Resurrecting the Coffeehouse

by Edward A. Chappell
Ed is the Roberts Director of the Department of Architectural and Archaeological Research
(This article originally appeared in the Vol. 29, No. 3, Winter 2008/2009 issue of the Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter)


Reconstruction of the Coffeehouse is the newest chapter in the extraordinary eighty-year restoration of eighteenth-century Williamsburg. An architectural approach to such work was set during the opening chapters in 1928-1941 when researchers and designers first adjusted or re-created buildings and landscapes to their early form, following documentary and physical evidence. Colonial Williamsburg staff and John D. Rockefeller worked vigorously after World War II to flesh out the Historic Area as a unified scene rather than a series of discrete sites without connective tissue. Since then, methods of analysis have become more specialized, additional kinds of evidence have come to bear on restoration, and the study of early buildings in the region has expanded dramatically. On the front line, Historic Trades' use of eighteenth-century building techniques has raised the fidelity of new construction.

Projects began to be more strategically chosen for educational purposes in the 1960s. Virtually every restoration and reconstruction project has had a specific pedagogical intent, addressing what each generation sees as an essential element in our story of the eighteenth-century American town. Work on the James Geddy site in 1967 provided an effective vehicle for addressing the lives of a successful tradesman's family on the eve of the Revolution. We recast Greenhow Store in 1983 to portray the character and scale of a prominent retail enterprise in the 1770s. Re-creation of Peyton Randolph's work yard strengthened our ability to address race relations and teach about the lives of free and enslaved people at the end of the colonial era. The Coffeehouse fits this didactic model, as useful background to the Revolutionary City.

Coffeehouses were centers of news and commerce in the eighteenth-century British world. Hot caffeinated drinks fueled intellectual discourse and spirited gossip, as well as providing a stimulant to political debate and business engagement.1 The name alone could connote a sense of a superior establishment, even if the bill of fare included wine and food and otherwise resembled a tavern, as it often did in the Chesapeake. Lodging was available in at least some Virginia public houses of that name.2

Eighteenth-century Williamsburg hosted several coffeehouses, though apparently never more than one at a time. The limited number exemplifies the city's character as miniature capital, albeit important, when compared to vast London with thousands of coffeehouses catering to specialized mercantile or political clientele, including the Virginia Coffee House in Cornhill.3 Most here, if not all, were near the Capitol and adjoined "the Exchange" as a distant echo of London coffeehouses serving traders and merchants at the Royal Exchange.4 William Byrd II visited one more than a hundred times in young Williamsburg from 1709 to 1712, gambling, eating (lightly, not his main meals), and drinking (tea or wine, when specified) rather than transacting much business. Other customers he records were fellow gentlemen, not the promiscuous mix some London establishments served.5 Byrd used London coffeehouses differently a decade later, regularly drinking chocolate, reading the news, and connecting with agents and potential patrons at Court. Byrd recorded visiting at least five London coffeehouses--Virginia, St. James's, Leveridge, Smyrna, and Will's, his favorite, in Covent Garden. He visited London coffeehouses more than two hundred times between December 1717 and August 1718, usually in the afternoon and early evening.6 Thomas Jefferson recorded regular visits to a Williamsburg "Coffee house" from 1767 until 1775, as did George Washington until 1774, long after Richard Charlton announced in June, 1767, that "the Coffee-House in this city being now opened by the subscriber as a Tavern..."7

The late colonial coffeehouse Charlton recast is clearly of most use to Colonial Williamsburg because of its date and the 1765 tale of Stamp Act resistance, recounted by Lt. Governor Francis Fauquier to the Board of Trade in heroic terms. The tale is illustrative of confrontations occurring when the revenue stamps and their distributors arrived in most of the thirteen colonies.8 Fauquier's letter describes how on October 30 a threatening crowd of gentlemen, merchants, and lesser sorts pursued Virginia stamp distributor George Mercer through the street,

