Thursday, August 28, 2014

Maryland in the Revolution - August 28, 1776 - The Rain and the Retreat

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

The Rain and the Retreat

The morning of August 28, 1776 dawned cold, gray, and rainy. The demoralized American troops were trapped in their Brooklyn entrenchments, an area about three miles around. They were fenced in by the British army to their front and the East River to their back. The two armies were separated by no more than a mile of open ground, and they both kept up a constant peppering of bullets and cannon throughout the day.

U.S. Army - Artillery Retreat from Long Island 1776 (1899)

Approximately five hundred and fifty men were missing the day after the Battle of Long Island.[1] Throughout the morning, survivors of the battle who had evaded capture by the British were straggling back to the American encampment. Major Mordecai Gist and nine other Marylanders returned to the entrenchments that morning, after retreating from the battlefield through the marsh.

The shocking losses of the battle were becoming clear. According to Gist, the killed, wounded, and missing from the First Maryland Regiment added up to about 259 soldiers, and all together, he estimated that the Continental army had suffered a loss of 1,000 men.[2] Most of the missing had been taken prisoner, including Lord Stirling and General Sullivan.

For many Maryland soldiers, the struggle had not ended after the Battle of Long Island, and the men faced new difficulties as prisoners of war. William McMillan, a Marylander who had been captured, wrote that “the Hessians broke the butts of our guns over their Cannons and Robbed us of everything we had. [They] Lit their pipes with our money, caned us into meetings, and gave us nothing to eate for five days, and then [they gave us] biscuits from aboard ships, Blue, moldy, full [of] Bugs & Rotten.”[3] He was later put on a British prison ship and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Halifax, from which he escaped.

The spirits of the Continental army had flagged since the devastating losses at the Battle of Long Island, but their resolve to fight does not seem to have waned. General Washington ordered 1,200 additional troops from Manhattan to march, with considerable pomp, into the entrenchments at Long Island, and the sight of the fresh troops encouraged the weary Americans.

However, the newly arrived troops did little more on Long Island than bolster morale. The following night, the Americans slipped away from Long Island. That night, the 29th, the Marylanders from Smallwood’s battalion were once more ordered to guard the retreat of the American army. The fog and favorable winds during the night and into the morning of the 30th allowed the Americans to escape across the East River to Manhattan without being detected by the British.

The valiant defense by the men who would come to be known as the “Maryland 400″ was already being celebrated the day after the Battle of Long Island. They had “gained immortal honour” for fighting “the enemy, treble in number, in open field, several hours, till at last, surrounded on the side of a small creek, they were obliged to make the best retreat they could.” [4] With the courage of Marylanders, the Americans had at least secured an honorable defeat.

[1] Extract of a letter from Head-Quarters, August 28, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 8, Pg. 28. 

[2] Daniel Blattau, Mordecai Gist, Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series), 2013. 

[3] Jeff Truitt, “Biography of William McMillan”, Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series), 2013. 

[4] Extract of a letter from New-York, August 28, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1194.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Maryland in the Revolution - August 27, 1776 - Becoming the Maryland 400

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

Becoming the Maryland 400

By the afternoon of August 27, 1776, the Battle of Long Island had rapidly become a life or death struggle for the American army. After distracting the American forces with an auxiliary diversion that morning, the British sprung their trap. The night before the battle, Generals Howe and Clinton had led 10,000 troops to the rear of the Americans in a flanking maneuver. After the Americans had fought off the British diversion to their front, the 10,000 British descended upon the Continental troops from the north. According to one American soldier, the Americans were entirely unaware of the presence of the large force to their rear, until “the main body of their army, by a route we never dreamed of, had entirely surrounded us, and drove within the lines, or scattered in the woods, all our men, except the Delaware and Maryland battalions, who were standing at bay with double their number.” [1]

The Americans were suddenly surrounded and even more drastically outnumbered. Most of the American line disintegrated under the pressure of the British attack, except for the troops led by Lord Stirling, which included the First Maryland Regiment. However, by the time Stirling’s troops fell back from the fight they found that they had no good route to withdraw from the battle. Stirling’s men were trapped by British General Cornwallis’ troops, who blocked the Gowanus Road, which was the American line of retreat.

Stirling later wrote to General Washington that he “saw the only chance of escaping being all made prisoners was to pass the creek near the Yellow Mills” [2]– the creek Stirling wrote of was the Gowanus marsh. Stirling ordered his men to retreat by fording the marsh, but he stayed behind, keeping Major Mordecai Gist and half of the Maryland troops on the field to guard the men’s escape. These troops who remained on the battlefield to defend the retreat of the American army would become known as the “Maryland 400.”

1858 Alonzo Chappel's depiction of the Battle of Long Island - Standoff at the Cortelyou House, Battle of Long Island

Lord Stirling, Mordecai Gist, and the small force of Marylanders making up the rear guard rallied and attacked Cornwallis, whose troops were posted at the old Cortelyou house. Gist would later write of that day that Stirling “encouraged and animated our young soldiers with almost invincible resolution.” According to Stirling, the men attacked Cornwallis’ position five or six times before reinforcements from the British “rendered it impossible to do more than to provide for safety.” [3]

George Washington observed the desperate struggle from a Brooklyn hill, and is said to have exclaimed, “Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose!”

William McMillan, a twenty-one-year-old Maryland recruit and Scottish immigrant, fought at the Battle of Long Island along with his brother, Samuel. The McMillans were among the ranks of the Maryland 400 on August 27. Decades later, William recalled the devastating casualties that the Marylanders absorbed. “My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot thro the right hand two Sargents was killed in front of me. Sometime my Sargent was shot… two Corporals killed.” Eventually, the Marylanders could not hold out any longer. William McMillan wrote, “we were surrounded by healanders [Scottish Highlanders] one side, Hessians on the other… my Brother and about– 50 or 60 of us was taken [prisoner].” [4]

Few of the Maryland 400 would return to the American encampments that night. Many fell in battle, some drowned in the Gowanus marsh, and many more were taken prisoner. [5] General Sullivan was caught by three Hessian grenadiers. Lord Stirling refused to give up his sword to the British and he eluded capture long enough to surrender to Hessian General De Heister.

The Battle of Long Island was a defeat for the Americans, who would soon be forced to withdraw from Long Island to Manhattan. However, the fierce defense by the Maryland 400 that day held off the British flanking maneuver long enough to allow the escape of much of the trapped American army. The men of the Maryland 400 had been called to make great sacrifices in their very first battle, and the Revolution was just beginning.

[1] Extract of a Letter from New York: Account of the Battle on Long Island, American Archives, Series 5, Vol. 2, Pg. 107-108.

[2] Letter from Lord Stirling to General Washington, August 29, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1245.  

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jeff Truitt, “Biography of William McMillan”, Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series), 2013. 

[5] Bryan Philpot, an ensign with the First Maryland Regiment, nearly drowned while attempting to cross the Gowanus marsh.

Maryland in the Revolution - August 27, 1776 - The British Diversion

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

The British Diversion

The Marylanders were called to battle before sunrise on August 27, 1776. Lord Stirling, the temporary commander of the Maryland troops, was awoken at around three o’clock in the morning and given the news that the British had begun their advance. [1] During the night, the British had surprised the American guard posted near the Red Lion Inn, and in the confusion, a number of Americans had been taken captive. General Israel Putnam ordered Stirling to take the two regiments “nearest at hand” and engage the British on the road near the Red Lion Inn.

