The Landmark of Fraunces’ Tavern
December 21, 1900 — Society for the Preservation of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects, New York City
The sketch I read you is based upon a brief but interesting account of Fraunces’ Tavern written in 1894 by Mrs. Morris P. Ferris, Secretary of the Daughters of the Cincinnati, which I have greatly enlarged by gleanings from the valuable “Half Moon Papers” upon Historic New York as edited by Mrs. Robert Abbe, President of the City History Club, and from “The Goede Vrouw of Man-a-ha-ta,” by Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer, and from two articles in Scribner’s Magazine for 1876 by the late John Miner (Felix Oldboy), entitled “New York in the Revolution.” I tell you the tale as by these authorities, chiefly, it was told to me.
In the three colonial cities which played leading roles in the struggle for American Independence, namely, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, exist to our own day buildings so identified with that struggle that they deserve to be preserved to all time as among its priceless landmarks. In Boston, such landmarks at Faneuil Hall and the Old South Church; in Philadelphia they are Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross Cottage wherein was made the first American flag; and in New York we have three — the Morris Mansion, in Harlem, associated with George Washington the General; St. Paul’s Church, on Broadway, associated with George Washington the President; and Fraunces’ Tavern, on the corner of Broad and Pearl streets, associated (as I think we ought to feel) with George Washington the Christian.
Faneuil Hall, the so-called Cradle of Liberty, is and always has been safe to stand while Boston stands. Twenty-five years ago the Old South Church on costly Washington street was rescued from destruction by the herculean effort of united Boston womanhood. Very lately the patriotic men and women of Philadelphia have restored their sturdy Independence Hall as it was in Independence days down to the minutest details, and the little “ Flag House,” on Arch street, is being bought by ten-cent subscriptions from all over the country. St. Paul’s Church, on Broadway, whither Washington went to worship immediately after his inauguration as President, and where he had a pew during his presidential residence in New York, under the aegis of the great endowment of Trinity parish is equally safe from the tooth of time and the maw of commerce. The Morris Mansion, which was Washington’s headquarters in September, 1776, and in which Nathan Hale received the commission that within a fortnight led to his execution in lower New York as a spy — this beautiful colonial home, with the sloping lawn about it, through the persevering entreaties of patriotic New Yorkers, is soon, so it is said, to be taken into the New York system of small parks and will continue to dominate the landscape in the future as it has done in the past. But what about Fraunces’ Tavern — the third of New York’s remaining landmarks of the American Revolution?
FRAUNCES’ TAVERN TO-DAY, AND THE PLAN TO SAVE IT.
In the American schools of 50 or 60 years ago the pupils were all taught that at the close of the War for Independence, the great and only Washington — the triumphant leader of the American Armies — just before resigning his commission as Commander-in-Chief to the Congress at Annapolis, bade farewell to the generals and aides of those armies in the “long room” of Fraunces’ Tavern, New York. In many a childish mind, therefore, this tavern remained marked with a “big, big T,” and great was the surprise and pleasure of the writer in learning one day in the “eighties” that it was still standing.
During the mayoralty of the noble and enlightened Mr. Hewitt, and owing to his influence, a law had been passed obliging the then New York to spend a million dollars a year in playgrounds and small parks. It was after the enactment of this law that the writer first made her way to the famous building, and the actual vision of it was the shabby old corner number in a shabby old five-story block – no outline of its original shape discernible — its once tap-room lowered to the sidewalk level and serving as a common saloon, the sacred long room on the second floor transformed by the removal of a partition from a shut-in parallelogram to an open L, used as a cheap restaurant for foreign men of foreign tongue and otherwise bitterly changed and disfigured — this sad and sordid and disgraceful sight brought at once the thought that the very first small park to be created under the Hewitt law ought to be the small, the very small block on which Fraunces’ Tavern stands; that of its old buildings only the tavern should be left, that the latter should be restored as nearly as possible to what it was in Washington’s day; that portraits of the heroes who met in farewell in the long room should be placed in that room and the rest of the building reserved as a Revolutionary and Colonial Museum; that Revolutionary cannon should be placed in the proposed small park with two United States soldiers in Continental uniform to mount guard there daily, and that the school children of New York should be taken thither once each in their school lives as the children in Boston are taken to the Old South Church, then and there to be told the history of the tavern as the most vivid object lesson in American patriotism that could be devised.
