixteen feet, and a depth of thirty-six feet and was situated on the bank of Dock Creek at a point which subsequently was in the line of Front Street, and at a distance of 146 feet north from the creek a stream long since covered by Dock Street. There would be little profit in following the brief of title to the property, relating the successive owners, but it is essential to show that after the City of Philadelphia was laid out, the Blue Anchor was moved to the western side of Front Street. During the Revolution the sign was changed to “Boatswain and Call,” and in later years was kept by Peter Evans at what was then No. 138 South Front Street, represented by the present number 256. The Old Blue Anchor Inn was removed in the year 1810 and a new building erected on its site by Levi Garrett, who came from Delaware in the year and established snuff mills there which remained in the family for nearly a century.
While there might be some flaw in the claim to antiquity made for the inn or tavern in Boston, long known as the Hancock Tavern, which, until about twenty-five years ago, stood in Corn Court, on the south side of Faneuil Hall Square, it has been related that as early as 1634 Samuel Cole established a public house on this site, which building had undergone many changes, and in 1780, when John Han-cock was made Governor of Massachusetts, the tavern sign bore a portrait of that patriot and former president of the Continental Congress and became known as the Hancock Tavern. There was no doubt that the building, which even the present generation may have seen, was a very old one, and there was no question that it had many claims to be regarded as historic.
Writing of the old place, in 1903, Edwin M. Bacon referred to it in these words : “From the south side of this Square (Faneuil Hall Square) opens Corn Court, which runs in irregular form to Merchant’s Row. Herein was the Corn Market of Colonial times. A landmark of a later day, which remained till the present year, was an old inn long known as Hancock Tavern. While not so ancient as it was alleged, the site of the first tavern in the town, it was an interesting landmark with rich associations. It became the Hancock Tavern when John Hancock was made the first governor of the Commonwealth, and the swing sign displaying his roughly painted portrait is still preserved. At other periods it was the Brazier Inn, kept by Madam Brazier, niece of the Provincial Lieutenant Governor Spencer Phipps (1733), who made a specialty of noonday punch for its patrons. In this tavern lodged Talleyrand when exiled from France, during his stay in Boston in 1795; also two years later, Louis Philippe; and, in 1796, the exiled French priest, John Cheverus, who afterward became the first Roman Catholic bishop of Boston. A modern office building is to occupy its site.”
Other writers who have referred to the old inn state that in 1636 Governor Sir Harry Vane entertained there Miantonomah and his Narragansett warriors; that the historic Boston Tea Party held meetings in this great room; and that Washington, Franklin, and other patriots visited the tavern.
As the principal inns in the Colonies were to be found along the main highways, the post roads, it is interesting to know that the chief post roads were few in number. Of course, there were branch roads tapping the populated sections of each colony, but the principal roads before the Revolution were about four in number. There were the Boston Post Road, between the New England Capital and New York City, by way of Springfield, and the road between the two cities by way of Providence; there was the road across New Jersey from a point near Amboy to Burlington, the remainder of the distance between that town and Philadelphia being usually accomplished by boats on the Delaware River. There was a southern road which led from Philadelphia to the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace, where passengers were ferried to continue their journey to Baltimore. About the time the Revolution began the road between New York and Philadelphia started at Pawles Hook, now Jersey City, to Trenton, where passengers were ferried to the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River to continue their journey to Philadelphia, or vice versa, by a road then opened, instead of making the remainder of the journey by boat.
Inns or taverns that had any claim to being regarded as historic from any view other than mere age were found along these three main thoroughfares. Those early travellers who visited America and then wrote books about their experiences when they returned to Europe, passed from city to city, and town to town along these historic highways.
Starting from Boston, we may hurriedly sketch some of the inns that have received attention from distinguished visitors who had been their guests. By the Boston Post Road, the distance between that city and New York was 250 miles, by the Springfield route. This and the Providence route are still the chief highways for motor traffic between these two cities.
One of the old inns along the northern road which has been much celebrated is the Old Red Horse Tavern near Sudbury, Massachusetts, about 24 miles from Boston. Very few persons would recognize in its name anything suggestive of the historic, but among other things, and probably chiefly because the poet Longfellow laid the scenes of one of his longest series of poems there, “Tales of a Wayside Inn,” it has become a place of pilgrimage. He may not have made its fame, but he spread its story throughout the reading world. So deep an impression did the poem make that the house has since been pointed out as “The Wayside Inn.” It is generally understood that the present building, which Henry Ford bought a year or two ago to preserve as a museum and as a specimen of New England Colonial architecture, is not the original Red Horse, which is said to have been erected here about the middle of the seventeenth century.
Howeverthat may be, it bears evidences of considerable age, especially in the tap room, and perhaps one might say that the present structure contains some of the features of the original. It is admitted a tavern or inn was on this site very early and also it is claimed that after the Battle of Lexington some of the soldiers reassembled at the inn. In 1840 it was a tavern or an inn, for Longfellow, in a letter, mentions that he sat out in a stage and breakfasted at the Sudbury tavern. Later, about the time his “Wayside Inn” tales were appearing, the poet rode out to the old place with his publisher, James T. Fields, and on his return wrote in his journal, or diary, that, alas ! it was no longer an inn. Mr. Ford is now making the old inn a place for pilgrimage, and recently has had moved to the same property the little school house at Sterling, where the equally historic Mary Sawyer’s lamb “followed her to school one day,” which venerated structure Mr. Ford also bought to preserve for posterity. The new addition to the Wayside Inn property is to be maintained as a school for the children of the employees of the Inn, and others of the neighborhood.