to the Coffee house, in the porch of which I had seated my self with many of the Council and the Speaker who had posted himself between the Crowd and my self. We all received him with the greatest Marks of welcome . . . . After some little time, a Cry was heard 'let us rush in' upon this we, that were at the Top of the Steps knowing the advantage our Situation gave us to repell those who should attempt to mount them, advanced to the Edge of the Steps, of which number I was one. I immediately heard a Cry see the Governor take care of him, those who before were pushing up the Steps immediately fell back and left a small Space between me and them . . . The Crowd did not yet disperse, it was growing dark and I did not think it safe to leave Mr. Mercer behind me, so I again advanced to the Edge of the Steps, and said aloud I believed no man there would do me any hurt, and turned to Mr. Mercer and told him if he would walk with me through the people I believed I could conduct him safe to my house, and we accordingly walked side by side through the thickest of the people who did not molest us; tho' there was some little murmurs.9

The incident had personal repercussions within the leadership class when Coffeehouse quarrels between members of the Mercer and Lee families over patriotism and honor led George Mercer's brother James to beat Arthur Lee in a fistfight. Each man's claim that the other avoided a duel planned for the outskirts of Williamsburg drew support from prominent citizens, including Corbin Griffin for the prideful Dr. Lee and Thomas Everard, Robert Nicolson, and Archibald Diddip for parvenue James.10 While providing a platform for politically-active Virginians, then, it and other public houses may have encouraged discord by attracting a heady mix of men unbound by the spatial structures and institutional choreography used to control behavior in courthouses, churches, and the nearby Capitol.

Great story. Central location. But the building disappeared about 1889, when Cary Peyton Armistead demolished it to build a larger Victorian house, in an era when many colonial buildings in town were lost to decay and changing standards of living.11 Work began in 1995 to study the site archaeologically and plan a possible Coffeehouse reconstruction. The decision was made to move the Armistead House, and in one of the many unlikely scenes to occur in contemporary Williamsburg, it was picked up by house movers and rolled down eight blocks to a sympathetic new location on North England Street.

Architectural historians Mark R. Wenger and Willie Graham began studying the evidence and designing the building, and in 2003 their analysis was aided by a talented young Guatemalan named Alfredo Maul, who produced a preliminary digital model based carefully on Wenger's and Graham's study.12 The results remained in file drawers and computer hard drives for half a decade.

The project sprang back to life this year when Mars family funds began to support planning and construction. Willie Graham has now produced more than two hundred detailed designs for everything from exterior walls to precise nail patterns in the plaster lath. His method is to represent in digital measured drawings all that is known about the building's circa 1765-1771 condition and to complete the unknown parts based on field experience and lively debate with his Colonial Williamsburg colleagues. Some of the evidence and interpretations are worth recounting to indicate how the design is developing, even as Historic Trades and Facilities Maintenance craftspeople are producing the frame, woodwork, bricks, and hardware.

Just as archaeologists have probed the nature of food and beverage consumption and compared patterns of ceramic and glassware use at the Coffeehouse with those from other contexts, architectural historians have sought to understand how the proprietors created a setting sufficiently genteel for elite, primarily male, sociability and consumption-at an affordable price. How did the evolution of this building compare with better-known structures in the town, commercial and domestic? Williamsburg buildings often illustrate ways in which refined finish could be selectively employed along with cost-saving choices to craft a space appealing to status-conscious gentry and successful people in trade, separating them from those on the scruffy edges of the George Mercer story. Middling tradespeople like wigmaker Richard Charlton and tavernkeeper Christiana Campbell often rented well-built premises from wealthy and politically connected owners such as Nathaniel Walthoe, Clerk of Council from 1743 until 1770, and they struggled to turn a profit. Some tenements like the John Crump House, Brickhouse Tavern, and an early form of the brick Lightfoot House sheltered multiple tenants at one time.