The formidable obstacle in the way of this plan is, of course the great cost of the land on Broad street; nevertheless, at a tea given in the long room of the tavern in 1894 by the New York City Chapter, D.A.R., the audacious scheme was unfolded and much Chapter enthusiasm was aroused. Nothing came of it, however, until an officer of that Chapter who was present, Miss Mary Van Buren Vanderpoel, was made by her D.A.R. friends the Regent of the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter of New York, organized in 1896. She, true “ Daughter” of the American Revolution that she is, remembered Fraunces’ Tavern and appointed a standing committee in her Chapter to agitate for its preservation. The committee adopted the small park proposition as its own, and from May, 1897, to January, 1900, it knocked at one influential door after another, hoping to secure powerful backing before venturing to appeal for the plan to the city authorities — but knocked in vain!
A SAVIOR FOR THE TAVERN.
In January, 1900, made desperate by a report that the tavern was soon to be torn down to make way for a skyscraper, the distinguished Founder and President of the Society for the Preservation of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects — the Hon. Andrew H. Green, eminent citizen of large horizons, noble aims and monumental achievements — was appealed to to take the lead in saving Fraunces’ Tavern. President Green inclined a sympathetic ear; further negotiation between himself and the Fraunces’ Tavern Committee of the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter resulted, the Trustees of this Society consenting — first, in the expansion of the committee into the first organized “Auxiliary” of the Society designed and destined to become national; second, in the recognition in the report for 1900 of that Society to the Legislature at Albany, of the aspiration and organization of “public-spirited women” in behalf of Fraunces’ Tavern.
It may be objected — “Why go to the great expense of a small park on Broad street? Why not simply save and restore the tavern itself”?
We answer — First, because the owner of the tavern positively refuses to sell it, and the only way to get it is through condemnation of the block by the city or State for park purposes; second, because Broad street is destined to become an avenue of brobdingnagian business buildings, and how would an old three-story, hip-roofed relic look if surrounded by arrogant modern skyscrapers? — whereas, established and restored upon a greensward of its own, with the open land already at the east of the block thrown into it (this same land being itself a portion of the very earliest settled in the city), modern New York would possess a reminder of her American past not only deeply interesting as such, but potently inspiring also toward an equally American future.
Do some still sigh and say: “If only it were not a tavern! If the ‘Farewell’ had only taken place in some higher type of dwelling! How difficult to associate sentiment with a public tavern!”
But why not a “tavern”? The splendid bay of New York, as the chief port of entry between the Old World and the New, marked out the city of New York as a predestined queen of commerce. Where there is commerce, there also is travel and also, of first necessity, the house of publicm entertainment. From its foundation until now New York has been perforce the special town of inns, taverns, coffee-houses, restaurants and hotels. Nay, the original City Hall or “ Stadt Huys” of New Amsterdam, whose site was but diagonally across the way from that of our landmark, was first built for and used as a tavern! So far, therefore, from ignoring Fraunces’ Tavern for being a tavern, New York should all the more, and in sheer self-respect as a great trading city, restore and cherish this long maltreated witness to a unique and immortal event.
Even aside from its one supreme memory, of all buildings of the Colonial Period in New York, I think none — save the beautiful City (later Federal) Hall on whose balcony Washington was inaugurated and which New York so inexcusably suffered to be demolished — so worthy of tender and loving preservation as this same neglected inn.
For the life-thread of its site runs brightly back almost to the beginnings of the city, and the experience of its walls has struck almost every tone in the wide gamut of the city’s social, commercial, civic and politic career.
EARLY OWNERS OF THE PLACE.
Among the founders of the colony were Captain Oloff Stephanus Van Cortlandt and his wife, Ann Lockermans. The good man established a home and a large brewery in Brouwer street, where the dust raised by his great wagons so vexed the neat housewifery of his “Goede vrouw” that she begged him to lay a stone pavement before their property. This being done, people came to look at it as a curiosity and renamed the little street, “Stone Street,” remaining to this day, and thus commemorating the fact that to Madam Van Cortlandt the first, a “mere woman,” New York owed its first stone pavement.
Their son, Colonel Stephen Van Cortlandt, as he came to be, put up a cottage not far off, on the corner of Broad and Dock, later Queen and now Pearl street, and hither brought his bride, Gertrude Schuyler, in 1671. In 1700, perhaps because he wished to end his days as “ Lord” of his vast Van Cortlandt Manor on the Hudson, he deeded this then but village property, to his son-in-law, Etienne or Stephen De Lancey, a French Huguenot nobleman and an enterprising merchant. Perhaps the two owned together a warehouse on the wet dock back of the cottage, for what is “Water street ” now was real water then, and two great sea basins had been enclosed there for the better loading and unloading of vessels.