William Alexander, Lord Stirling temporary commander of the Maryland troops

Early in the morning on August 27, the alarm guns of the American lines sounded and the troops set to preparing the defense. Under General Putnam’s orders, Lord Stirling marched the First Maryland Regiment and Haslet’s Delaware battalion to meet the British. They were joined by Colonel Atlee’s Pennsylvania troops, Huntington’s Connecticut Continentals, and Kachlein’s Pennsylvania riflemen.[2]

That morning the British were marching on the road to Gowanus without resistance. They were approaching Brooklyn lines until the Americans, under the command of Lord Stirling, blocked the British advance. Colonel Atlee’s Pennsylvania troops held off the British until the rest of the American troops had assembled upon the nearby ridge, which Stirling described as “very advantageous ground.”[3]

On August 27, 1776, for the first time, the Americans met the British in a regular battle formation on the open field. An anonymous Pennsylvania soldier wrote that Stirling “immediately drew us up in a line, and offered them battle in the true English taste.” [4] The Maryland line held their position on the wooded Heights of Guana, firing down upon General Grant’s light troops, who were posted along hedges and in a nearby orchard, as well as General Leopold Von Heister’s Hessians. The armies also exchanged cannon fire from the hilltops that morning.

William McMillan was twenty one years old when he fought with Maryland troops at the Battle of Long Island. He and his brother, who were probably originally from Scotland, joined the First Maryland Regiment in December of 1775. For McMillan and the rest of the American troops, the battle that morning was fierce, but it was shaping into an American victory. Decades after the battle he would recall engaging in a “perty severe fight with yagers [Hessians]. It was a draw Battle, there was a good many on Each side killed. They retired and we did Not pursue them.” [5] The fighting continued until around midday, when the British pulled back.

That morning it seemed that the inexperienced, ill-equipped, outnumbered American army had fought off one of the world’s premiere military forces. The feeble attack mounted by the British emboldened the American troops, who were testing themselves for the first time on the battlefield.  According to the anonymous Pennsylvanian who was present at the battle, “our men stood it amazingly well; not even one of them showed a disposition to shrink.” The Pennsylvanian continued, “when they [the British] perceived we stood their fire so coolly and resolutely, they declined coming any nearer, although treble our number.” The retreat of the British galvanized the Americans, who, he wrote, “cried out, the day is our own.” [6]

However, the day was not yet won. The force the Americans faced that morning served as a noisy diversion, and 10,000 British troops to the rear of the Americans were laying in wait for the signal to attack.

[1] Letter from Lord Stirling to General Washington, August 29, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1245.

[2] Henry P. Johnston, The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn, New York: Da Capo Press, 1971, 163

[3] Letter from Lord Stirling to General Washington.

[4] Extract of a Letter from New York: Account of the Battle on Long Island, American Archives, Series 5, Vol. 2, Pg. 107-108.

[5] Pension of William McMillan, The National Archives, (Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files), NARA M804, S 2806, 33. From

[6] Extract of a letter from an Officer in Colonel Atlee’s Battalion, August 29, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1212.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Maryland in the Revolution - August 26, 1776 - The Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House)

On August 27, 1776, the Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House), located in JJ Byrne park in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, was an important location in the Battle of Brooklyn during the American Revolutionary War - the first major engagement of the Continental Army after the Declaration of Independence, and the largest battle of the entire war.

1934 Reconstruction of the  Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House)

On that day at 9:00 am, George Washington arrived from Manhattan. having been informed that the British were close to a breakthrough of American lines. Washington realized that he had been completely fooled by a deceptive feint by the British on Long Island and he ordered more troops to Brooklyn from Manhattan. On the American right, to the west, Colonial General Stirling still held the line against Grant. Stirling held on for four hours, still unaware of the British flanking maneuver to his east, and some of his own troops thought they were winning the day because the British had been unable to take their position. This was intentional by the British. At 11:00 am, however, British General Grant, reinforced by 2,000 Royal marines, hit Stirling's center and Stirling was attacked on his left by the Hessians.

Stirling pulled back but British troops were, at this point, coming at him in his rear south down the Gowanus Road. The only escape route left was across a Brouwer' Millpond on the Gowanus Creek which was 80 yards wide, on the other side of which was Brooklyn Heights.

1858 print of the Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House)

Stirling ordered all of his troops, except a contingent of Maryland troops under the command of Major Mordecai Gist, to cross the creek. This group of Maryland troops became known to history as the Maryland 400, although they numbered about 260–270 men. Stirling and Gist led the troops in a rear-guard action against the overwhelming numbers of British troops which surpassed 2,000 troops supported by two cannon.

Stirling and Gist led the Marylanders in two attacks against the British, who were in fixed positions in and in front of the Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House). After the last assault the remaining troops retreated across the Gowanus Creek. Some of the men who tried to cross the marsh were bogged down in the mud under musket fire and others who could not swim were captured. Stirling was surrounded and, unwilling to surrender to the British, broke through the British lines to von Heister's Hessians and surrendered to them. 256 Maryland troops were killed in the assaults in front of the Old Stone House and fewer than a dozen made it back to the American lines.

Photo before it burned in 1897.  Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House)

 General George Washington, viewing the particularly fierce fighting at the Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House) from his vantage point atop a hill near the west end of present-day Atlantic Avenue, was famously reported to have emotionally exclaimed watching from a redoubt on nearby Cobble Hill (intersection of today's Court Street and Atlantic Avenue), was to have said, "Good God, what brave fellows I must this day lose!".

 After its capture, the house was used as an artillery position by an estimated 2,000 British and hired Hessian soldiers who fired on the Americans, who had already suffered disastrous losses and were fleeing from the east to the American forts across the Gowanus Creek to the west. Some four hundred soldiers of the Maryland Brigade under Colonel William Smallwood regained the house twice that day, but were finally repulsed by the British, with very heavy casualties.

1934 Reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House (known today as Old Stone House)

The 256 dead troops of the Maryland 400 were buried by the British in a mass grave on a hillock on farmer Adrian Van Brunt's land on the outskirts of the marsh. It was from this battle that Maryland gained its nickname "The Old Line State." This mass grave is believed to be around the southwest corner of what is today 3rd Ave. between 7th and 8th Streets in Brooklyn.

Maryland in the Revolution - August 26, 1776 - The Marylanders Arrive

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

The Marylanders Arrive

On August 26, 1776, the Marylanders arrived at Long Island on the eve of battle. Once it became clear that a major engagement was imminent, Washington sent the regiment to reinforce the American defensive line. The men who would become known as the Maryland 400 were posted on the Heights of Guana, a wooded, ten-mile ridge near the British encampment at the town of Flatbush. They joined with the force already there, which had fought a number of skirmishes with the British, and the small engagements served to boost the confidence of the inexperienced Continental soldiers. An intelligence report from New York mentioned the recent encounters with the British, “We have had only four men wounded since the enemy landed; but we are certain many of them [the British] fell.” [1]

Colonel William Smallwood (later General William Smallwood)

The men of the First Maryland Regiment were sent to Long Island without their commander, Colonel William Smallwood. Smallwood had been ordered by George Washington to sit at the court martial of Colonel Herman Zedwitz, who was accused of attempting to sell American intelligence to the British. Smallwood later wrote that he had “waited on General Washington and urged the necessity of attending our troops, yet he refused to discharge us.”[2] The court martial would continue until late on the 26th, and Smallwood’s men would already be engaged in combat by the time he returned to his regiment on the 27th.