As a rentable space close to the Capitol, what later became the Coffeehouse played varied roles in pursuit of income from mid-century onwards. This building was described in the September 17, 1750 deed of Walthoe's purchase from Robert Crichton as "That Store house and Land situate lying on the North side of Gloucester Street . . . whereon the said Robert Crichton hath lately Built a Store house and is opposite to the Store of Mr. John Palmer."13 One can argue that reference to Palmer's "Store" implies that merchant Crichton's "Store house" was for storage, not sales, but the term had both meanings in the 1750s, and some known parts of the structure are superior to what one expects of a warehouse. For Walthoe, investing in sales and service space on a difficult site at this preeminent location is also more plausible than a warehouse.

Moreover, merchant John Mitchelson used the building as a store by 1755. Mitchelson previously operated a store in Yorktown at which in 1751 he advertised a "Great Variety of Household Furniture of the newest Fashions, London Make," including chests of drawers, dressing tables, card tables, claw-footed tables, bedsteads, and serving furniture, all of mahogany, as well as carved and gilt mirrors, Turkey carpets, metalwares, and a spinet.14 Daniel Fisher recorded in his journal in August 1755 that Walthoe had written to say that "Mr. Mitchelson, the Person who rented his store was become a Bankrupt," and offered him, Fisher, preference if he wished to leave the premises now called Shields Tavern and rent Walthoe's building. (Fisher called the old Shields building "the English Coffee House" and briefly ran it as a tavern before changing the function to a store and multiple apartments to let.).15 The following October, a Gazette advertisement announced two auctions of Mitchelson's possessions, the second at his Williamsburg store, including "sundry Household Furniture, viz. Beds and Bedding, Desks and Book Cases, Tables, Chairs . . . . [and] a sortable Parcel of European Goods," worth nearly £600 sterling.16 In other words, Mitchelson used Walthoe's building as a store selling gentry goods, probably including imported furniture, fabrics, and metalwares. In spite of being labeled "the Coffeehouse" when auctioned at Raleigh Tavern on May 25, 1771, the building continued to be called a storehouse in the deeds.17 When Charlotte Dickson bought the property in 1771, her son Beverley wrote merchant John Norton that they "have Bought a House on the main Street next The Capitol the most convenient in Town for a Store." The Dicksons operated a store there into the mid-1770s.18

Architectural distinctions between dwellings and taverns were subtle in third-quarter Williamsburg. Wetherburn's, for example, is essentially a dwelling in form. Stores were more specialized, but they often incorporated housing, and functions could shift, as further illustrated by the various store and public-house uses of Market Square Tavern. Typically, references to Walthoe's storehouse mention no specific spaces or finishes. In short, the written documents tell of varied use but reveal very little about the building's appearance beyond the tight (35 foot-square) limitations of the property and the presence of an elevated porch.

Material sources are far richer for this purpose, and they help explain why retail and reception trades were so interchangeable there. A hazy photograph from the east captured the old building about 1880, standing near the end of the tree-lined street. The photo shows only a portion of the structure, clearly then in decline, with a sagging cornice and frame exposed where a weatherboard had fallen away. Fauquier's porch was long gone, and front openings may have been altered. But the photo is informative because it indicates the general height of the building and shows it with a low gable roof and a large nine-over-nine-pane sash window near the front of the east wall. For reasons of economy or original presence of the porch, the front cornice is plain like those on the William Timson and George Reid houses, not expensively finished with modillion blocks like those on the town's best dwellings and businesses, such as the Nelson-Galt House and Prentis Store.

When building his up-to-date house in 1890, Armistead salvaged useful parts of the old edifice. His builders left the substantial English-bond west and north (rear) brick foundations in place, though they altered the size and location of its windows. They demolished the other cellar walls and a large internal chimney, then reused the brick to construct new walls and chimneys. They also reused pieces of the old hewn and pit-sawn frame, especially when constructing the lower floor of the Victorian house. Finish carpenters picked random pieces of exterior and interior trim from the demolition refuse and used them to level ceilings and straighten walls before they applied plaster lath. They cut floorboards into pieces used to frame new hearths and sheathe the dormers. Finally, four early doors, two nine-pane sash, and three louvered shutters were dragged into the enlarged cellar. Such recyclers and packrats are unwitting benefactors to architectural sleuths seeking to piece together evidence about lost buildings, and they give our effort an essential armature of information above ground level. Because of generous reuse, the reconstruction became a giant puzzle, albeit with many missing parts.19