If the De Lancey pair kept house in the paternal cottage it was not for long, for early in the century the able Huguenot built upon its site a hip-roofed mansion of several stories, which ranked in size and importance with any at that period in the colony. It was constructed of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, and was probably roofed with tiles of Dutch make also. Beneath its gable front and five windows on Dock street was the main doorway, and under as many more on Broad street may have been a side entrance. Doubtless it boasted a back veranda overlooking the shipping of the sparkling bay, and I like to fancy it, not square, as it seems to be to-day, but with the usual L and wood-shed and barn stretching amply behind to a warehouse on the dock full of the De Lancey importations — with box-bordered flower beds and beds of vegetables at the side — and as years went on, with pleasant trees grown to the height of the red roof, which, after the colonial fashion, certainly ought to have been and probably was broken by dormer windows and surrounded by a balustrade.
A HOME OF COLONIAL FASHION.
Colonist Stephen De Lancey proved a model citizen in every sense of the word. Strenuous and successful in business, he devoutly upheld religion both in the French Huguenot and English Trinity churches, and was equally earnest and faithful in filling public office. In evidence of his public spirit, we may mention his turning over the check of 50 pounds which he had received as assemblyman, as purchase money for a cupola with clock and four large dials for the new City Hall on Wall street at the head of Broad. He and his wife naturally became prominent among the financial social leaders of New York, and it is said that no hostess was more hospital, gracious or popular than Madam Stephen De Lancey.
Her house, like the surface of a fan to its pivot, was central to almost every person and interest of importance in the compact little place. The White Hall or Government House, the Fort, the Barracks, the Battery and the Bowling Green were close on the left; at the rear were the two ship basins with the Royal Exchange and the Exchange Coffee House between them; diagonally across Broad street was the favorite King’s Arms tavern, and a few blocks above was the home of the social magnate, Mrs. James Alexander, who as the Widow Provoost had been the first person in New York to lay down a sidewalk. Her Broad street warehouses being somewhat aside from the stream of traffic, she shrewdly placed a pavement in front of them and also for a little way up and down an adjoining street, so that customers might be attracted to her through relief from the all-prevailing mud. On the neighboring William street were the Dutch Church and the aristocratic Black Horse Tavern, while on the northeastward curve up the island were the old “ Stadt Huys,” with warehouses and shops and markets and wharves, and the Long Island ferry. On Wall street, at the top of Broad, was the new City Hall, in whose vicinity the English, the French and the second Dutch churches had reared their spires and their worshippers had planted their homes. What was the internal arrangement of Madam De Lancey’s most accessible mansion we can only surmise; but if its five tiny-paned windows on Broad street meant on either floor one large drawing-room or two lesser ones opening into each other, the farthingales of the belles and the dress-swords of the military beaux had therein ample room both for the sweeping bows and courtesies of the stately minuet and for the jolly all-hands-round of the livelier measures. It is said that “dances generally began at five o’clock in the evening and for young people to be abroad at a private party after nine o’clock was an exception at which society frowned.”
One wedding may have been celebrated within this drawing-room as “awfully swell” in its day as some of the international nuptials of our own-being nothing less than the marriage of Mrs. Stephen’s youthful daughter, Miss Susannah De Lancey, to a naval officer whose epitaph in Westminster Abbey, written by the renowned Dr. Samuel Johnson, records him as having been Knight of the Bath, Vice-Admiral of the Red Squadron of the British Fleet, and member of Parliament for the city and liberty of Westminster-and furthermore, that he came from “an antient Irish family.” As a dashing young captain this Sir Peter Warren had been left in command of a squadron of sixteen sail on the Leeward Islands, and in less than four months he had taken twenty-four prizes, one of them a plateship valued at the then enormous sum of a quarter million pounds. Bringing these prizes to New York to be condemned, Messieurs Stephên De Lancey & Co. became his agents for the sale of his French and Spanish loot. The brilliant captor was him self soon captured by Stephen’s charming daughter, and she in turn surrendering —instead of setting sail at once with his bride for the other side as do our modern transoceanic lovers, the gallant bridegroom purchased an estate of 300 acres along the Hudson in what became the hamlet of Greenwich, only three miles away, laid out a park in the English manner, and made the ideal spot, then the most beautiful on Manhattan Island, his home until his election to Parliament some years after. The family then removed to England and Lady Warren never returned to her native land. Her daughters grew up beauties, and being heiresses besides, made brilliant marriages, one becoming Countess of Abingdon, another Lady Fitzroy, Baroness of Southampton, and the third Mrs. Colonel Skinner. As the city extended, streets were cut through Sir Peter’s estate and named respectively Warren, Abingdon, Fitzroy and Skinner streets, though of these only Warren street and Abingdon square remain as echoes faint and far of Susannah De Lancey’s Lady Warren’s-high colonial prestige.