We can get the best and most lively idea of some of the inns on the old Boston Post Road by examining the accounts of distinguished travellers who had passed that way, for the great part after the Revolution, but so near to the time of that war that the changes either in methods or conveniences were only slight. One of the earliest of these to write a book on his American experiences was Hector Saint-John de Crevecoeur, whose two volumes published in 1784 were immediately translated as “Letters from an American Farmer, and since many times reprinted both in England and in the United States. De Crevecoeur was here before and during the Revolution, and while he does not detail his travels, he gives an accurate picture of the state of the country at that time.
Another Frenchman, who came over in 1788, was the ill-fated Brissot de Warville, whose interesting book on his experiences did not suit some Americans. He returned to France in time to be caught up by the whirlwind of the Revolution and finally died by the guillotine in 1793. He was regarded as one of the most noted French journalists of his time. In the early days of the French Revolution this Girondist demanded a Republic, while Robespierre, later known as a terrorist, merely desired Louis’s deposition and a regency under the Duke of Orleans. His “New Travels in the United States of America Performed in 1788” was published in Paris in 1791, and soon translated and printed in England and in America.
While his description of his journey by coach from Boston to New York contains a few inaccuracies, in the main it is an admirable narrative of conditions of the time. He left Boston at four o’clock on an August morning, and the coach stopped at Weston for breakfast. He does not tell us the name of the inn, as, indeed, he neglects to do usually, but, as he was followed, in the year 1794, by a methodical Englishman, who also wrote a book, “The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America,” Henry Wansey, who describes himself as a Wiltshire Clothier, we are able to check his statements. From Wansey we learn that it was at Captain Flagg’s inn at Weston that the coach stopped for breakfast, and that Weston is 16 miles from Boston. He wrote:
“We now came to Weston, which is five miles from Waltham, and had brought in for our breakfasts, beef-steaks, coffee, bacon and eggs, and veal-cutlets, with toast and butter; the very sight of these things took away my appetite, the weather being very hot. Captain Flagg charged us two shillings a head for our dejeune, which we thought dear. We paid the dearer, I suppose, because General Washington had been entertained and slept at his house.”
Passengers by coach on this road always dined at Worcester. Brissot mentions it, so does Wansey, but all we know of the inn is that it was kept by a Mr. Mower, and his charges were less than those at Weston, for Wansey relates, “here we dined well on beef and veal, with plenty of greens, potatoes and cucumbers for one shilling and six-pence currency per head, and had as much good cider as we could drink, into the bargain.”
It is possible that the Worcester inn was the historic Exchange Hotel, which was built in 1784 and owned by Colonel Reuben Sykes who was a partner of Levi Pease, the proprietor of a stage line running out of Boston to New York. In 1789, when President Washington passed this way to Boston, the house was called the United States Arms, and it was made historic by having that eminent personage as its guest at breakfast. On this occasion, it is said, to gratify the curiosity of the inhabitants of the town, the General passed through it on horseback. When Lafayette was touring the country as the guest of the nation, 1824-25, he, too, became a guest there.
The first night on the journey was spent at an inn at Spencer, 61 miles from Boston. When Brissot was there, in 1788, he described it as “a new village in the midst of a wood,” but Wansey comments on this statement, adding “but now it is all cultivated so much around it, that there is very little appearance of its having been in the midst of a wood.”
In stage coach days, the passengers had to be early risers.
Brissot, and Wansey after him, had to get up with the dawn in order to be in their places in the coach when it set out at four o’clock in the morning. Brissot had a good word to say for the inn at Spencer. He found it had “an air of cleanliness which pleases.” He found “the chambers were neat, the beds good, the sheets clean, supper passable, cider, tea, punch, and all for fourteen pence.” He adds informingly, “Now, compare, my friend, this order of things with what you have a thousand times seen in our French tavernschambers dirty and hideous, beds infected with bugs, those insects which Sterne calls the rightful inhabitants of taverns, if indeed long possession gives a right; sheets ill washed, and exhaling a fetid odor; bad covering, wine adulterated, and everything at its weight in gold; greedy servants, who are complaisant only in proportion to your equipage; grovel-ling towards a rich traveler, and insolent towards him whom they suspect of mediocrity.”
Breakfast was awaiting Brissot at Brookfield, whose inn originally dated back to the days of the French and Indian War. When Wansey passed this way in 1794, his stage did not stop at Spencer, but put on ten miles further, to Brookfield, which was reached in the dark, and he spent the night there, amid more historic tradition. At that time he found the Brookfield Tavern kept by a Mr. Hitchcock, “an intelligent, civil, curious man; very inquisitive to know all he could about the passengers, as almost all the landlords are in this country.” Brookfield was called Quowbaug in the stormy days of the Indian outbreak known as King Philip’s War, in 167578, and the braves surrounded the little settlement, terrorizing the inhabitants, and killing many of the men. At one time eighty-two of the population, mainly women and children, sought refuge within the walls of the tavern. The Indians twice tried to set fire to the building, finding their fusillade of arrows could not dislodge the little band. Once the men in the party rushed forth and scattered’ the débris that had been fired, and another time a heavy rain fell, quenching the firebrands. The old tavern still stands on the highway at Brookfield, and is now sought by more peaceful travelling motorists. The inn as the present day tourist sees it is said to date only from 1760, but even this building has good claim to be regarded as historic, for Washington made a stop here on his return from Boston, and John Adams was a guest, while Lafayette also was sheltered here on one of his New England journeys.