George Washington was also on Long Island on August 26. Although the contemporary documents reveal little about his actions that day, he probably rode with Generals Sullivan and Putnam to the Heights of Guana in order to observe the British encampments below at Flatlands. Despite the lack of reliable intelligence on British numbers and movements, the American leaders realized that the British were planning to fight on Long Island. “We are led to think that they mean to land the main body of their army on Long Island,” Washington wrote to Congress on the 26th, “and to make their grand push there.”[3]  However, the Americans did not know that the British had already landed the majority of their army on Long Island. Additionally, the day before, on August 25, two Hessian brigades under Lieutenant General De Heister had landed on the island, adding 5,000 men to the British forces. The roughly 7,000 Americans were dramatically outnumbered by the approximately 20,000 British troops encamped on Long Island.[4]

After sunset on August 26, below the Heights of Guana, the white tents of the British stood empty and their burning campfires were left unattended. 10,000 British soldiers crept into the night to execute a delicate flanking maneuver and surround the Americans posted on the ridge. Three Loyalist farmers led the the way for the column of troops, which stretched more than two miles. Under the command of Generals Cornwallis and Clinton, they followed the sparsely guarded Jamaica Road, taking all five American cavalrymen picketing the road captive during the night march. By the next morning, the British had walked nine miles to the Bedford road, north of the Heights of Guana. The British trap at the Battle of Long Island was set.

[1]. Intelligence from New York, August 26, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1163. 

[2] Letter from Colonel Smallwood to Maryland Convention, October 12, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 2, Pg. 1011. 

[3] Letter from General Washington to the President of Congress, August 26, 1776, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1158.

[4]The exact numbers of American and British forces are unknown; This is an approximate number that is based on the estimates of a number of historians.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Maryland in the Revolution - August 23, 1776 - They must be well watched...

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

“They must be well watched”

After the British landed on Long Island they advanced to within three miles of the American lines, and then they stopped. On August 23rd, 1776, the tension grew in New York as the American leadership tried to determine the enemy’s next move. The standoff that began on August 22nd reinforced the Americans’ belief that the British were using Long Island as a diversion, and the main attack would come to Manhattan.  General William Heath of Massachusetts captured the Americans’ uneasiness on the 23rd when he wrote to Washington, “I hope soon to hear good news from Long Island. I have never been afraid of the force of the enemy: I am more so of their arts. They must be well watched.”[1]

General William Heath of Massachusetts

British General Howe issued a proclamation that day from his headquarters to the people of Long Island, offering protection to those who had been “compelled by the leaders in rebellion to take up arms against his Majesty’s Government.”[2] The proclamation also sought to recruit Americans, declaring that those “who choose to take up arms for the restoration of order and good government within this Island, shall be disposed of in the best manner, and have every encouragement that can be expected.” It is uncertain how many Americans answered Howe’s call to loyalists.

General John Sullivan was in command of the American forces on Long Island on August 23rd, 1776. He had taken charge earlier in the week on August 20th, after General Nathanael Greene fell ill and was unable to remain at his post.[3] However, disorganization prevailed on Long Island; Sullivan did not know the territory, nor was he certain of the precise location of his troops. After the landing of British forces, the disorganization of Sullivan’s forces became especially risky. On August 23rd, George Washington traveled to Long Island to plan with Sullivan. They moved 3,000 men further south from the Brooklyn Heights entrenchments, placing troops in defensive positions on the Heights of Guana, a steep, forested ridge approximately ten miles long.

That same afternoon, American riflemen on Long Island engaged in a skirmish on the road near Bedford. The Americans followed the retreating British to the house of Judge Lefferts, where they had been lodging. General Sullivan wrote to Washington that the American troops “burnt the house and a number of other buildings contiguous.” Additionally, that night Sullivan ordered a group of men to comb the countryside for British soldiers to take prisoner. His letter is optimistic about the battles to come, “these things argue well for us,” he wrote, “and I hope are so many preludes to a general victory.”[4]

The men of the First Maryland Regiment remained with the majority of the Continental Army in New York, waiting for the British to act. The General Orders from George Washington on August 23rd focused on materially and mentally preparing the men for their first battle. The General Orders of August 23rd reiterated the ideals of the revolution,

“Remember officers and Soldiers, that you are Freemen, fighting for the blessing of Liberty– that slavery will be your portion, and that of your posterity, if you do not acquit yourselves like men: Remember how your Courage and Spirit have been dispised, and traduced by your cruel invaders; though they have found by dear experience at Boston, Charlestown and other places, what a few brave men contending in their own land, and in the best of causes can do, against base hirelings and mercenaries… every one for himself resolving to conquer, or die, and trusting to the smiles of heaven upon so just a cause, will behave with Bravery and Resolution… And if this army will but emulate, and imitate their brave Countrymen, in other parts of America, he has no doubt they will, by a glorious Victory, save their Country, and acquire to themselves immortal Honor.”[5]

In this general order, George Washington articulated the revolutionary spirit to the First Maryland Regiment. Four days later, at the Battle of Long Island, the “Maryland 400″ would embody that spirit.

[1] Letter from General Heath to Washington, August 23, 1776, American Archives Online, Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1121.

[2] Proclamation by General Howe, August 23, 1776, American Archives Online Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1121. 

[3] George Washington, General Orders, August 20, 1776, The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799. 

[4] Letter from General Sullivan to General Washington, August 23, 1776, American Archives Online Series 5, Vol. 1, Pg. 1136.

[5] George Washington, General Orders, August 23, 1776, The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Maryland in the Revolution - August 22, 1776 - The British come ashore in New York

From the Maryland State Archives, written by Emily Huebner in 2013.  Director of this project was Owen Lourie.

The British Come Ashore

On August 22nd, 1776, the British began setting the stage for battle by landing troops on Long Island. The Continental Army had been present in varying numbers on Long Island for nearly four months, since General Nathanael Greene was ordered to encamp there on May 1st, and with the arrival of additional Hessian troops to aid the British on August 25th, only five days remained until the forces would finally clash at the Battle of Long Island on August 27th.[1]

British flat-bottomed boat used during the American Revolution

Just before dawn on August 22nd, British warships hove across the Narrows toward western Long Island. The soldiers on board descended to landing barges and an advance guard of 4,000 men was transported to the beaches of Gravesend Bay. Under the command of Generals Cornwallis and Clinton, the British forces quickly dispersed Colonel Hand’s American pickets onshore. With the landing site secure from American interference and observation, 15,000 troops came ashore that day. The advance guard set up a camp at the village of Flatbush, which was located near the Heights of Guana.

London newspaper, The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, ran an article from the London Gazette Extraordinary on October 11th, describing the landing. The alleged source was a letter from General Howe to Lord George Germain. The article claims that the landing of troops, along with forty pieces of cannon, took two and a half hours.  “Lord Cornwallis was immediately detached to Flat-bush with the reserve, two battalions of light infantry, and Colonel Donop’s [Hessian] corps, with six field pieces… his Lordship took post in the village, and the army extended from the Ferry at the Narrows, through Utrecht and Gravesend, to the village of Flat-Land.”[2]

The American estimation of the number of British forces that had landed on Long Island would fall significantly short of the actual total, a miscalculation that would become perilously clear at the battle. General Washington wrote to Congress on August 23rd that eight to nine thousand British troops had landed at Gravesend Bay the day before and were within three miles of the American lines. “I have detached from hence six battalions,” he continued, “as a reinforcement to our troops there, which are all that I can spare at this time… I shall send a further reinforcement, should it be necessary, and have ordered five battalions more to be in readiness for that purpose. I have no doubt but a little time will produce some important events.”[3] The First Maryland Regiment was among the five battalions that Washington counted as the further reinforcements, and the Marylanders would remain in New York until August 26th.

[1]  “General Greene’s Orders: Camp on Long Island” April 30, 1776, in The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn by Henry P. Johnston, (New York: Da Capo Press, 1971).

[2] “From the LONDON GAZETTE EXTRAORDINARY,” The Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser, October 11, 1776.

[3] Letter from General Washington to the President of Congress, August 23, 1776, American Archives Series 5 Vol. 1 Pg. 1120.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

British loyalist businesswoman Abigail Stoneman

Abigail Stoneman (fl. 1760-1777-84) was a feisty loyalist businesswoman active in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & New York. It is difficult to construct a biography of her early years, because there is no known record of her maiden name or birth.