A GENERAL STORE.
Stephen De Lancey’s early home descended through his son James (a colonial judge and acting governor whose delightful Broadway residence was also built by Stephen), to his grandson Oliver. The latter, too aristocratic to live in what had now become a business neighborhood, leased it to a partner in the firm, Colonel Joseph Robinson, and when the latter died, in 1757, “ De Lancey, Robinson & Co.” announced that they had “moved their store into Colonel Robinson’s late dwelling next to the Royal Exchange, and should there continue to sell all sorts of European and East India goods — shoes, shirts, white and checked, for the army, with a variety of other goods.” The firm continued their business here until 1761, but on January 15, 1762, the roomy mansion passed by deed into the possession of the most noted Boniface of the day — of that “Samuel Fraunces” with whose patriotic name it was to become so imperishably associated.
This new owner was a West Indian, and though, from the swarthiness of his complexion, commonly called “ Black Sam,” he was of French extraction. Swinging out an effigy of Queen Charlotte he named his inn the Queen’s Head — probably as being appropriate to its location on Queen street — and announced that “dinner would be served daily at half-past one” — doubtless the then fashionable limit. For three years he remained head of the Queen’s Head, and then, being a restless and enterprising genius, he leased it to one John Jones, in order himself to take charge of the popular Vauxhall Gardens on the Hudson, south of Sir Peter Warren’s place.
Here he opened a museum of wax figures and other curiosities, and served hot rolls, meat, sausages, tea, coffee and other drinkables to the citizens with their wives and to the beaux with the belles who drove out there, mostly in chaises, on pleasant afternoons.
After a year John Jones resigned the Queen’s Head to Bolton & Sigel, who advertised “dinners and public entertainments at the shortest notice, jellies in the greatest perfection and rich and plain cakes sold by the weight.” They assured “gentlemen” that they might “depend upon receiving the best of usage,” and doubtless as a bait to the late-rising officers at the barracks nearby, promised “breakfast in readiness from 9 to 11 o’clock.”
It was during their occupancy that the New York Chamber of Commerce, to-day the most potent body of men on the Western Hemisphere, was organized in April, 1768, in the long room of the Queen’s Head, with twenty-four importers for members, and John Cruger for president. For the accommodation of banquets, balls, citizen’s meetings and social clubs generally, all important taverns had their “ long rooms ” — so-called in imitation of the Indian usage which named the large lodge in each village in which were held the tribal councils and feasts the long room.
In 1769, of the two hosts of the Queen’s Head we find Richard Bolton alone soliciting the favor of the public, but in 1770 Sam Fraunces went back to his own again, and inaugurated at the Queen’s Head the brilliant regime which marked him to all time as the pioneer and peer of a unique and important type in our American civilization — the affable, executive, money-making, yet manly and patriotic American hotelkeeper.
The acknowledged cordon-bleu in cookery and the first connoisseur in wines of his little city, in his newspaper announcement the owner of the property “flatters himself that the public are so well satisfied of his ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an advertisement useless.” He merely states, therefore, that “the Queen’s Head is now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient manner for the reception and entertainment of those gentlemen, ladies and others who may favor him with their company,” and that he“ will serve dinners and suppers not only to lodgers, but to those who live at a convenient distance.” Nor is he devoted to supplying creature comforts alone; he also opens his long room to what he calls “the Polite and Rational Amusement of Philosophical Lectures on the Nature, Use and Effects of the Air, tickets for which are on sale both at the Queen’s Head and the publisher’s.”
A HOTBED OF REBELLION.
The so-called Social Club met here every Saturday night to praise Black Sam’s cider, madeira, old port, spirits, ales and punches, and we may be sure that besides their drinking, card-playing and gossip they argued mightily together over the burning manhood question of the day — the question of taxation without representation. In the club were many loyalists, but patriots like John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Morgan Lewis, Robert Livingston, Samuel Verplanck, and others, were also members — and from these daring and dauntless thinkers Sam Fraunces perhaps imbibed his own ardent Americanism. As the troubles between king and colonies waxed more and more angrily to a head, his tavern became the headquarters of rebellion against the crown and a favorite meeting-place of the active malcontents. The blood of the Sons of Liberty of New York had been shed by the British soldiers two months before the Boston massacre which so infuriated New England, and when united Boston ventured her great Tea Party in December, 1773, the Sons of Liberty followed suit the next April with a New York little one.