As Brissot slept at Spencer, he breakfasted next morning at Brookfield; Wansey, who lodged at the latter inn, had his breakfast at Palmer, fourteen miles away. All we are told about the inn at Palmer is that breakfast cost twenty-five cents for each passenger and “was a very bad one.” The English traveller made a note of it in this manner: “our bread was very heavy, seemed to be made of rye; the butter rank, the coffee, ill-made; the best article was the fried fish.” While both travellers passed by way of Spring-field, only Brissot dined there. He lodged at Hartford, Connecticut, and here Wansey gives us some information about the inn, which was called Bull’s Tavern.
“Came on to Hartford to dinner,” he wrote, “to a very pleasant large inn, kept by Frederick Bull. Here I stayed two days, that I might have time to inspect the woolen manufactury of this place, and attend the debates of the House of Representatives of this state, at that (time) sitting; I dined this day at the ordinary, with near thirty of the members.” Further along in his narrative he mentions a visit to Colonel Wadsworth’s where he learned that Brissot, Custine, and Kosciusko had preceded him, and then he reverts to the inn where they also had stopped. Custine, it should be explained, was General Philippe, Le Comte de Custine, at that time a colonel in Rochambeau’s army. He, too, was a victim of the guillotine in France, having been condemned for having made a poor defense against the Prussians at Mayence, in 1793.
“At Frederick Bull’s tavern, where I lodged,” Wansey resumes, “we had excellent provisions; beef, mutton, and veal as good as in England; tea and coffee of the best kind; three sorts of sugar brought always to the table; the muscanado, the fine lump sugar, and the maple; from the novelty of it, I preferred the last, although I could not find much difference of taste f it.”
Leaving Hartford, Brissot had breakfast at Middletown, and dined in New Haven. Brissot still spoke in words of praise for the Connecticut inns, but Wansey was not so mercurial. He was a solid minded man who wrote nothing he did not feel. He speaks of the Middletown inn, saying, “It was a very mean house at which we breakfasted, the worst I have seen; the accommodations equally bad, and for which, as is generally the consequence, we paid very dear. Our bread was cake made of rye, and only half baked; beef-steaks fried in lard; veal-cutlets greasy and black; the tea and coffee smoky. Our sugar was from the maple tree, of which we observed many growing by the road side, for several miles back. At breakfast I was offered by one of the passengers, five hundredweight of it, for fourpence half-penny sterling per pound, but it is contrary to the laws of England to import it.” He found the tavern at New Haven where he dined “very good,” although he does not mention its name. “We had on our table,” he wrote, “mutton, veal, plenty of garden stuff; with cucumbers, a good salad, with cider and brandy, for all of which we paid only half a dollar, or two and threepence sterling.” From this point to New York we lose Mr. Wansey, who decided to travel the remaining distance by boat.
Another traveller who passed over this road in 1793, and who subsequently wrote a valued book about his American experiences, was Charles William Janson, whose volume was published in 1807 soon after his return to England. Janson spent a night at Middletown inn, on which occasion he was the only guest, and did not speak in very glowing language of the place although he thought it typical of the houses he had stopped at in New England. He was kept awake by the croaking of frogs, a noise that was unfamiliar to his ears, and the next morning, having caught one of the amphibians, he desired to have it fricasseed, but no servant in the inn would touch it, so he calmly cooked it himself, and advises his readers to eat frogs’ legs, if they can conquer their natural repugnance to the delicacy, assuring them that “The legs of a frog are nearly as excellent as those of a woodcock.”
Brissot continued on his way to Rye, New York, where he stopped at “one of the best taverns I have seen in America. It is kept by Mrs. Haviland. We had an excellent dinner, and cheap. To other circumstances very agreeable, which gave us good cheer at this house, the air of the mistress was infinitely graceful and obliging; and she has a charming daughter, genteel and well educated, who played very well the forte-piano.”
In the autumn of the year 1723, when he was only seven-teen years of age, Franklin crossed New jersey from Amboy to Burlington on foot. He mentions in his “Autobiography” that he had very little money, and as he had been advised by William Bradford, the printer, in New York, to go to Philadelphia where he might find work with Bradford’s son, Andrew, the young Bostonian, was struggling to reach that city by the most economical way. The distance across the Province of New Jersey, between Amboy and Burlington, he tells us, was fifty miles. At the end of his first day’s journey he was drenched by a hard rain and stopped at an inn so poor that he began to wish he had never left home.
The following day he found an inn at a point within eight or ten miles of Burlington, which was kept by a Dr. Brown, whom he believed had been an itinerant physician in Europe. The next morning after a night’s rest and an engaging conversation with Brown, who had travelled and read a great deal, Franklin walked to Burlington, where he finally succeeded in getting on a boat bound down the Delaware to Philadelphia. These are the only two inns on the route which he mentions and if either of them boasted of a name, it has not come down to us. A stage passed over this road at intervals but Franklin was not opulent enough to take a place in it.