During the 1760-70s, coffee & tea houses had become popular meeting places in the British American colonies.  John Potter Overmantle at the Newport Historical Society in Rhode Island

In 1760, Abigail Stoneman was listed alone as a member of “Mr. Vinal’s [First Congressional] Meeting” (Ezra Stiles, Literary Diary, 1901, I, 44).  While occupying “a large & commodious dwelling house” on Marlborough Street, Newport, in 1766, she was robbed of “about one hundred [Spanish] dollars, & some pieces of China belonging to Mrs Stoneman” (Newport Mercury, Nov. 17, 1766).  By 1772, the house was noted as having a “Garden, Large Stable, a Chaise-House, and a Summer House…neatly fitted up, painted and papered…is used as a Coffee House” in the September 21, 1772, Newport Mercury.

The “Black Horse” was a popular coffee-house in Newport on Thames Street, kept by Thomas Webber prior to May, 1767, at which time it was taken by Abigail Stoneman , and it then became known as the Merchants’ Coffee-House, at the sign of the “King’s Arms.”  She also noted in her June 1, 1767, opening announcement in the Newport Mercury announcement of the opening of her coffee house, that she also would sell there “West India goods cheap for Cash.”

Mrs. Stoneman added “an elegant ballroom” to her establishment in 1769, & advertised to “furnish Entertainment for large & small companies in the genteelest manner”  By October, however, she had moved over to Whitehall, which she renamed Vauxhall after the popular London outdoor public pleasure garden.

Boston's Royal Exchange Tavern is the all white building.

On December 24, 1770, she advertised in the Boston Gazette, “The Royal Exchange Tavern in King Street (only six months after “the Bloody Massacre” had taken place before the door)…being now repaired and fitted for the Reception of Company, will be opened this day as a coffee house by Abigail Stoneman from Rhode Island…she keeps ready furnished Lodgings, constant or occasional Boarders.”  She had placed an ad 2 weeks earlier in the December 10, 1770, Boston Evening-Post, announcing her intentions of converting the tavern into a coffee house.

The King's Arms Tavern in Newport, RI, is a sizeable, two-and-a-half-story building with a large central chimney. Built c.1720, the house stands on its original site.  Records from 1721 indicate that Thomas Walker sold a "Dwelling House, Tan Falls, and other buildings" to Captain Edmund Thurston. In 1773, Abigail Stoneman opened the building as a coffee house "at the sign of the King's Arms."

Abigail was not content with one coffeehouse; for in the November 29, 1773, Newport Mercury, she announced that she had opened the “King’s Arms,” on the Point Bridge, where she had also a “very good dancing-room, any civil and polite person could have, with music and lights, at a quarter of a dollar for each gentleman to dance in from 6 to 9 o‘clock in the evening during the winter, except on Thursday nights when the assembly will be held in it.” The same year she made it known that she kept the “British Coffee-House” on Thames Street, “near the New Lane “ Mary Street—and 4 miles away, in Middletown, on the west road, she had a tea house.

The next year she invested 1,400 pounds (Rhode Island currency) in a house & land in Middletown, about 4 miles from Newport.  She improved this property for the entertainment of the summer visitors, who already consisted of gentry families of merchants & planters from Pennsylvania & South Carolina.

Abigail Stoneman seemed to operate tit-for-tat in the male business world in Newport.  Court records show that her landlord Thomas Bannister sued her for 70 Spanish dollars’ worth of unpaid rent in the early 1770s.  She replied by suing him for broken dishes, food, drinks, lighting, and other incidentals between 1768-1773 for a total of nearly 20 pounds.  She extended credit to and received credit from a variety of Newport merchants, craftspeople, and laborers.  She was a consistent client of Timothy Waterhouse, Jr, from whom she purchased cloth, wine, and other dry goods to both use in her businesses and to resell.

By June 1772, she was advertising her country seat, a “tea house” in Middletown, offering to the summer colonial vacationers,  “Large entertainment …on the shortest notice.”  After the season ended she offered her property for rent & moved to Newport to open the British Coffee House on New Lane.  She was the only woman of Newport to receive a license to keep a tavern & sell spirituous liquors in 1772 & 1773.  When the summer colony began arriving again, she returned to “her Seat” in Middletown.

Upon the departure of the summering gentry in November 1774, the bustling innkeeper re-opened the King’s Arm in Newport near the Point-bridge.  There she fitted out a good dancing room, for which she supplied music for gentlemen & their ladies to dance in the winter evenings from six to nine, save on Thursdays, when the Newport Assembly was being held.  Mrs. Stoneman also advertised in the May 30, 1774, Newport Mercury, “Board & lodging for gentlemen.”

On Aug, 28, 1774, at Hampton, NH, the Newport Mercury announced, “was married…The Hon.  Sir John Treville, Knight of Malta, Capt. of cavalry in the service of his most Christian Majesty, to Mrs. Abigail Stoneman of this Town.”  The marriage was also announced in the September 9, 1774, New York Gazette Mercury.  At the time of her 2nd marriage she was a widow, the Newport Mercury (Sept. 5, 1774) described her as “a lady descended from a respectable family, of a good genius, a very polite & genteel address, & extremely well accomplished to every branch of family economy.”

Apparently in an effort to accrue some cash, soon after her marriage, the bride announced in the September 12, 1774, Newport Mercury  “a private sale” of her house & land in Middletown, a billiard table, & two pews (one in Mr. Hopkins’ Congregational Meetinghouse & one in Trinity Church).

Within 3 years, Abigail resumed her old business in 1777.  Sir John seems to have dropped out of the picture by then.  Rivington’s New  York Loyal Gazette announced on October 25, 1777: “The London Coffee-House is this day opened next door to Mr. Francis’s, at the lower end of Broad-Street, by Mrs. Treville, who formerly kept a Coffee -House in Boston, & Rhode-Island-As she has sustained considerable losses during the present rebellion, & put herself to great expence in providing every thing necessary for the accommodation of gentlemen, she flatters herself she will meet the suitable encouragement.”

Apparently successful, on Nov. 29, 1777, she advertised that she had conducted “the Assembly at Newport…to the general satisfaction of the polite & gay,” she would open one for the gentlemen of the army & navy each Wednesday from 6 to 10 P.M. for a change of one dollar a ticket for a couple.  She courteously acknowledged her indebtedness to the “politeness & humanity” of the British military gentry.

By 1776, coffee houses had become the scene of some contentious disagreements in the British American colonies.

These 1777 entries are the last records of her presence in the rebellious colonies, although, there seems to be no record of her death here.  What could be the final report of her comes from Kingston, Jamaica.  Abigail Treville, living in Kingston, Jamaica, died in 1784, was reported by the Saturday, July 31, 1784, South Carolina Weekly Gazette in Charleston, SC.

Women, Coffee Houses, & the American Revolution

Alvan Fisher (1792-1863) Coffee Clap

The gentle "ladies" of Boston, staged a "Coffee Party" in 1777, reminiscent of the earlier Boston Tea Party of 1773. The town's women confronted a profiteering hoarder of foodstuffs confiscating some of his stock of coffee, according to a letter from Abigail Adams to her husband, who would become the 2nd president of the United States.

Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blyth (American artist, 1740-1787) 1766.

Writing from Boston, on July 31, 1777, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John, away attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia,

"There is a great scarcity of sugar and coffee, articles which the female part of the state is very loath to give up, especially whilst they consider the great scarcity occasioned by the merchants having secreted a large quantity. It is rumored that an eminent stingy merchant, who is a bachelor, had a hogshead of coffee in his store, which he refused to sell under 6 shillings per pound.

"A number of females—some say a hundred, some say more—assembled with a cart and trunk, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the keys.

"Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys, and they then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into a trunk, and drove off. A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction."