The foundations are quite informative. Their quality suggests respectable but not lavish construction, and they tell us much about the form of the building. They indicate the precise size, 35 feet 2 inches square, and heights from the varied ground level (which has risen here as much as 3 feet in 250 years) to the original sill. That sill remains visible as a dirty outline on the top course of eighteenth-century brickwork. No chimneys engaged the outer walls, and archaeologists found burned clay in the cellar floor, indicating a roughly centered chimney. Both the extent of the burning and the lack of a detached kitchen indicate that cooking took place in the cellar. Separate kitchens are most familiar among surviving and reconstructed eighteenth-century Williamsburg houses, but cellar cookrooms offered an alternate means of distancing workers and work from refined spaces, as seen at the 1723 John Blair House, the 1732-1733 William and Mary President's House, and the 1788-1790 St. George Tucker House. The cellar fireplace reinforces indications in the woodwork that what became the Coffeehouse was first built as a residence as well as a storehouse. While a store might include a kitchen, we know of no regional examples, and the chimney clearly served numerous fireplaces, from the beginning-more than expected solely for a merchant's counting room and limited housing at a store.

After demolition, Armistead's masons reused literally thousands of salvaged brick in the rebuilt south and east foundations and in his new chimneys. By carefully disassembling their brickwork, we learned about the form and finish of the earlier chimney and that there appeared to be two eighteenth-century phases of its construction, original and what we take to be Coffeehouse additions. Most of the brick matches that of the 1750 foundations, light orange to red in color, not long fired at a high temperature. These include pieces that appear to have come from several fireplaces, including the cellar fireplace, worn down by cooks sharpening knives on the jamb and roughly finished with whitewash and (nineteenth-century) lavender paint. Some upper fireplaces had whitewashed rather than plastered faces, suggesting economy, while at least one had corners made of carefully selected and rubbed salmon brick, indicating refinement. Many 1750 brick came from multiple flues in the chimney. Much smaller quantities of salvaged brick are a darker plum color, similar to those used in the Courthouse and Bruton Parish Church tower. They contain heavy iron inclusions and were fired longer at high temperatures, making them harder and more consistent. Microscopic analysis of the shell mortar likewise indicates two early periods of construction, with coarser sand used in making the later mortar.20 Our assumption is that a fireplace was added to the old front sales room in order to provide Coffeehouse customers with at least two heated spaces. Even in the half-century earlier coffeehouse Byrd patronized, the uses he describes suggest multiple rooms, one of which could be rented for private use.21

The foundations show that the clay-floored, unplastered cellar was entered from at least one exterior doorway on the east, where grade remained low. There were two substantial cellar windows in both the west and north walls, ventilating and lighting the cookroom and two other spaces, probably occupied by enslaved workers and variously used for storage. Excavations indicate there were no south cellar windows and the 8 foot-deep porch ran the full length, like those known at larger taverns in town.

Uncovering original window jambs behind Armistead House brickwork in recent months, mason Raymond Cannetti found sockets and the clear outlines of original window frames. These were heavier than normal among surviving Williamsburg cellar windows, suggesting they may have been fitted with sizeable leaded sash rather than left open or served by shutters or conventional wooden sash. Small diamond-shaped panes of glass called quarrels held together by strips of lead were used in seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century windows, like that re-created in the second-best room at Shields Tavern. Artifact scholars and archaeologists Kelly Ladd-Kostro, Ivor Noël Hume, and Isabel Davies have all observed that old-fashioned leaded windows survived in Williamsburg well into the middle of the eighteenth century, indicated by distinctive lead fragments impressed with tiny dates or found in otherwise datable archaeological contexts.22