During the latter years of the seventeenth century there were two routes in use across New Jersey, both being for the accommodation of New York. The Council of New Jersey opened these in 1682, the year Philadelphia was founded. There was the upper and the lower road. The former extended from Elizabethtown Point, on Newark’s Bay, to a point a few miles north of Trenton; and the lower road ran from Amboy to Burlington. The route became the popular one, and both required passengers to be ferried across the Delaware River, for Philadelphia became the real southern terminus of both routes. The first bridge across the Delaware at Trenton was not built until 1804, and when this improvement was finished the time of the stage coaches between New York and Philadelphia was reduced to about sixteen hours.
When Brissot left New York to take the stage to Philadelphia, he was ferried to Paulus Hook, now Jersey City, where the principal stage line set out in 1788. It is evident he breakfasted at New York, for he did not leave there before six o’clock. At New Brunswick he had dinner and spent the night in Trenton. He does not mention his taverns or inns by name, but notes that”The taverns are much dearer on this road than in Massachusetts and Connecticut.” He passed the ferry at Trenton next morning at seven o’clock and breakfasted at Bristol.
The following year President Washington passed over the same route to New York City, where he took the oath of office as first President of the United States. The inns or taverns at which he stopped on the way have been carefully noted in the narrative of this historic journey, so we are not at a loss for some of their names.
Washington, having been guest of honor at a banquet given for him at the City Tavern, Philadelphia, spent the night there and left for New York City at 10 o’clock the following morning. He arrived in Trenton at two o’clock the same afternoon, where he dined at Samuel Henry’s City Tavern; going on to Princeton, he spent the night there, and it is generally supposed that he was the guest of the Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, then president of the college. Washington had planned to push on to New Brunswick and pass the night there in one of the inns, but on reaching that town he was met by William Livingston, who had been war governor, and was driven to Woodbridge, where he slept. The only other inn he stopped at during the remainder of his triumphal journey was that of Samuel Smith at Elizabeth, where he received the committee of Congress and the congratulations of the people, and incidentally had breakfast.
On the old King’s Highway, between Philadelphia and New York, there were many inns and taverns in colonial times, and these were augmented by others after the Revolution. In one or another sense they all might be regarded as historic, but only a very few can be referred to here. The old Indian Queen in New Brunswick, which dated from the year 1729, had as its guests on one occasion President John Adams, Mrs. Adams and their party. Before it ceased to be a hotel the house was known at different times as The Bell Hotel, and as The Parkway. Another early New Brunswick inn was the White Hart, subsequently the White Hall, built in 1761, which also entertained President Adams.
Just across the creek which is the dividing line between Bucks County and Philadelphia, and in the former, on the Bristol Road, is the Red Lion Hotel, which is one of the oldest hotels in that vicinity. It is believed to have been erected in 1730. The delegates from Massachusetts to the first Continental Congress stopped there on their way to Philadelphia, in 1774. John Adams was a guest there the following year and again in 1776. Washington, with his army headed for Yorktown, halted there in 1781.
Continuing along the road to Philadelphia, we find an even more historic inn, removed about fifteen years ago, in Frankford, known originally as The Jolly Post Boy, and later the altered hotel was called simply The Jolly Post. This old inn was the scene of many stirring events during the Revolution, and its later history also furnished thrills and festive incidents. Although there had been an inn on this site from early in the eighteenth century and as it had received its name from having been a post house for the post rider between Philadelphia and New York, its date was lost in antiquity. It was known to have been The Jolly Post Boy before the Revolution, for in the year 1768 an advertise-ment in the Pennsylvania Chronicle offering the property for sale referred to it as a noted inn in Oxford Township with about twenty-five acres of ground around it. Part of the property remained in two or three families for two centuries.
During the Revolution the old inn was the centre of a great deal of action. It lay on the border between the two armies. On one occasion Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers surrounded the inn and forced the American officer and twenty privates who were on guard to be taken prisoners without a single shot having been fired. On the night of the great Meschianza fete given in honor of General Howe in the southern part of Philadelphia, and which was designed by the unfortunate Major Andre, Captain Allan McLane’s dragoons, who had their headquarters at The Jolly Post, started out to set fire to the palisades erected by the Royal troops. The light of the fire alarmed the officers, who were enjoying the fete and they were forced to desert their fair partners and unceremoniously rush to the scene of action. It has been said that The Jolly Post was virtually Washing-ton’s headquarters during the Battle of Trenton, but it should be understood that the memorial tablet erected on the buildings which have replaced the ancient hostelry makes no note of this circumstance. Certainly Washington and the American Army on their way to Virginia in 1781 to combine with the French to capture Cornwallis and the British Army did stop here. General Lafayette was a guest at The Jolly Post in September, 1824. He was met there by the military escort which accompanied him on his triumphal entrance into Philadelphia, after his enthusiastic tour of New England.
About nine years before this The Jolly Post was the scene of a forced marriage between the rather notorious but strange woman, Ann Carson, and Lieutenant Richard Smyth. In Mrs. Carson’s “Memoirs” the incident reads like an episode from a sensational novel. In January, 1816, Mrs. Carson’s husband, Captain John Carson, who had been thought dead, returned to Philadelphia, only to find his wife married to another. A quarrel between the men resulted in Captain Carson being fatally shot by Lieutenant Smyth, who was hanged for the murder the following August.
During the Colonial period Philadelphia, which, at the time of the Revolution was the metropolis of the colonies, had innumerable inns and taverns, and a few of them have histories that set them apart from mere local interest. The most ancient of these of which any remains may now be found was The George Inn, at the southwest corner of Second and Arch Streets.