Hearing that a ship was in port having on board eighteen chests of the hated commodity, the Sons met “at Sam Fraunces’ Tavern,” and from thence went straight to the offending vessel. In open daylight they seized and threw the tea into the bay, and bade the captain recross the Atlantic without delay. He obediently hoisted sail so to do, and while he dropped down the Narrows, they made all speed to their Liberty pole on the Commons, the fourth they had raised there in defiance of the British troops, ran their flag to its top, and from their cannon at its foot roared out a salute over the poor captain’s discomfiture and their own patriotic daring. The famous Committee of Correspondence between the Colonies also met for organization in the long room of the Queen’s Head.
The next year, 1775, a party of King’s College students, led by Alexander Hamilton, went by night with some rebel soldiers to the Battery, near Bowling Green, secured the guns and ammunition of the grand battery connected with the fort there, and fired on a government barge that was watching them. His Majesty’s ship Asia, which was anchored in the bay, at once replied with a broadside aimed, to the honor of Sam Fraunces be it said, at the Queen’s Head as the special gathering place of the rebels. An eighteen-pound ball pierced its roof and another struck close by — the former being treasured and shown with pride in the tavern as late as 1894 as one of the only two hostile shot that had ever touched New York.
After driving the British out of Boston, in 1776, Washington hastened to New York in hope of preventing Lord Howe and his 30,000 oncoming troops from occupying it. In various headquarters, among them the Queen’s Head, Richmond Hill, and the Morris (later the Jumel) mansion, he remained on Manhattan Island for many anxious months, during which, though no rich loyalists were despoiled by the needy colonials, he himself came near losing his life. A British deserter named Hickey was one of his body-guard, and had made himself a favorite at the Richmond Hill headquarters, where Sam Fraunces’ daughter, Phoebe, was in charge of the housekeeping. Hickey was in a plot with the tory major, Matthews, and the royalist governor, Tryon, to poison Washington, but being desperately in love with Phoebe Fraunces, and perhaps needing her connivance, he revealed to her his awful scheme. She promptly told her father. Hickey was arrested, and confessing his guilt, he was hanged at the corner of Grand and Chrystie street in presence of 20,000 people. For this measureless service should not true Phoebe some day have a tablet on the wall of her father’s tavern?
That father was now enrolled as a private in Colonel Malcolm’s regiment, one of the sixteen commanded by Washington himself, and when those untrained, ununiformed and half-armed troops, in spite of Washington’s passionate appeal to them to “conquer or die” — after a first reverse on Long Island and then a second at what is now the Thirty-fourth Street ferry-rushed from the pursuing redcoats up the leafy lanes of Manhattan Island to Harlem, the patriot Fraunces fled, too, with General Putnam’s division.
Throughout the Revolution the Queen’s Head, doubtless to the joy of its now intensely tory ex-owner, Oliver De Lancey — was occupied by British officers, nor did Sam Fraunces venture to return to his own inn again until seven long years had rolled by, and the British were about to evacuate New York.
Oh, what a delirious day of ecstatic triumph to patriotic New Yorkers was that sunny Tuesday, the 25th of November, 1783, which saw the burnished and scarlet-coated soldiers of King George of England tramp sullenly along the Boston road and Broadway to their boats, while the exultant “continentals,” in their “ragged regimentals,” were marching joyously down from the north into the little war-worn city whose commerce was gone, its trees cut down for firewood, its homes and churches desecrated, and one-eighth of its buildings long since destroyed by fire. And of all those wildly throbbing hearts surely none could have been more bursting with love, joy and pride than that of Sam Fraunces; for where was the adored Washington to put up for the night but at the Queen’s Head, and who was in charge of the grand banquet to be given there by Governor Clinton to the Commander-in-Chief and the French Ambassador Luzerne, after the triumphal entry, but Black Sam himself, the Delmonico of his day, and who, of course, could not have been with his regiment during the entry, because he must have been rushing the arrangements for the occasion which was the grand climax of his life! Can we not fancy the viands he prepared, the punch he brewed, the vintages he selected, and then see him stand behind Washington’s chair watching how he was served and allowing no one but himself to keep the chief’s wine glasses replenished? More than a hundred generals, officers and distinguished civilians sat down to table in the long room with Governor Clinton and his guests of honor — an observer noting that Washington “looked considerably worn out, but happy” — and after the banquet 13 toasts were given, the first being, “The United States of America,” the thirteenth, “May This Day be a Lesson to Princes!”