The Coffeehouse site is particularly rich in such evidence, as excavators recovered no less than 203 lead window fragments in a large circa 1760s refuse deposit north of the building. Fragments dated 1737, 1756, 1760, and 1766 indicate windows were broken and repaired on the site, for which there is no known pre-1749 occupation. The cellar windows are the most likely location for the archaic glass which was by then low-status, and one can both imagine them being made from scratch or salvaged from earlier buildings and reworked for these unusually large cellar openings.23

The surviving first-floor windows are much bigger, 2 feet 10 inches by 6 feet 8 inches and expensive, of a scale used to provide generous light to refined houses or superior taverns. Upper sash were stationary; lower ones were counterweighted by lead bars hung on linen ropes turning on boxwood wheels in the jambs. Like most eighteenth-century woodwork found in the Armistead House, the sash retained early paint surfaces that, when studied microscopically, revealed layers of a first-period (1750) red-brown inside and out, followed by tan or café au lait paint, when the building was remodeled.24 The earliest paint was made with iron-oxide pigments and the second with yellow ochre and white lead, mixed in linseed oil.

Similar paint layers survived on a battered early exterior door, also apparently first-period, reused as a cellar door in the Armistead House. In the absence of evidence for first-floor doorways on other exterior walls, this must have been on the front, opening onto the porch. Though modest in size, it was expensively made, with complex moldings more comparable to those at the Tayloe and Wythe houses than one expects for an ordinary storehouse. Armistead's builders salvaged one piece of a door frame with a fine double architrave of the variety unusually associated with superior work, like the best doorways at Wetherburn's and the Benjamin Powell House, offering another piece of evidence for a respectable residence in the initial building. HL hinges were mounted on both the door leaf and architrave rather than being set flush with the face of the leaf and discreetly hidden behind the architrave.

Last year, the new owner of the relocated Armistead House removed its plaster as part of a rehabilitation, and we found more Coffeehouse woodwork that had been nailed to the sides of studs and joists. Among these are exterior trim, baseboards, chairboards, and a simpler door architrave painted with a dark stripe at the bottom, to match the base. Using microscopic analysis and biological staining techniques, conservator Susan Buck found evidence of starch paste over the tan paint layers at the edges of both the big double architrave and the newly-found one, suggesting that two rooms were wallpapered, conceivably just after the trim was repainted.25 Our suspicion is that Charlton added relatively inexpensive paper to several spaces as a ready means of making them sufficiently genteel for intended clientele. Graham and Wenger proposed that paper was applied to wall sheathing in the original sales room, sheathing of the variety often used in sales rooms of eighteenth-century Chesapeake stores including those surviving at Market Square Tavern and Nicolson Store.26 Fragments of such sheathing were found a year ago reused in the Armistead House attic.

Woodwork for secondary rooms at the Coffeehouse was plainer, including small four-panel doors with simple moldings in plain beaded frames. The lesser doors had smaller iron rimlocks operated solely by keys, without knobs. The three surviving small doors were first painted tan, so they either began unpainted or were added later than red-painted woodwork. These pieces had only a few layers of paint applied between the 1760s and 1889, unlike the larger door and window sash, so they were in positions that received less attention. Plaster surviving on bricks as well as fragments found in the archaeological deposits also indicated relatively simple finish in some spaces: brown coats of plaster made of tan sand and shell like the mortar, without hair, and followed by whitewashes rather than white plaster and pigmented paints.

The upper floor was clearly backstage space, conceivably used for all the mundane and illicit functions that taverns and coffeehouses commonly sheltered. Originally it was lighted only by gable windows, and structural posts passed up awkwardly through the middle of the rooms. These posts connected principal rafter trusses with heavy timbers over first-floor rooms to help carry the ceilings. Conventional Roman numerals chiseled into the roof frame show that there were five heavy hewn and pit-sawn trusses, which extended through the angled plaster surfaces like the roughly contemporary oversized rafters and purlins (horizontal timbers carrying common rafters) in upper chambers at Wetherburn's Tavern. The location of the middle truss forced builders to shift the chimney to one side, making it off-balanced above the roof. More than a hundred of the salvaged bricks were originally cut to angle the flues at 45° or lower on their way up from fireplaces to exterior chimneystack. Some bricks of both varieties further indicate that fireplaces were added and the upper chimney rebuilt, presumably when the storehouse was converted to coffeehouse.