This old inn was erected about the year 1700, and during the eighteenth century was known as The George, although its original name was The George and Dragon. By some strange accident it maintained its sign of The George until long after the Revolution, when all the King Georges had to change their names out of respect to popular will. Nicholas Scull, who was a man of prominence in Philadelphia in the early part of the eighteenth century, kept the house for many years. He was one of the original members of Franklin’s “Junto.” Scull was surveyor-general of Pennsylvania from 1741 to 1748, and was sheriff of Philadelphia from 1744 to 1747, so it will be understood that he was willing to serve his country in two offices at the same time. In 1750 he was one of the authors and publishers of Scull and Heap’s map of Philadelphia. After the Revolution The George was a stage office, and coaches from New York and from the South made this place the Philadelphia terminus of their lines. The owners of the house seem always to have been men of political prominence in that city. John Innskeep, who was twice Mayor of Philadelphia, was the landlord from 1791 to 1793. He was followed by Robert Bicknell, whose memory had to wait until Rudyard Kipling wrote his verses about Philadelphia, when he received immortality in the line:
” Bob Bicknell’s southern stages have been laid aside for ages.”
About the middle of the nineteenth century a sign picturing jolly Bacchus astride his keg was hung out from the two old tavern, which remained a tavern until the Prohibition Amendment caused the business to be discontinued. In 1758 officers of Forbes’ seventeenth regiment were quartered at The George, and at one time in the same century the house was operated by Michael Dennison, who was so stout that he won the reputation of being “the biggest landlord in Philadelphia.”
Another famous colonial tavern in Philadelphia was long known as the City Tavern, which stood on Second Street north of Walnut, a site now occupied by the Seaman’s Institute. The City Tavern was erected in 1770 and was then referred to as The New Tavern. It was for a long period the chief place of public’ meetings, banquets and the like in Philadelphia. After the Revolution the Tavern was the scene of the Quaker City’s most select social function, the Assembly Balls, but its rooms were found too small for the dances and in 1786 a fund was started to build a hall for the Assembly, a project which does not seem to ever have materialized.
The City Tavern took the place the Old London Coffee House had formerly filled, in being used daily as a merchant’s exchange. But that was only one of its activities. In 1774, when the First Continental Congress was assembled in Philadelphia, The New Tavern, or The City Tavern, was the assembling place for many of the delegates. Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, supped there repeatedly, and Jefferson, while he was attending Congress in 1776, lodged at Seventh and Market Streets in a private house, and took his meals at the City Tavern. At that time the house was frequently referred to as Smith’s Tavern as well as The New Tavern, and it seems that it was not generally known as City Tavern until after the Revolution. Smith, whose Christian name does not appear to be recorded, was no longer proprietor in 1785, when the first Philadelphia Directory was issued. In that year Edward Moyston was the landlord.
Members of the Continental Congress met there habitually and discussed the business of that body. The Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania gave a banquet for the visiting delegates there and the , subscribers to the New Theatre in Philadelphia projected the first considerable playhouse in America at a meeting held in the Tavern in 1790. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, when larger and more pretentious inns were established in Philadelphia, the City Tavern was called the Coffee House, and became the centre of insurance underwriting, and the first stock exchange in that city. The old building was torn down in 1854.
The London Coffee House was a very quaint building which stood at the southwest corner of Front and Market Streets, Philadelphia, until it was removed in 1883. It was erected in 1702, and occupied as a private residence until 1754, when it was opened as the London Coffee House by William Bradford, a grandson of the first printer in the Middle Colonies. He, too, was a printer, and published a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Journal, in 1742. He also was a bookseller and conducted both businesses in connection with his house of entertainment. Under Bradford’s management the Coffee House became the centre of business. It was a merchant’s exchange, and it is said that slaves were auctioned in front of his door. The business of the Coffee House came to a sudden stop when the owner of the building, a Quaker, John Pemberton, thought it unseemly for him to rent a building where strong drink was dispensed, so he gave Bradford notice to leave, and rented the premises once more as a dwelling. About 1780 the house was reopened as a coffee house, and about 1783 it had for landlord, the fiery Revolutionary soldier, Colonel Eleazer Oswald, who, at the same time, printed a newspaper, The Independent Gazeteer, next door.
Oswald’s career always was dramatic. While in Philadelphia he fought a duel with Matthew Carey; spent a month in jail for contempt of court, and was publishing a news-paper in New York, The New York Journal, while printing his Philadelphia Gazeteer. At the outbreak of the French Revolution he went to France, where he became a Colonel of Artillery. When the Reign of Terror was instituted he returned to the United States, dying in New York, at the age of forty-eight years.
A main road early was laid out from Philadelphia south-ward. Originally called the King’s Road, between Philadelphia and the three lower counties on the Delaware, subsequently the state of Delaware, the highway, by the time of the war for Independence, was known as the Southern Post Road. This highway continued through Maryland and into Virginia.
If we take Washington’s journey from his home at Mt. Vernon to New York to be inaugurated President in 1789 for our plan, we shall be able to note a few of the historic inns or taverns on this section of the Southern Post Road. After he left his home and reached Alexandria, his friends and neighbors bore him off to Wise’s Tavern in that old town, and there he had dinner. He seems to have slept in an inn outside of Baltimore that night, for we are told that the next day he was met by a party of Baltimore’s citizens and taken to Mr. Grant’s tavern, where he was guest at a supper, and where he spent the night. He was accompanied by Charles Thomson and Colonel Humphreys.