1674 London Coffee House

It seems that the first to bring a knowledge of coffee to the settlers of colonial British North America was Captain John Smith, who founded the Colony of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607. Captain Smith became familiar with coffee in his travels in Turkey.

New York's First Coffee House

Although the Dutch also had early knowledge of coffee, there is no written evidence that the Dutch West India Company brought any of it to the first permanent settlement on Manhattan Island (1624). Nor is there any record of coffee in the cargo of the Mayflower (1620), although it included a wooden mortar & pestle, later used to make "coffee powder."

Depiction of a 1600s London coffee house with women at the table

The earliest reference to coffee in America is 1668, at which time a beverage made from the roasted beans, & flavored with sugar or honey, & cinnamon, was being drunk in New York.  Coffee first appears in the official records of the New England colony in 1670. In 1683, the year following William Penn's settlement on the Delaware, he is buying supplies of coffee in the New York market & paying for them at the rate of 18 shillings & 9 pence per pound

Some researchers of New York's early days are confident that the 1st coffee house in America was opened in New York; but the earliest authenticated record they have presented is that on November 1, 1696, John Hutchins bought a lot on Broadway, between Trinity churchyard & what is now Cedar Street, & there built a house he used as a coffee house, which would come to be called King's Arms.

Later dubbed The King's Arms, this house was built of wood, & had a front of yellow brick, said to have been brought from Holland. The King's Arms building was two stories high, & on the roof was an "observatory," arranged with seats, & commanding a fine view of the bay, the river, & the city. Here the King's Arms coffee-house visitors frequently sat in the afternoons.  It stood for many years on Broadway, opposite Bowling Green, in the old De Lancey House, becoming known in 1763 as the King's Arms, & later the Atlantic Garden House.

17C London Coffee House

The sides of the main room on the lower floor were lined with booths, which, for the sake of greater privacy, were screened with green curtains. There a patron could sip his coffee, or a more stimulating drink, meet with others to discuss news, or just relax & read his mail.  The rooms on the second floor were used for special meetings of merchants, colonial magistrates & overseers, or similar public & private business.  These meeting rooms seem to have been one of the chief features distinguishing a coffee house from a tavern. Although both types of houses had rooms for guests, & served meals, the coffee house was used for business purposes by permanent customers, while the tavern was patronized more by transients. Men met at the coffee house daily to carry on business, & went to the tavern for convivial purposes or lodgings. Before the front door hung the sign of "the lion & the unicorn fighting for the crown."

For many years the King's Arms seems to have been the only coffee house in New York City; or at least no other seems of sufficient importance to have been mentioned in colonial records. For this reason it was frequently designated as "the" coffee house.

Coffee Houses in 18C New York

On September 22, 1709, the Journal of the General Assembly of the Colony of New York refers to a conference held in the "New Coffee House." About this date the business section of the city had begun to drift eastward from Broadway to the waterfront; & from this fact it is assumed that the name "New Coffee House" indicates that the King's Arms may have been superseded in popularity by a newer coffee house. The Journal does not give the location of the "New" coffee house. Whatever the case may be, the name of the King's Arms does not again appear in the records until 1763, & then it had more the character of a tavern, or roadhouse.

The Exchange Coffee House is thought to have been located at the foot of Broad Street, abutting the sea-wall & near the Long Bridge of that day. At that time this section was the business center of the city, & here was a trading exchange.  The Exchange Coffee House may have been the only one of its kind in New York at the time.  In 1732,  an announcement of a meeting of the conference committee of the Council & Assembly "at the Coffee House."  And an advertisement in 1733 in the New York Gazette requesting the return of "lost sleeve buttons to Mr. Todd, next door to the Coffee House."  Robert Todd kept the famous Black Horse tavern which was located in this part of the city.

Daniel Bloom, a mariner, in 1737 bought the Jamaica Pilot Boat tavern from John Dunks & named it the Merchants Coffee House. The building was situated on the northwest corner of the present Wall Street & Water (then Queen) Street; & Bloom was its landlord until his death, soon after the year 1750. He was succeeded by Captain James Ackland, who shortly sold it to Luke Roome. The latter disposed of the building in 1758 to Dr. Charles Arding.

The doctor leased it to Mrs. Mary Ferrari, who continued as its proprietor until she moved, in 1772, to the newer building diagonally across the street on the southeast corner of Wall & Water Streets. Mrs. Ferrari took with her the patronage & the name of the Merchants Coffee House, & the old building was not used again as a coffee house.  The original coffee house which was opened on the northwest corner of Wall & Water Streets about 1737, moved to the southeast corner in 1772.

The building housing the original Merchants Coffee House was a two-story structure, with a balcony on the roof, which was typical of the middle 18C architecture in New York. On the first floor were the coffee bar & booths described in connection with the King's Arms coffee house. The 2nd floor had the typical long room for public assembly.   During Bloom's proprietorship the Merchants Coffee House had a long, hard struggle to win the patronage away from the Exchange Coffee House, which was flourishing at that time. But, being located near the Meal Market, where the merchants were wont to gather for trading purposes, it gradually became the meeting place of the city, at the expense of the Exchange coffee house, farther down the waterfront.

Merchants Coffee House at Wall and Water Sts NYC 1804

Widow Ferrari presided over the original Merchants Coffee House for 14 years, until she moved across the street. She was a keen business woman. Just before she was ready to open the new coffee house she announced to her old patrons that she would give a house-warming, at which arrack, punch, wine, cold ham, tongue, & other delicacies of the day would be served. The event was duly noted in the newspapers, one stating that "the agreeable situation & the elegance of the new house had occasioned a great resort of company to it."

Mrs. Ferrari continued in charge until May 1, 1776, when Cornelius Bradford became proprietor & sought to build up the patronage, which had dwindled somewhat during the stirring days immediately preceding the Revolution. In his announcement of the change of ownership, he said, "Interesting intelligence will be carefully collected & the greatest attention will be given to the arrival of vessels, when trade & navigation shall resume their former channels." He referred to the complete embargo of trade to Europe which the colonists were enduring. When the American troops withdrew from the city during the Revolution, Bradford went also, to Rhinebeck on the Hudson.

During the British occupation, the Merchants Coffee House was a place of great activity. As before, it was the center of trading, & under the British régime it became also the place where the prize ships were sold. The Chamber of Commerce resumed its sessions in the upper long room in 1779, having been suspended since 1775. The Chamber paid fifty pounds rent per annum for the use of the room to Mrs. Smith, the landlady at the time.

In 1781, John Stachan, then proprietor of the Queen's Head tavern, became landlord of the Merchants Coffee House, & he promised in a public announcement "to pay attention not only as a Coffee House, but as a tavern, in the truest; & to distinguish the same as the City Tavern & Coffee House, with constant & best attendance. Breakfast from seven to eleven; soups & relishes from eleven to half-past one. Tea, coffee, etc., in the afternoon, as in England." But when he began charging sixpence for receiving & dispatching letters by man-o'-war to England, he brought a storm about his ears, & was forced to give up the practise. He continued in charge until peace came, & Cornelius Bradford came with it to resume proprietorship of the Merchants Coffee House.

Bradford attempted to change the name to the New York Coffee House, but the public continued to call it by its original name, & the landlord soon gave in. He kept a marine list, giving the names of vessels arriving & departing, recording their ports of sailing. He also opened a register of returning citizens, "where any gentleman now resident in the city," his advertisement stated, "may insert their names & place of residence." This seems to have been the first attempt at a city directory. By his energy Bradford soon made the Merchants Coffee House again the business center of the city. When he died, in 1786, he was mourned as one of the leading citizens. His funeral was held at the coffee house over which he had presided so well.