Rafter fragments with collar joints indicate the building had low attic ceilings and that the roof line conformed to the shape visible in the nineteenth-century photograph. Rafters and joists provided tulip poplar wood samples that dendrochronologist Herman Heikkenen independently dated as having been from trees felled after the growing season of 1749, validating our assumption that they indeed came from the Coffeehouse.27 Graham and Wenger read one principal rafter as having initially been exposed and whitewashed, then covered with plaster when dormers were added to the rear slope of the roof, again arguably when the building was recast for the Coffeehouse or tavern.

The main floor plan is among the more elusive questions posed by a square foundation, and our answer is pieced together from numerous shreds of evidence. The overall dimensions indicate a plan two rooms deep and two wide. The apparent original functions of storehouse and dwelling imply two front doorways, one opening into a storeroom and the other into the best residential room, the two openings aligned with front steps that archaeologists feel were added between 1771 and 1789. This facilitates a door flanked by a pair of windows centered on the square sales space, the normal arrangement seen at the Nicolson Store, Cole Shop, and countless early Virginia stores. An 1892 view shows such fenestration fronting all three units resembling shop fronts at the John Crump House. The narrower southeast room has a single front window and at least one more in the east wall, as seen in the old photo. Choosing a central chimney reflects an effort to heat numerous rooms with a single stack, in a manner similar to that William Robertson used when building the earliest part of the Randolph House.28 The placement of the chimney, three different sets of lower joists, and a remnant of brick pier or partition on the west cellar wall help establish the longitudinal partition between front and rear spaces on the main floor. Luckily, a surviving lower bearing beam appears to reveal the form of the partition west of the chimney, with its framing and a doorway to rear spaces.

Surviving floor joists indicate that a rear stair extended from the cellar to attic, providing the route for delivering food in the absence of rear doorways. This stair probably occupied a back passage, which gave access to a central room rented as part of the domestic space. A second stair connected the storeroom to its separate attic rooms via the sort of corner passage originally present at the Prentis Store and surviving in Nicolson Store and the oldest part of the Taliaferro-Cole House, which seems to have begun life as a store. Once the two sections were given over to use as a coffeehouse and later a tavern, the storeroom was upgraded to serve as one of two or three rooms where drinks and food were served. Proprietors like Charlton could occupy backstage rooms, just as Henry Wetherburn probably lived in the rear rooms of his tavern, while renting out others as bedspaces. The sizable number of wig curlers found in Coffeehouse deposits suggests Charlton may have plied his hair trade there as well, trying to prosper by serving the gentry in more ways than one.

A project like the Coffeehouse draws together an unparalleled community of Colonial Williamsburg staff and a few outside specialists. I will only list some prominent examples. Early documentary research by Patricia Gibbs was followed by an episodic series of archaeological excavations in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, and 2008, most recently directed by Mark Kostro and Andrew Edwards, and that will continue selectively in 2009. The esteemed Raymond Cannetti has led the surgical removal of recycled masonry, every piece of which he, newcomer Matt Webster, and/or I have studied, and Erin Kuykendall has curated. Cannetti also works with me to control the quality of the new brickwork. Thomas Taylor oversees the thankless task of cleaning surviving masonry and recycled brick that we are now reusing for the walls from which they came in 1889. Masons Rick Williams, Kirsten Crum, and Chris Phaup have worked on all phases of disassembly and rebuilding, and they have now been joined by other skillful preservation masons, including Luther Barden, Robert Hall, Kevin Neito, John Sines, and Eldon Yoder.

