The American Revolution probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the Revolutionary taverns where patriots and Loyalists gathered to talk politics. Sam Adams famously haunted the taverns of Boston, honing his political skills and making his political connections. His cousin John Adams called taverns places where ‘bastards, and legislators, are frequently begotten.’
Here the New England Historical Society brings you six Revolutionary taverns that played a role in the birth of the United States of America.
Old Constitution House
The Vermont Republic came into existence at the Old Constitution House in Windsor, Vt. Built around 1750, Elijah West ran it as a tavern in January 1777. That month, Vermont representatives met in Westminster and declared independence from the colonies that claimed to its land — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York.
Then on July 2, 1777, a constitutional convention met at Elijah West’s tavern and drafted a constitution. The meeting went on for several days while the British recaptured Fort Ticonderoga. On July 8, the convention at West’s tavern got word of the British advance and considered adjourning. A violent thunderstorm kept the delegates at the tavern. They finished the Vermont Constitution.
The Vermont Constitution, in effect for 14 years, was the first to prohibit slavery, establish universal voting rights for all men and to authorize a public school system.
The building functioned as a tavern until 1848. It later served as a store, a home and a warehouse. In 1901 local preservationists began trying to save the building. Thirteen years later the house and land were donated to the Old Constitution House Association and money raised to restore it. In 1961, the state took ownership of the tavern.
The Old Constitution House has been restored as a tavern museum and includes historic items donated by descendants of the delegates and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
For more information about the Old Constitution House, click here.
Keeler Tavern Museum
Timothy Keeler bought the Keeler tavern in Ridgefield, Conn., from his uncle in 1769. His grandfather had built the structure as his family home 50 years earlier. In 1772, just before the American Revolution broke out, Keeler and his wife Ester converted it into a tavern. At first the tavern sign featured a portrait of King George III, but then Keeler, a patriot, painted it over with an image of a horseman.
During the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777, British troops fired on the tavern. They had heard people were melting down musket balls in its basement. A British cannonball that struck a corner post of the building can still be seen.
The Keeler family ran the tavern and inn on the site until 1907. Napoleon’s younger brother Jerome stayed at the inn with his wife during their honeymoon.
In 1907, architect Cass Gilbert bought the inn from Timothy Keeler’s granddaughter. He then turned it into a summer home with a sunken garden. Gilbert’s daughter Emily sold the house in 1957, but local preservationists purchased it in 1965. They then began running it as a museum the next year.
For more information about the museum, click here.
In June of 1775 the Margaretta, an armed British schooner, sat in Machias Bay, its guns trained on the frontier town of Machias, Maine. The British delivered an ultimatum: The townspeople of Machias needed to ship their lumber to Boston to build barracks for British soldiers if they wanted critical supplies. If they refused, they could go hungry. The Margaretta’s captain, Lt. James Moore, also threatened an attack.
What to do? The militia men of Machias debated their course of action in Burnham Tavern, built in 1770 by Job Burnham. His brother-in-law, Jeremiah O’Brien, urged an attack on the Margaretta. He led a band of 40 men, mostly armed with farm implements, in the capture of the British ship. After the battle, the tavern was used as a hospital to tend the wounded of both sides. Moore died of his wounds in the tavern. There is today a chest in the tavern said to be stained with his blood.
The Hannah Weston Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution now runs the tavern as a museum. It opens for the summer of 2016 on July 5 from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. For more information about Burnham Tavern, click here.
The Colonial Inn in Concord, Mass., was originally three buildings, the first dating to 1716. In the tense months before the American Revolution broke out nearby, the inn’s middle building (now the front desk and gift shop) was used to store arms and provisions.
Dr. Timothy Minot, Jr., lived and worked on the western side of the inn (now home to the Liberty Restaurant). After the Battle of Concord on April 19th 1775, he cared for the wounded Minutemen in his home. What is now the Liberty Room was a hospital, one of his bedrooms, now “Room 24”, as an operating room and “Room 27” as the morgue.
Part of the inn passed into the hands of Henry David Thoreau’s grandfather. Thoreau’s father moved his family into that part of the inn while Henry attended Harvard. Eventually it became a boarding house, named the Thoreau House after Henry’s aunts. They entertained guests in the sitting room. J. P. Morgan, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Don Henley all stayed at the Colonial Inn (not at the same time). Today it’s one of the Historic Hotels of America. For more information about the Colonial Inn, click here.
Captain Isaac Wyman built the Wyman Tavern in Keene, N.H., in 1762. Wyman was a veteran of the French and Indian Wars. His family ran the tavern for 40 years, right through the American Revolution, It became a central meeting spot for Keene revolutionaries leading up to the war for independence.
When news arrived that British troops had fired on Americans in Lexington, Keene’s 29 minutemen assembled at the tavern three days later. Then they began their march south to join the Revolution. In later years it served as schoolhouse for Salmon Chase, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of the Treasury. Perhaps it wasn’t the best place to learn lessons of character and ethics.
Today the tavern is a museum operated by the Cheshire County Historical Society. It opens for tours in the summer. For more information, visit the society’s website here.
White Horse Tavern
In 1652, Frances Brinley built the White Horse Tavern in Newport, R.I., but it didn’t become a tavern until 1683. Then, William Mayes bought the property and enlarged it into a tavern. And it wasn’t named White Horse until 1730.
Tories hung out at the tavern in the early days of the Revolution. It also housed British soldiers leading up to the Battle of Rhode Island. Among its more colorful owners was William Mayes, Jr., a Rhode Island pirate.
Today you can not only visit the White Horse, you can still get a meal and a drink there. For more information, visit the Tavern’s website here.
Photos: Keeler Tavern Museum By Rolf Müller (User:Rolfmueller) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1361338; Keeler Tavern cannonball By Rolf Müller (User:Rolfmueller) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1361326. White Horse Tavern By Swampyank at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7018372. Wyman Tavern By Ymblanter – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19418202. This story was updated in 2023.