The Merchants Coffee House continued to be the principal public gathering place until it was destroyed by fire in 1804. During its existence it had figured prominently in many of the local & national historic events:  the reading of the order to the citizens, in 1765, warning them to stop rioting against the Stamp Act; the debates on the subject of not accepting consignments of goods from Great Britain; the general meeting of citizens on May 19, 1774, suggesting a congress of deputies from the colonies & calling for a "virtuous & spirited Union;" the mass meeting of citizens following the battles at Concord & Lexington in Massachusetts; & the forming of the Committee of One Hundred to administer the public business.  The Merchants coffee house was the site 1784, where the Bank of New York was formed, the first financial institution in the city.  In 1790, the 1st public sale of stocks by sworn brokers was held there.

When the American Army held the city in 1776, the Merchants Coffee House became the resort of army & navy officers. On April 23, 1789, when Washington, the recently elected first president of the United States, was officially greeted at the coffee house by the governor of the State, the mayor of the city, & the lesser municipal officers.

The Whitehall Coffee House, was opened briefly by 2 gentlemen, named Rogers & Humphreys,  in 1762, with the announcement that "a correspondence is settled in London & Bristol to remit by every opportunity all the public prints & pamphlets as soon as published; & there will be a weekly supply of New York, Boston & other American newspapers."

The early records of the city occasionally mention the "Burns coffee house," sometimes calling it a tavern. It is likely that the place was more an inn & tavern than a coffee house. It was kept for a number of years by George Burns, near the Battery, & was located in the historic old De Lancey house, which afterward became the City hotel.  Burns remained the proprietor until 1762, when it was taken over by a Mrs. Steele. Edward Barden became the landlord in 1768. In later years it became known as the Atlantic Garden House. Traitor Benedict Arnold is said to have lodged in the old tavern after deserting to the enemy.

In 1791, 150 merchants organized the Tontine Coffee House. This enterprise was based on the plan introduced into France in 1653 by Lorenzo Tonti, with slight variations. According to the New York Tontine plan, each holder's share reverted automatically to the surviving shareholders in the association, instead of to his heirs. There were 157 original shareholders, & 203 shares of stock valued at £200 each. The directors bought the house & lot on the northwest corner of Wall & Water Streets, where the original Merchants Coffee House stood. The cornerstone of the new Tontine Coffee House was laid June 5, 1792; & a year later to the day, 120 gentlemen sat down to a banquet in the completed coffee house to celebrate the event of the year before.  The Tontine Coffee House had cost $43,000.

A contemporary account of the Tontine Coffee House in 1794 is supplied by an Englishman visiting New York at the time: "The Tontine tavern & coffee house is a handsome large brick building; you ascend six or eight steps under a portico, into a large public room, which is the Stock Exchange of New York, where all bargains are made. Here are two books kept, as at Lloyd's [in London] of every ship's arrival & clearance. This house was built for the accommodation of the merchants by Tontine shares of two hundred pounds each. It is kept by Mr. Hyde, formerly a woolen draper in London. You can lodge & board there at a common table, & you pay ten shillings currency a day, whether you dine out or not."

 Coffee Houses in Early Boston

Coffee had been popular in Boston for over a century, when the Revolutionary women of the town became patriotically incensed. Many women owned coffee houses, which traditionally had been frequented by men.  Dorothy Jones had been issued a license to sell coffee in Boston in 1670. “Mrs. Dorothy Jones, the wife of Mr. Morgan Jones, is approved of to keepe a house of publique Entertainment for the selling of Coffee & Chochaletto.” The last renewal of Mrs. Jones's license was in April 1674, at which time she was accorded the additional privilege of selling "cider & wine." Her husband Morgan Jones was a minister & schoolmaster who moved from colony to colony frequently, leaving Dorothy Jones to make her own way financially for herself and their family.

Ned Ward, The Coffee House Mob, frontispiece to Part IV of Vulgus Britannicus, or the British Hudibras (London, 1710)

After the Welsh gentlewoman Dorothy Jones opened her 1670 Boston coffee & chocolate establishment, the next colonial coffee house may have been in Maryland. In St. Mary's City, Maryland, the 1698 will of Garrett Van Sweringen, bequeaths to his son, Joseph, "ye Council Rooms and Coffee House and land thereto belonging," which Van Sweringen had opened in 1677.

Coffee houses patterned after English & Continental prototypes were established in the colonies, quickly becoming centers of social, political & business interactions. Among the earlist were London Coffee House in Boston, in 1689; the King's Arms in New York in 1696; and Coffee House in Philadelphia in 1700.

1664 wood cut of English coffee house

The name coffee house did not come into use in New England, until late in the 17. The London Coffee House and the Gutteridge Coffee House were among the first opened in Boston. The latter stood on the north side of State Street, between Exchange and Washington Streets, and was named after Robert Gutteridge, who took out an innkeeper's license in 1691. Twenty-seven years later, his widow, Mary Gutteridge, petitioned the town for a renewal of her late husband's permit to keep a public coffee house.

Boston's British Coffee House, whose named changed during the pre-Revolutionary period, also appeared about the time Gutteridge took out his license. It stood on the site that is now 66 State Street, and became one of the most widely known coffee houses in colonial New England.

The Crown Coffee House opened in 1711 and burned down in 1780. There were inns and taverns in existence in Boston long before coffee & coffee houses. Many of these taverns added coffee for patrons who did not care for the stronger spirits.

In the last quarter of the 17, quite a number of taverns and inns sprang up in Boston. Among the most notable were the King's Head (1691), at the corner of Fleet and North Streets; the Indian Queen (1673), on a passageway leading from Washington Street to Hawley Street; the Sun (1690-1902), in Faneuil Hall Square; and the Green Dragon, which became one of the most celebrated coffee house & taverns, serving ale, beer, coffee, tea, and more ardent spirits. In the colonies, there was not always a clear distinction between a coffee house and a tavern.

Boston's Green Dragon

The Green Dragon stood on Union Street, in the heart of the town's business center, for 135 years, from 1697 to 1832, and figured in practically all important local and national events during its long career. In the words of Daniel Webster (1782-1852), this famous coffee-house tavern was dubbed the "headquarters of the Revolution." John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere met there to discuss securing freedom for the American colonies. The old tavern was a two-storied brick structure with a sharply pitched roof. Over its entrance hung a sign bearing the figure of a green dragon.

The Bunch of Grapes, that Francis Holmes presided over as early as 1712, was another hot-bed of politicians. This coffee house became the center of a rowsing celebration in 1776, when a delegate from Philadelphia read the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the inn to the crowd assembled below. In the excitement that followed, the inn was nearly destroyed, when one celebrant built a bonfire too close to its walls.

By the beginning of the 18, the title of coffee house was applied to a number of new establishments in Boston. One of these was the Crown, which was opened in the "first house on Long Wharf" in 1711 by Jonathan Belcher, who later became governor of Massachusetts, and then New Jersey. The first landlord of the Crown was Thomas Selby, who also used it as an auction room. The Crown stood until 1780, when it was destroyed in a fire that swept the Long Wharf.

Another early Boston coffee house on State Street was the Royal Exchange. It occupied a two-story building, and was kept in 1711, by Benjamin Johns. This coffee house became the starting place for stage coaches running between Boston and New York, in 1772. In the Columbian Centinel of January 1, 1800, appeared an advertisement in which it was said: "New York and Providence Mail Stage leaves Major Hatches' Royal Exchange Coffee House in State Street every morning at 8 o'clock."

In the latter half of the 18, the North-End coffee house in a 3 storey 1740 brick mansion, stood on the west side of North Street, between Sun Court and Fleet Street. One contemporary noted that it had forty-five windows and was valued at $4,500. During the Revolution, it featured "dinners and suppers—small and retired rooms for small company—oyster suppers in the nicest manner."