Historic Trades brickmakers Jason Whitehead, Josh Graml, and Bill Neff moved swiftly to produce handsome bricks and to give us virtually all we coveted, short of a few promised to the White House before we began. They are now cutting brick for the walls and rubbing others to resemble those that survive from fireplace facings and hearths. Historic Trades carpenters led by Garland Wood are crafting a frame almost indistinguishable from the details of its predecessor, and the materials production team led by Wesley Watkins is doing likewise with 13,000 nicely-executed cedar shingles. Wood, Ted Boscana, Bobby Clay, Corky Howlett, and Jack Underwood will also make woodwork, as will Tim Edwards, Roy Condrey, Fred Shearin, and Dale Trowbridge in the millshop and contractor Jack Abeel. Ken Schwarz is involved in the scholarship as well as leading production of extensive hardware, from door locks to cooking cranes. Willie Graham and Mark R. Wenger, arguably the most versed people on the planet in the analysis of early Chesapeake construction, have conceived the plan and produced the designs-primarily Graham at this stage-with support from architectural historian Jeff Klee, and have fed them to Wayne Buhl and Neil Ellwein in Architecture and Engineering, overseen by Clyde Kestner and Scott Spence. Carl Lounsbury and Kevin Kelly have offered historical perspective. Susan Buck provided microscopic paint analysis that connected or separated early wood and masonry pieces of the puzzle as early as 1997, and she and Natasha Loeblich have intensified that work as more pieces and new questions appeared this year. Kim Ivey, Lynne Hastings, Ronald Hurst, Tara Chicirda, and Margaret Pritchard are planning the furnishings. Larry Heath and David Coleman manage construction, Kestner is the project manager, and James Horn pilots the undertaking as project executive. Architectural conservator Matt Webster has already become essential in all areas of planning, analysis, and work. These and many others make the Coffeehouse project uniquely possible at Colonial Williamsburg. Their collective effort will recapture an essential piece of the town's early culture, and the perfect stage for the opening act of the American Revolution.