In the evening the Queen’s Head, with the whole city, was brightly illuminated. Bonfires blazed at every corner, and as their contribution to the general joy, Washington and the French Ambassador superintended a display of fireworks on the nearby Bowling Green.
From the date of the Evacuation the “ Queen’s Head” on Queen street becomes “ Fraunces Tavern ” on Pearl street, and it was nine days after this that within its walls, on Thursday, December 4, 1783, Washington and his generals and aides met for the last time as fellow-soldiers in the Revolutionary Army. To the deeply Christian Washington, war was but a means to an end. He had accepted the supreme command not in order to “be greatest” among his American brethern, but to help them achieve American Independence. The stupendous undertaking accomplished he was now going before Congress to surrender his commission and return to what he held as infinitely nobler and greater than the art of war — to the beautiful and beneficent art of agriculture; for Washington, be it remembered, while the greatest general, was also the most skillful, scientific and extensive farmer of his time — his very name, “ George,” in fact, signifying “a husbandman!”
No complete list is extant as to who were present at the memorable Farewell, but it is believed that they numbered 44, among them being the famous Generals Greene, Knox, Wayne, Steuben, Carroll, Lincoln, Kosciusko, Moultrie, Gates, Lee, Putnam, Stark, Hamilton, Governor Clinton, Colonels Tallmadge, Humphreys, Fish, and 27 others.
The long room is on the second story of the tavern. Its measure was 38 by 19 feet-five windows on Broad and two on Pearl street, and as so grand a banquet had recently taken place there, I think we may surmise it to have been comfortably curtained and perhaps carpeted. Being December, and the snow probably deep on the ground, a great wood fire must have been blazing on the hearth, and to complete the picture we must see at the top of the room a table with decanters and many wine glasses.
It is said that Washington rode on horseback to the tavern, where were gathered in the street many veterans of his armies, and Colonel Tallmadge, one of his favorite aides, thus describes what followed:
“We had been assembled but a few minutes when his Excellency entered the room. His emotion, too strong to be concealed, seemed to be reciprocated by every officer present. After partaking of a slight refreshment, amid almost breathless silence the General filled his glass with wine and turning to his officers said: “With a heart full of love and gratitude I must now take my 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 the officers had taken a glass of wine, the General added: ‘I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged to you if each will come and take me by the hand.’
“General Knox, being nearest to him, turned to the Commander-in-Chief, who, suffused in tears, was incapable of utterance, but grasped his hand, when they embraced each other in silence. In the same affectionate manner every officer in the room marched up to, kissed and parted with his General-in-Chief. Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed, and hope I may never be called upon to witness again. Not a word was uttered to break the solemn silence that prevailed, or to interrupt the tenderness of the occasion. The simple thought that we were about to part forever from the man who had led us through a long and bloody war, and under whose conduct the glory and independence of our country had been achieved, and that we should see his face no more in this world, seemed to me insupportable. But the time of separation had come, and waving his hand to his grieving children around him, he left the room, and passing through a corps of light infantry who were paraded to receive him, he walked silently on to Whitehall Ferry, where a barge was in waiting. We all followed in mournful silence to the wharf, where a prodigious crowd had assembled to witness the departure of the man who, under God, had been the great instrument of establishing the glory and independence of these United States. As soon as he was seated, the barge put off in the river, and when out in the stream our great and beloved General waved his hat and bade us a silent adieu.”
“Happy as was the occasion,” wrote an officer afterward; “prayed for as it had been by him and all patriots, that we might at last feel there was no enemy left in America, the triumph brought with it its sorrows, and I could hardly speak when I turned from taking my last look of him. It was extremely affecting, and I do not think there were ever so many broken hearts in New York as there were that night!”
Thus did Washington, with his matchless sense of the real relations, and hence of the true fitness of things, exquisitely and poetically close the world-drama of the American Revolution and unconsciously lift the small and plain long room of Fraunces’ Tavern into the shining galaxy of eternally venerable and memorable places; and as after a tremendous tempest the ocean in a soft ripple kisses a good-night to the sands which but lately saw it sweeping in awful and resistless grandeur — so in that silent goodbye kiss to each fellow officer, did this mighty nature dismiss what President McKinley has admirably called its “vast and varied” powers back to their hidden depths, then tranquilly subside to its former quiet guise of Virginia citizen and gentleman.