Early Coffee Houses in Philadelphia

William Penn is generally credited with the introduction of coffee into the Quaker colony which he founded on the Delaware in 1682.  The first public house designated as a coffee house was built about 1700 by Samuel Carpenter, on the east side of Front Street, probably above Walnut Street, and was referred to as Ye Coffee House at Walnut & Chestnut Streets.  Ye Coffee House also did duty as the post-office for a time. Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, in an issue published in 1734, has this advertisement:  All persons who are indebted to Henry Flower, late postmaster of Pennsylvania, for Postage of Letters or otherwise, are desir'd to pay the same to him at the old Coffee House in Philadelphia.  Franklin also seems to have been in the coffee business, for in several issues of the Pennsylvania Gazette around the year 1740 he advertised: "Very good coffee sold by the Printer."

Unknown artist of the English School. The Coffee House Politicians

Opened about 1702, the 1st London Coffee House was the gathering place of the followers of Penn and the Proprietary party, while their opponents, the political cohorts of Colonel Quarry, frequented Ye Coffee House.  The first London Coffee House resembled a fashionable club house in its later years, suitable for the "genteel" entertainments of the well-to-do Philadelphians. Ye Coffee House was more of a commercial or public exchange. Evidence of the gentility of the London is given by John William Wallace: The appointments of the London Coffee House, if we may infer what they were from the will of Mrs. Shubert [Shewbert] dated November 27, 1751, were genteel. By that instrument she makes bequest of two silver quart tankards; a silver cup; a silver porringer; a silver pepper pot; two sets of silver castors; a silver soup spoon; a silver sauce spoon, and numerous silver tablespoons and tea spoons, with a silver tea-pot.

Roberts' Coffee House stood in Front Street near the first London house believed to have come into existence about 1740. In 1744, a British army officer recruiting troops for service in Jamaica advertised, that he could be seen at the Widow Roberts' Coffee House. During the French & Indian War, when Philadelphia was in grave danger of attack by French & Spanish privateers, the citizens felt so great relief when the British ship Otter came to the rescue, that they proposed a public banquet in honor of the Otter's captain to be held at Roberts' Coffee House. Widow Roberts retired in 1754.

Contemporary with Roberts' Coffee House was the resort run first by Widow James, and later by her son, James James. The James Coffee House was established in 1744, occupying a large wooden building on the northwest corner of Front and Walnut Streets. The James Coffee House was patronized by Governor Thomas & many of his political followers.

The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The 2nd London Coffee House, on the southwest corner of Second and Market Streets, was opened in 1754, by William Bradford printer of the Pennsylvania Journal. It quickly was more frequented than any other tavern in the Quaker city and was famous throughout the colonies.  It was "Having been advised to keep a Coffee House for the benefit of merchants and traders, and as some people may at times be desirous to be furnished with other liquors besides coffee, your petitioner apprehends it is necessary to have the Governor's license."

The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The London Coffee House was "the pulsating heart of excitement, enterprise, and patriotism" of the early city. The most active citizens congregated there—merchants, shipmasters, travelers from other colonies and countries, crown and provincial officers. The governor and persons of equal note went there at certain hours "to sip their coffee from the hissing urn, and some of those stately visitors had their own stalls." It had also the character of a mercantile exchange—carriages, horses, foodstuffs, and the like being sold there at auction. It is further related that the early slave-holding Philadelphians sold negro men, women, and children at vendue, exhibiting the slaves on a platform set up in the street before the coffee house.

The London Coffee House, Philadelphia

The London Coffee House building was a three-story wooden structure, with an attic that some historians count as the fourth story. There was a wooden awning one-story high extending out to cover the sidewalk before the coffee house. The entrance was on Market (then known as High) Street. Bradford gave up the coffee house when he joined the newly formed Revolutionary army as major, later becoming a colonel. When the British entered the city in September, 1777, the officers resorted to the London Coffee House, which was much frequented by Tory sympathizers.

The last of the celebrated coffee houses in Philadelphia was built in 1773 under the name of the City Tavern , which later became known as the Merchants coffee house, possibly after the house of the same name that was then famous in New York. It stood in Second Street near Walnut Street.  The City Tavern was patterned after the best London coffee houses; and when opened, it was looked upon as the finest and largest of its kind in America. City Tavern was 3 stories high, built of brick, and had several large club rooms, two of which were connected by a wide doorway that, when open, made a large dining room 50 feet long.

The gentlefolk of the city resorted to the City Tavern  after the Revolution as they had to Bradford's coffee house before. However, before reaching this high estate, it once was near destruction at the hands of the Tories, who threatened to tear it down. That was when it was proposed to hold a banquet there in honor of Mrs. George Washington, who had stopped in the city in 1776 while on the way to meet her distinguished husband, then at Cambridge in Massachusetts, taking over command of the American army. Trouble was averted by Mrs. Washington tactfully declining to appear at the tavern.  After peace came, the City Tavern was the scene of many of the fashionable entertainments of the period.

See also William Harrison Ukers (1873-1945) All About Coffee published by The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1922

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Alexander Hamilton's Adultery & Apology

From the Smithsonian Magazine July 25, 2013

Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804) by John Trumbull  1806

In the summer of 1791, Alexander Hamilton received a visitor.

Maria Reynolds, a 23-year-old blonde, came to Hamilton’s Philadelphia residence to ask for help. Her husband, James Reynolds, had abandoned her—not that it was a significant loss, for Reynolds had grossly mistreated her before absconding. Hamilton, just 34, was serving as secretary of the United States treasury and was himself a New Yorker; she thought he would surely be able to help her return to that city, where she could resettle among friends and relatives.

Hamilton was eager to be of service, but, he recounted later, it was not possible at the moment of her visit, so he arranged to visit her that evening, money in hand.  When he arrived at the Reynolds home, Maria led him into an upstairs bedroom. A conversation followed, at which point Hamilton felt certain that “other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable” to Maria Reynolds.

And thus began an affair that would put Alexander Hamilton at the front of a long line of American politicians forced to apologize publicly for their private behavior.

1787 Ralph Earl (1751-1801). Mrs. Alexander Hamilton. Elizabeth Schuyler

Hamilton (whose wife and children were vacationing with relatives in Albany) and Maria Reynolds saw each other regularly throughout the summer and fall of 1791—until James Reynolds returned to the scene and instantly saw the profit potential in the situation. December 15, Hamilton received an urgent note from his mistress: I have not tim to tell you the cause of my present troubles only that Mr. has rote you this morning and I know not wether you have got the letter or not and he has swore that If you do not answer It or If he dose not se or hear from you to day he will write Mrs. Hamilton he has just Gone oute and I am a Lone I think you had better come here one moment that you May know the Cause then you will the better know how to act Oh my God I feel more for you than myself and wish I had never been born to give you so mutch unhappiness do not rite to him no not a Line but come here soon do not send or leave any thing in his power.

Two days later, Hamilton received a letter from James Reynolds that accused him of destroying a happy home and proposed a solution: Its true its in your power to do a great deal for me, but its out of your power to do any thing that will Restore to me my Happiness again for if you should give me all you possess would not do it. god knowes I love the woman and wish every blessing may attend her, you have bin the Cause of Winning her love, and I Dont think I Can be Reconciled to live with Her, when I know I hant her love. now Sir I have Considered on the matter Serously. I have this preposial to make to you. give me the Sum Of thousand dollars and I will leve the town and take my daughter with me and go where my Friend Shant here from me and leve her to Yourself to do for her as you thing proper. I hope you wont think my request is in a view of making Me Satisfaction for the injury done me. for there is nothing that you Can do will compensate for it.