This hotel was The Fountain Inn, which had been opened in December, 1782, by Daniel Grant, who had previously conducted The Indian Queen Tavern in Baltimore. In his announcement of the opening he described his place as “his large, new, and elegant house in Light lane, between Market Street and Ellicott’s Wharf.” The house was not a new one to Washington in 1789, for he had been a guest there more than once, and the honored guest at several suppers or dinners. In fact, he usually made this house his stopping place en route between Mt. Vernon and the northern capitals. The house was still standing when Lafayette visited the country in 1824, and he was lodged there on this stage of his journey to Washington City. At that time the house had for its landlord John Barney, a brother to Commodore Barney. While the inn was under the proprietorship of Barney, in 1814, Commodore Perry, then a national hero for his victory on Lake Erie, was a guest there for several days, and a public dinner in his honor was hurriedly pre-pared for him at the inn. During its long career as a hostelry it was frequently the scene of public entertainments and of political gatherings.
On his northern journey President-elect Washington next reached Wilmington, where he spent the night, but we are not told where he found shelter. The following day he breakfasted in Chester, Pennsylvania, at the Washington House, where he received a delegation. This ancient structure had been known to the great man as The Pennsylvania Arms, for it was within its walls that he wrote that hurried report to Congress, informing them of his defeat at the Battle of Brandywine. He had reached the inn late in the evening, and his report is dated at “twelve o’clock at night.” This old inn, which was erected in 1747 by Aubrey Bevan, was situated on Market Street, opposite the Town Hall of Chester, and a few years ago was removed for the erection of a modern hotel building. After the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British the name of the inn was changed to The Washington House and subsequently to Washington Hotel, which name is preserved in its successor on the same site. From Chester, the first President was conducted part of the way in state, with troops and crowds, to Philadelphia, where, as we already have related, he lodged at City Tavern.
Even at this late day there are standing a good many specimens of buildings that were inns or taverns during the Colonial period. Probably all of them have a tale to tell, but not all of them are connected with the country’s history although they may be with its progress. The King of Prussia Tavern, near Phoenixville on the Gulph road, in Pennsylvania, is in spite of its well-kept appearance a very ancient building. That it was there before the Revolution there is no question. Its erection is variously dated from the years 1709, 1718, and even a little later, and it may safely be regarded as having wintered two centuries. During the Revolution it is said to have been the centre for the British spies who were keeping eyes on Washington and his army, then at Valley Forge.
While we are considering a few early Pennsylvania inns attention should be called to the White Swan Tavern in Lancaster, which stood for nearly two centuries at Square and South Queen, Street, being finally demolished in 1924 to make way for an extension to the building of Watt and Shand, who have erected a tablet marking the site. The White Swan is believed to have been erected in 1750 by Jacob and Mathias Slough, father and son. The latter seems to have been a successful politician, for he held many offices. As Coroner for the county from 1755 to 1768, it became his duty to hold the inquest on the Conestoga Indians who were murdered by the Paxtang Boys, on December 27, 1763. He was an active patriot in the Revolution, and held the commission of colonel of the Seventh Pennsylvania Battalion. One of his daughters became the wife of Simon Snyder, Governor of Pennsylvania, from 1808 to 1817.
President Washington was a guest at the White Swan on his visit to Lancaster on July 3-4, 1791. John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and biographer of Washington, stopped at the tavern on his way home from France, in 1794; Fisher Ames, of Massachusetts, was at The White Swan in 1796; Jerome Bona-parte, younger brother of Napoleon, stopped there in 1803, while he was an officer in the French navy and before his marriage with Miss Elizabeth Patterson, of Baltimore; William. Henry Harrison while a candidate for the office of President, in 1836; and General Zachary Taylor, fresh from the Mexican War with laurels in 1849, also were guests at The White Swan. During the later part of the hotel’s career it was called Hubley’s, after the landlady, Mrs. Rosina Hubley, who had managed the house for a great many years. It ceased to be a public house in 1855, but part of the building was standing until recently.
In addition to the Bucks County (Penna.) inns we have mentioned the hotel now known as the General Greene Inn, at Centreville, has some claims to historic mention. As to its age there is nothing very definite, but it is known to have been in existence before the Revolution, at a point where the Durham and York roads join, an early highway from the Upper Delaware and New Jersey regions to Philadelphia, and points on the Schuylkill River. During the Revolution John Bogart was the landlord, and it was while he was managing the inn that the Bucks County Committee of Safety held frequent meetings under its roof. General Nathaniel Greene had his headquarters there at one time, from which circumstance modern landlords have adopted the name for the house.
Another inn with a Revolution background is that known as Carpenter’s Tavern at Jamaica, Long Island. This ancient building has been an inn or tavern since the year 1710, but it receives its present day appellation from Increase Carpenter, who was its landlord in Revolutionary days. The one incident which makes it a historic spot is the capture of General Nathaniel Woodhull by the British on August 28, 1776. Washington had ordered Woodhull to drive the cattle on Long Island out of the British reach, and having accomplished that duty he lingered at the tavern to await further instructions’ from the Commander, although his troops had gone on before him. The Battle of Long Island was being fought, and a party of British Highlanders and dragoons came upon him suddenly and wounded him. He was taken, and spent some time on the prison ships and elsewhere as a prisoner of war before he died of privations and wounds.
The rather interesting looking Colonial building at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, in the downtown section of New York City, which is indelibly printed in the mind as Fraunces Tavern, was really, like so many other inns and taverns, originally built as a dwelling. It is a great, square three-and-a-half story house, and as it is seen to-day is, of course, a restoration; because for years during the last century it did not resemble its original appearance.