To the nation the thrilling value of old Fraunces Tavern consists in the facts that at one and the same hour were assembled within its principal room nearly all of the greatest military leaders of the American Revolution; that their meeting there was the last scene of that Revolution; and that Washington then and there founded the American principle of rotation in office by practically divesting himself in their presence of his supereminent distinction of Commander-in-Chief of the American Armies — an example which he was to repeat and reinforce in later years by refusing a third nomination to the Presidency. The very life of the Republic is bound up in this principle. It was new to human annals as to human nature, and it was one, though but one, of Washington’s extraordinary contributions to a higher ideal of Christian, because self-effacing, statesmanship than ever had been reached before.
Regarding this “ Farewell,” an enthusiast of more than 30 years ago declared that no monument to Washington’s glory in the city of New York could equal the historic witness of Fraunces’ Tavern, and that no lesson in the past could so abash and convert a demagogue of the future as the mere entrance into its long room. “ Let the tavern,” he exclaimed, “ be forever preserved as the Mecca of American Patriotism!”
Washington at last had really left the small seaport on the lordly bay about which, as “the storm-center of the Revolution,” he had patiently hovered on north, on west, or on south, through good and through evil fortune, for more than seven long, arduous, home-sick years — having only once in all those years revisited his beloved Mount Vernon. Little did he dream in 1783, as he went on foot to a New York ferry amid silent and sorrowing followers, that in less than seven years he should walk from a New York ferry amid cheering and exulting crowds as the unanimous elected First President of the United States of America, come to take in hand the helm of state and start the noble ship across the vast unknown sea of Christian Democracy. He had consented to take the presidency only on the same terms as he had the generalship of the army — namely, that he should be reimbursed for his living expenses while in office, but not for his services.
To this fact we doubtless owe the last appearance of Sam Fraunces on the historic page.
EXIT “SAM” FRAUNCES.
After the Evacuation, though the tavern continued in foremost favor and was the scene of various banquets and festivities in honor of the infant Republic which had come to take its place among the nations of the earth, in 1785 its energetic but changeable owner sold it, and in 1789, as the person best fitted for the office, he was made the steward of Washington’s presidential household. One day he placed before the Chief a fine shad from the first catch of the season. The latter inquired the price. “Three dollars,” replied the steward. “ Take it away!” returned Washington, scandalized; “it shall never be said that the President indulges in luxuries so expensive as this.” Yet it is on record that through this same Steward Fraunces the President’s table was supplied with madeira, claret, champagne, sherry, arrack, spirits, brandy, cordials, porter, beer and cider. “Other times, other manners.” Though himself the most temperate of men, the universal drinking and toasting of Washington’s day made these among the necessities of a high-class household, and therefore permissible to be paid for out of the public money; an “early” shad was not.
Fraunces’ Tavern has never lost the name of its patriotic owner, and from the day when he first swung out its first sign, one hundred and thirty-eight years ago, down to our own, it has been open continuously as a house of public entertainment — facts, in the universal transformation of old New York which has taken place all about it, hardly less remarkable than the more brilliant points of its exceptional story. For half a century after the Revolution it held its own among the best caravansaries of the town, and after the great New York fire of 1835 it was leased by a popular hotelkeeper, Mr. John Gardner, who had been burned out. His nephew, the Hon. Asa Bird Gardiner, was born there, and an elderly gentleman remembers being taken there as a child to see Fanny Ellsler dance in the long room before a fashionable company. Since the fifties, however, the tavern had dropped from one unkindly level to another, until now it is in the pitiful and painful tragedy that we see.
Since the passage of the small park law of New York, millions have been spent to open “breathing places” for the people — their cost varying from a quarter of a million to a million and a quarter of dollars each — and in the case of the last opened, the Hamilton Fish Park on Houston street, to over three millions of dollars; but hardly one has been chosen with regard to New York or American history. Certainly no one has thought of Fraunces’ Tavern — and yet, as was said in the last annual report of the Scenic Preservation Society with reference to the Morris Mansion — “Preserved for a historic memorial, even as a teacher, it would be worth a hundred thousand times its cost in dollars and cents.”