Rather than leave town (and his new mark), James Reynolds allowed the relationship to continue. A pattern was established in which Maria Reynolds (by this time likely complicit in her husband’s scheme) would write to Hamilton, entreating him to visit when her husband was out of the house: I have kept my bed those two days past but find my self much better at presant though yet full distreesed and shall till I see you fretting was the Cause of my Illness I thought you had been told to stay away from our house and yesterday with tears I my Eyes I begged Mr. once more to permit your visits and he told upon his honour that he had not said anything to you and that It was your own fault believe me I scarce knew how to believe my senses and if my seturation was insupportable before I heard this It was now more so fear prevents my saing more only that I shal be miserable till I se you and if my dear freend has the Least Esteeme for the unhappy Maria whos greateest fault Is Loveing him he will come as soon as he shall get this and till that time My breast will be the seate of pain and woe  P. S. If you cannot come this Evening to stay just come only for one moment as I shal be Lone Mr. is going to sup with a friend from New York.

After such trysts occurred, James Reynolds would dispatch a request for funds—rather than demand sums comparable to his initial request of $1,000 dollars (which Hamilton paid), he would request $30 or $40, never explicitly mentioning Hamilton’s relationship with Maria but referring often to Hamilton’s promise to be a friend to him.

James Reynolds, who had become increasingly involved in a dubious plan to purchase on the cheap the pension and back-pay claims of Revolutionary War soldiers, found himself on the wrong side of the law in November 1792, and was imprisoned for committing forgery. Naturally, he called upon his old friend Hamilton, but the latter refused to help. Reynolds, enraged, got word to Hamilton’s Republican rivals that he had information of a sort that could bring down the Federalist hero.

James Monroe, accompanied by fellow Congressmen Frederick Muhlenberg and Abraham Venable, visited Reynolds in jail and his wife at their home and heard the tale of Alexander Hamilton, seducer and homewrecker, a cad who had practically ordered Reynolds to share his wife’s favors. What’s more, Reynolds claimed, the speculation scheme in which he’d been implicated also involved the treasury secretary. (Omitted were Reynolds’ regular requests for money from Hamilton.)  Political enemy he might have been, but Hamilton was still a respected government official, and so Monroe and Muhlenberg, in December 1792, approached him with the Reynolds’ story, bearing letters Maria Reynolds claimed he had sent her.

Aware of what being implicated in a nefarious financial plot could do to his career (and the fledgling nation’s economy), Hamilton admitted that he’d had an affair with Maria Reynolds, and that he’d been a fool to allow it (and the extortion) to continue. Satisfied that Hamilton was innocent of any wrongdoing beyond adultery, Monroe and Muhlenberg agreed to keep what they’d learned private. And that, Hamilton thought, was that.

James Monroe had a secret of his own, though.  While he kept Hamilton’s affair from the public, he did make a copy of the letters Maria Reynolds had given him and sent them to Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton’s chief adversary and a man whose own sexual conduct was hardly above reproach. The Republican clerk of the House of Representatives, John Beckley, may also have surreptitiously copied them.

In a 1796 essay, Hamilton (who had ceded his secretaryship of the treasury to Oliver Wolcott in 1795 and was acting as an adviser to Federalist politicians) impugned Jefferson’s private life, writing that the Virginian’s “simplicity and humility afford but a flimsy veil to the internal evidences of aristocratic splendor, sensuality, and epicureanism.” He would get his comeuppance in June 1797, when James Callender’s The History of the United States for 1796 was published.

Callender, a Republican and a proto-muckraker, had become privy to the contents of Hamilton’s letters to Reynolds (Hamilton would blame Monroe and Jefferson, though it is more likely Beckley was the source, though he had left his clerk’s position). Callender’s pamphlet alleged that Hamilton had been guilty of involvement in the speculation scheme and was more licentious than any moral person could imagine. “In the secretary’s bucket of chastity,” Callender asserted, “a drop more or less was not to be perceived.”

Callender’s accusations and his access to materials related to the affair left Hamilton in a tight spot—to deny all the charges would be an easily proven falsehood. The affair with Maria Reynolds could destroy his marriage, not to mention his hard-won social standing (he had married Elizabeth Schuyler, daughter of one of New York’s most prominent families, and a match many thought advantageous to Hamilton). But to be implicated in a financial scandal was, to Hamilton, simply unthinkable. As Secretary of the Treasury, he’d been the architect of early American fiscal policy. To be branded as corrupt would not only end his career, but also threaten the future of the Federalist Party.

Left with few other options, Hamilton decided to confess to his indiscretions with Maria Reynolds and use that confession as proof that on all other fronts, he had nothing to hide. But his admission of guilt would be far more revealing than anyone could have guessed.

Hamilton’s pamphlet Observations on Certain Documents had a simple purpose: in telling his side of the story and offering letters from James and Maria Reynolds for public review, he would argue that he had been the victim of an elaborate scam, and that his only real crime had been an “irregular and indelicate amour.” To do this, Hamilton started from the beginning, recounting his original meeting with Maria Reynolds and the trysts that followed. The pamphlet included revelations sure to humiliate Elizabeth Hamilton—that he and Maria had brought their affair into the Hamilton family home, and that Hamilton had encouraged his wife to remain in Albany; so that he could see Maria without explanation.

Letters from Maria to Hamilton were breathless and full of errors (“I once take up the pen to solicit The favor of seing again oh Col hamilton what have I done that you should thus Neglect me”). How would Elizabeth Hamilton react to being betrayed by her husband with such a woman?

Still, Hamilton pressed on in his pamphlet, presenting a series of letters from both Reynoldses that made Hamilton, renowned for his cleverness, seem positively simple. On May 2, 1792, James Reynolds forbade Hamilton from seeing Maria ever again; on June 2, Maria wrote to beg Hamilton to return to her; a week after that, James Reynolds asked to borrow $300, more than double the amount he usually asked for. (Hamilton obliged.)

Hamilton, for his part, threw himself at the mercy of the reading public:This confession is not made without a blush. I cannot be the apologist of any vice because the ardor of passion may have made it mine. I can never cease to condemn myself for the pang which it may inflict in a bosom eminently entitled to all my gratitude, fidelity, and love. But that bosom will approve, that, even at so great an expense, I should effectually wipe away a more serious stain from a name which it cherishes with no less elevation than tenderness. The public, too, will, I trust, excuse the confession. The necessity of it to my defence against a more heinous charge could alone have extorted from me so painful an indecorum.

While the airing of his dirty laundry was surely humiliating to Hamilton (and his wife, whom the Aurora, a Republican newspaper, asserted must have been just as wicked to have such a husband), it worked—the blackmail letters from Reynolds dispelled any suggestion of Hamilton’s involvement in the speculation scheme.

Still, Hamilton’s reputation was in tatters. Talk of further political office effectively ceased. He blamed Monroe, whom he halfheartedly tried to bait into challenging him to a duel. (Monroe refused.) This grudge would be carried by Elizabeth Hamilton, who, upon meeting Monroe before his death in 1831, treated him coolly on her late husband’s behalf. She had, by all accounts, forgiven her husband, and would spend the next 50 years trying to undo the damage of Hamilton’s last decade of life.

Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804) and Aaron Burr (1756-1836) Duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Hamilton’s fate, of course, is well-known, though in a way the Reynolds affair followed him to his last day. Some time before the publication of his pamphlet, Hamilton’s former mistress Maria Reynolds sued her husband for divorce. The attorney that guided her through that process was Aaron Burr.

Aaron Burr 1756-1836 by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) 1802

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton, Penguin Books, 2005; Hamilton, Alexander. Observations on Certain Documents, 1797; Callender, James. History of the United States in 1796, 1796; Brodie, Fawn McKay. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, W.W. Norton & Co., 1975; Collins, Paul. Duel With the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery, Crown, 2013; McCraw, Thomas K., The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and Other Immigrants Forged a New Economy, Belknap Press, 2012, Rosenfeld, Richard M. American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.

From the Smithsonian Magazine July 25, 2013