If Fraunces Tavern is not the most historic inn existing in New York City, it would be difficult to name one that has better right to the title. Built by Stephen De Lancey in 1719 for his residence, about 1757 it was the home of Colonel Joseph Robinson, who was partner of Oliver De Lancey, to whom the mansion had descended. A little later the building was transformed into a store and warehouse for the firm of De Lancey, Robinson & Co., who were East Indian merchants.. When the structure was offered at auction in 1762, Samuel Fraunces, a West Indian, who commonly was referred to as “Black Sam,” on account of his swarthy complexion, became the purchaser.
Fraunces altered the place into an inn, which he opened as The Queen’s Head, or Queen Charlotte Tavern. He was a very popular host, and his tavern became the centre of men of business. In his long room a meeting was held on April 8, 1768, that led to the formation of the New York Chamber of Commerce. When the country was being aroused at the dawn of the Revolution in 1774, Fraunces long room was the scene of a meeting of The Sons of Liberty and the Vigilance Committee, which protested the landing of tea from the ship London, then in port. The men assembled adjourned only to walk to the East India Dock where they went on board and threw the tea into the river. The Committee on Correspondence, which paved the way for the organization of the Continental Congress, was organized in Fraunces Tavern, where on November 25, 1783, Governor George Clinton gave a dinner in celebration of Evacuation Day, at which General Washington, Chevalier de la Luzerne, the French minister, and other distinguished persons, were guests.
A mere list of the eminent men identified with the Revolutionary cause who stopped there, or who attended meetings or banquets or celebrations at Fraunces, would fill a good many pages. It was in those days the leading hostelry in New York City. To meet at Fraunces gave distinction to the meeting; to be a guest there was something of a certificate of social prominence. John Adams and the Massachusetts delegates to Congress stopped there on their way to Philadelphia; Washington made it his place of rest when travelling north or south through New York. While the British occupied the city, Fraunces was well patronized by the officers. All the window sash weights, which then were of lead, were taken from the tavern in 1776 to be melted into shot for the garrison at Forts Montgomery and Clinton.
Washington stayed at the tavern from November 26 to December 4, 1783, and his receipted bill for his entertainment may be seen in the Library of Congress. It was for £95, 15s. and 6d. The most historic incident in connection with the old house was that memorable dinner to his officers, given by Washington on December 4, 1783, when he took leave of the men who had been his close companions in arms during the war. It was on this occasion that he expressed himself to them in those simple but deeply sympathetic words :
“With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”
After all those present had taken a glass of wine, the General said: “I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the Hand.”
Exactly a century later, December 4, 1883, a meeting called to celebrate the occasion and held in the long room, resulted in the formation of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. In 1904 the Society purchased the property and restored it to its present appearance, which is believed to resemble the building’s original, during 1906 and 1907. It was formally opened the latter year by the Society as Fraunces Tavern again, and daily is visited by hundreds during the time when meals are served in the ground floor rooms. At luncheons or dinners that have been given there in later years have been President Wilson, President Taft, Colonel Goethals, the designer of the Panama Canal, and Doctor Lorenz, the great Austrian surgeon. Fraunces, whose name really was Francis, but had been written as he pronounced it, was steward to Washington while as President he resided in New York. His daughter, who was housekeeper at the time, frustrated an attempt to poison the President. Colonial inns are still to be met with here and there in the South, but like many in the North their interest is merely sentimental or architectural. One of those which has received guests of distinction is the Rising Sun Tavern, Fredericksburg, Virginia. This house is only one-and-a-half stories in height and is built of wood. Before the Revolution General George Weedon is said to have been the proprietor. It was then the stopping place for Washington, Lafayette and other personages of the period. The building is now in the care of a society for the preservation of antiques.
Until 1859, when it was destroyed by fire, the Raleigh Tavern was one of the most cherished public houses in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was a large two-story frame building, with eight dormer windows on each of its four sides. A small portico over the Duke of York Street en-trance contained a leaden bust of Sir Walter Raleigh. The house dated from a very early period, and in 1742 it is known to have been famed for its landlord’s, Henry Wetherburn’s arrack punch. There is a record of that time of a deed to two hundred acres of land sold by William Randolph to Peter Jefferson, father of the writer of the Declaration of Independence, which shows title to have passed for “Henry Wetherburn’s biggest bowl of arrach punch.” The Apollo Room of the tavern was renowned for the festivities which were held there. Thomas Jefferson often danced there, and the place was frequented by Patrick Henry and the Lees. On December 5, 1776, the Phi Beta Kappa, the first Greek letter society in America, was organized in the old tavern by students of William and Mary College.
At the corner of Broad and Church Streets, Charleston, South Carolina, still stands what for a century was a famous tavern, originally known as Shepheard’s Tavern. No one seems to know how old it really is, but it figures in records as early as 1732, when it was Shepheard’s. An advertisement in The South Carolina Gazette for May 3, 10, and 17, 1734, announced that all persons who desired to encourage the performance of plays “next Winter,” could see the subscription list at Mr. Shepheard’s, who accordingly was one of the first theatrical managers in America. The house changed hands and names many times during its career. At the dawn of the Revolution the City Tavern, or the Corner, as it was then known, was the scene of many patriotic meetings. A fire which swept through this section of Charleston in 1796 damaged the old building but it was repaired. For some years the local Lodge of Freemasons held their meetings in this building, and in it, in 1801, was formed the Supreme Council, 33d Degree, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. The old tavern has several times been altered and renovated and no longer attracts the weary traveller or jaded city dweller as a guest house, being now used for the less romantic business of a grocer.