Strange that the intimate claims of Fraunces’ Tavern upon the tenderness and gratitude of New York seem to have been forgotten by the two important families whose first homestead it was! Strange that the tavern seems forgotten by the great importers of New York, an eminent firm of whose predecessors once kept general store within it! Strange that it seems forgotten by the patriotic company of American hotelkeepers, the leading forerunner of whom was the genial, the popular, the liberty-loving Sam Fraunces!
Strange that it is ignored by the mighty giant whose birth-cradle it was — by that Chamber of Commerce the enterprises of whose fifteen hundred millionaires girdle and network the globe, and who, in the human sense, have but to speak and it is done! Strange, above all, that it seems forgotten by the Army of the United States, though the creator and first commander of that army, having served his country without pay, in the presence of weeping generals therein laid on the altar of that country his high and coveted distinction! But, oh! amid so much that she forgets, not strange that it should be forgotten by the now almost wholly un-American — by the almost wholly foreign-— city of New York!
To the patriotic hearth, the shades of the sturdy and opulent Colonel Stephen Van Cortlandt, of Van Cortlandt Manor and of his wife, Gertrude Schuyler, whose bridal cottage was on this site — demand that Americans unite to save Fraunces’ Tavern. Still more insistently do the memories of their daughter Ann Van Cortlandt and her noble Huguenot husband, Etienne or Stephen De Lancey, who built Fraunces’ Tavern as her ample home, demand it. Their daughter, Susannah De Lancey, Lady Warren, who was married here, sighs to us for it. Faithful, ardent, devoted Black Sam and the loyal maiden, Phoebe Fraunces, beg us for it. The memories of John Jay, of Gouverneur Morris, of Robert Livingston and the friends of the Social Club — those of the Sons of Liberty and of the founders of the Chamber of Commerce — look to us for it; and last in our minds, but foremost in our love, the thought of Washington and of the Brothers-in-Arms who suffered and fought with Washington to free the country which we now bless and magnify as “our” country, and who met to part forever on earth within this building — all, each, and every one, from the earliest dweller on this corner to the day of the sad, sweet and immortal“ Farewell” plead, beg, implore, that we save and restore Fraunces’ Tavern to the homage and tenderness of all Americans who honor their ancestors and who love the free institutions which they established.
Not another twelve months should be lost. Vandalism against the building and against the long room is reckless. Even within two years the latter has been needlessly and brutally disfigured by a staircase projected into the south end of the room like a huge closet. The traditional cannon ball that pierced the roof in 1775, and the traditional round table upon which were the decanters and the glasses of the “Farewell,” have both disappeared since 1894. At any time the venerable building itself, standing now since 1710, may be torn down!
Patriotic womanhood may plead, but patriotic manhood must save this tavern if saved it is to be! Will not the great New York Chamber of Commerce itself meet and memorialize the city and State authorities regarding its birthplace? Land and all, it can hardly cost more than the last opened “breathing-place” for the people — and for a breathing-place for the people’s souls shall we not devote at least as much as was cheerfully lavished on the Hamilton Fish Park? For we declare that within the memorial room of this building every United States citizen might reverently stand, and as he looked around upon the silent portraits of the Hero-Founders who, as living men, once stood there before him — in the spirit and in the parting words of the greatest of them, he might proudly echo for himself also, “the name of American!”
Alas! alas! from Maine to California, American councils and legislatures are ever frowing and frightened, deaf and niggard, toward any appeal which has for its sole motive Beauty and Sentiment! Yet beauty and sentiment feed and vivify the soul as food and fresh air the body, and the spiritual part of us must have them or it must die. Human nature in this vast New York is starving, dwindling and degenerating for lack of these vital elements of its higher nourishment and growth. Where, if not here, shall we begin to end this famine, and when, if not now?
Oh, by every deep and fond and faithful fibre of the human heart, let the potencies and powers of this wide land, social and commercial, civic and military, state and national, combine in one irresistible weight of public opinion to save Fraunces’ Tavern; and when it is saved, let us place in the long room, beneath a replica of that wonderful life-mask of Washington, taken but not followed by the French sculptor, Houdon, the outburst of the youthful Abraham Lincoln in 1842, as voicing the conviction of all those who adequately love and reverence the “Father” of their country:
“Washington’s is the mightiest name of earth — long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation. On that name no eulogy is expected. It cannot be. To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce that name, and in its naked, deathless splendor leave it shining on!”
Source: Annual Report of the Trustees of Scenic and Historic Places and Objects Transmitted to the Legislature March 21, 1898 (New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co.) 1898, pp. 61-84.