What is now called the Beekman Arms, at Rhinebeck, New York, is said to be the oldest hotel in America to be in continuous operation, and there does not appear to be any reason to challenge this claim, for offhand probably no person can call to mind another hostelry in the United States which has been a guest house since the year 1700.
The Beekman Arms, of course, has been many times altered and quite recently was completely remodelled, but the original stone structure, erected in 1700 by William Traphagen, still stands. This inn was built on the first piece of land sold from the great Beekman grant from the Netherlands, and it occupies the centre of the Beekman Arms the visitor sees to-day. Rhinebeck was a village founded by Henry Beekman toward the end of the seventeenth century, and is one of the oldest settlements in the Hudson Valley.
Its original settlers came principally from the Valley of the Rhine, hence the name.
In November, 1922, a bronze tablet, attached to a two-ton boulder, was erected on the lawn of the hotel by the Chancellor Livingston Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, marking the crossing of the King’s Highway and the Sepasco Indian Trail, later named the Ulster and Salisbury Turnpike.
When it was built Traphagen Inn was the principal house in the village, and was the community centre, being assembly hall, inn, and fort combined. Naturally during its more than two centuries the inn was visited by many of the great as well as the ordinary wayfarers. General Montgomery, who fell at Quebec in 1775, had lived there at times; and later, during the Revolutionary struggle, Washington, Lafayette, Schuyler, Arnold and Hamilton, among others, stopped at the inn at one time or another. Corning to more recent times, it is recorded that President Van Buren knew the house well, and was often a guest, while within our own times, President Roosevelt stopped there.
Governor Keift, of New Netherlands, ordered the erection of the first large hotel in what is now New York City, but was then, 1642, New Amsterdam. This structure was called a Stadt Herberg, or City Tavern, and being economical, the Dutch Governor decreed that it should also be the Stadt Huys, or City Hall. During the Civil War in New Amsterdam the partisans of the war occupied the building as a fortress, and received the fire from the fort. This warfare, and the subsequent crowding of persons in the court held in the Stadt Huys, weakened the structure, so in 1700 it was removed, although at that time the Dutch dynasty had long since passed.
Before we leave the Colonial Inns two more should be mentioned, although one of them has been entirely oblite rated for more than thirty years, and the other has been much altered since it was built, but is still a hotel, almost one hundred and seventy years after its erection.
The latter house is still known by the sign that never has been changed, The Sun Inn, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It was built in the quaint Moravian town about the year 1758, and there is, or was not so long ago, the Register of The Sun Inn which showed the hostelry was first opened for the reception of travellers on September 24, 1760. The original building was two and a half stories in height, but, following European custom of the time, there was even a second row of dormer windows. When the building was first altered, in 1816, the façade of the third floor was carried up straight to the hip roof which was pierced by three dormer windows. Very many persons of distinction have been sheltered in The Sun Inn, among them Washington, Franklin, Lafayette, Greene, Baron Steuben, Hancock, Pulaski, to say nothing of British officers during the Revolution, who spent their days pleasantly there while prisoners of war. One of these was Lieutenant Thomas Auburey, who, in his book of travels, published in London in 1789, refers to the Inn in these complimentary terms:
“You may be sure our surprise was not a little after having been accustomed to such miserable fare at other ordinaries, to see a larder displayed with plenty of fish, fowl and game. Another matter of surprise, as we have not met with in all our travels, was excellent wines of all sorts, which to us was a most delicious treat, not having tasted any since we left Boston, for notwithstanding the splendor and elegance of several families we visited in Virginia, wine was a stranger to their tables. For every apartment a servant is appointed to attend, whose whole duty is to wait on the company belonging to it, and who is as much your servant during your stay as one of your own domestics. The accommodations for horses is equal. In short, in planning this tavern they seem solely to have studied the ease, comfort and convenience of the travellers; and it is built upon such an extensive scale that it can readily accommodate one hundred and sixty persons.”
Until the year 1891, when it was demolished for a new building operation, there stood in Providence, Rhode Island, a large structure which had been known as the Sabin Tavern, from its proprietor, James Sabin, from 1763, when it was erected, until it was finally removed, although it had not been a hotel for more than a century. Its history as a house of entertainment of travellers seems to have been confined to a period of little more than twenty years, as it was purchased for and occupied as a private dwelling by Welcome Arnold in the year 1785, and remained in the family of his descendants.
One historic incident gives the Old Sabin Tavern its principal fame. This was the meeting there on the night of June 9, 1772, of the so-called Gaspee conspirators, who organized and struck the first blow for Independence. The English naval schooner, Gaspee, had grounded on Namquit Point, and a group of patriots in Providence decided to destroy her. They met in Sabin’s Tavern, and then went forth in eight long boats which had been collected in the harbor, and with muffled oars, rowed silently to the disabled ship. When within sixty yards of the vessel they were hailed but for answer fired a shot from a musket that dropped the commander of the Gaspee, Captain Doddington. The patriots drew up alongside, climbed on board and without resistance captured the ship. After the crew had been taken off, the Gaspee was burned, and the first naval action in the Revolution had resulted in a victory for the believers in Independence.