  1. Markman Ellis, The Coffee House: A Cultural History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004); Markman Ellis, ed., Eighteenth-Century Coffeehouse Culture (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2006). Return to Text
  2. The conflation of coffeehouse name and tavern functions is illustrated by a 1771 advertisement that at "the Sign of the King's Arms Coffeehouse, in Church Street, Norfolk, is established a very genteel and convenient Inn and Tavern (with good stabling for Horses) and for Accommodation of Travellers and others; supported by a Society of Gentlemen." Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), June 20, 1766, p. 3. Eleven years later Meredith Muse advertised that in Fredericksburg he had "opened a Coffeehouse in the House lately kept by Mrs. Julian as a Tavern," where "Gentlemen may be genteelly accommodated with Lodging, & c., for them-selves, Servants, and Horses," Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Hunter), August 15, 1777, p. 6; December 28, 1777, p. 3. An "elegant ball" was held at the Fredericksburg coffeehouse in celebration of George Washington's birthday in 1780. Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Nicolson), February 26, 1780, p. 2. Washington attended a club dinner in an Annapolis coffeehouse on October 5, 1772: "Reached Annapolis-Dined at the Coffee House with Jockey Club & lodged at the Govr after going to the play." Paul Leicester Ford, Washington and the Theatre (New York: Dunlap Society, 1899), p. 23. Return to Text
  3. According to the 1796 Gentleman's Magazine, one Virginian shot another in a duel that year over a disagreement that began in the Virginia Coffee House in London. Mary R. M. Goodwin, "The Coffeehouse of the 17th and 18th Centuries" (report, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation [hereinafter CWF], 1956), 12. Return to Text
  4. Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, in the letter cited below, noted that when Colonel Mercer arrived from England with the controversial revenue stamps, "I then thought proper to go to the Coffee house (where I occasionally sometimes go) which is situated in that part of the Town which is call'd the Exchange tho' an open Street, where all money business is transacted . . . The mercantile people were all assembled as usual." George Reese, ed., The Official Papers of Francis Fauquier, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia 1758-1768 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), v. 3, pp. 1291-92. Return to Text
  5. Especially after September, 1710, Byrd's diary entries illustrate the degree to which a Williamsburg coffeehouse could play a common role in a gentleman's urban daily routine, more than James Boswell's later notes do in London. See, for example, Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712 (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1941), pp. 98, 241, 245-46, 249-51, 255-64, 268-71, 430, 432-45, 449-53, 455-58, 474-79, 488-89. Byrd's later surviving Virginia diary contains only a handful of references, including "After dinner I walked to the coffeehouse and read news, then received some money of Lidderdale, then walked to Lady Randolph's . . ." on June 11, 1740. Maude H. Woodfin, ed., Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1739-1741 (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1942), p. 75. The physician Alexander Hamilton's 1744 "Itinerarium" indicates how an elite traveler could find fellowship in Philadelphia, New York, and Newport coffeehouses. On June 7, he twice visited a Philadelphia coffeehouse, where he "was introduced by Dr. Thomas Bond to severall gentlemen of the place where the ceremony of shaking of hands, an old custom peculiar to the English, was performed with great gravity and the usuall compliments." In Newport, between 7 and 9 pm he spent time "att the coffee-house where our ears were not only frequently regaled with the sound of 'very welcome, sir,' and 'very welcome, gentlemen,' pronounced solemnly, slowly, and with an audible voice to such as came in and went out by Hassey, a queer old dog, the keeper of the coffee-house, but we were likewise alarmed (not charmed) for half an hour by a man who sung with a trumpet note that I was afraid he would shake down the walls of the house about us."Carl Bridenbaugh, Gentleman's Progress: The Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1948), p. 19 and 153-54. Also see pp. 20, 26, 47, 89, 151, 156, 189, 191. Return to Text
  6. Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., William Byrd of Virginia, The London Diary (1717-1721) and Other Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 50-57, 60-63, 65-73, 75, 79, 80, 82, 85-86, etc. Return to Text
  7. Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), June 25, 1767, p. 3. Precisely what Richard Charlton meant by the ad is unclear. Licensed taverns were permitted to serve hard liquor as well as wine and were required to provide food, lodging, and stabling of horses at a regulated price. The change from unlicensed coffeehouse to licensed tavern could have reflected Charleton's need to serve spritous liquors openly, his stuggle to turn a profit from more limited service, or even a change of ownership. The documentary record is drawn substantially from Patricia A. Gibbs, "Historical Report for Colonial Lot 58, Cary Peyton Armistead House Site (1890-1995) and Burdett's Ordinary (Reconstructed 1940-1942)" (report, CWF, 1996). I thank Gibbs, Kevin Kelly, and Linda Rowe for their aid in sorting out references found after 1996. Return to Text
  8. Edmund S. Morgan and Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Return to Text
  9. Reese, ed., Official Papers of Francis Fauquier, v. 3, p. 1292. Joseph Royle's Virginia Gazette (October 25, 1765, Supplement, p. 3) carried a somewhat different version of the drama, with a smaller role for Fauquier, but it, too, reported that Mercer encountered "the Governour, most of the Council, and a great number of Gentlemen" at the Coffeehouse. It recounts that Mercer was grandly feted at a tavern or the Coffeehouse after essentially resigning his position the following day. Return to Text
  10. Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), May 28, 1767, p. 3; Virginia Gazette (Rind), July 23, 1767, pp. 1-2; Louis W. Potts, Arthur Lee: A Virtuous Revolutionary (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, c.1981), p. 42; Lois Mulkearn, George Mercer Papers Relating to the Ohio Company of Virginia (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1954), pp. 203-04. Return to Text
  11. Armistead bought the property between 1885 and 1889 and built the new house for his wife Eudora Esther and himself in 1890. Gibbs, "Historical Report," (pp. 24 and 61-62) points out that the value of building on the property changed in the Williamsburg Land Tax Records from zero in 1890 to "$1500 added for new Buildings" in 1891, indicating that the house was constructed the previous year. The old building, then called the Morrison House, had been valued at $200 in 1888-89. Return to Text
  12. Willie Graham and Mark R. Wenger, "Dora Armistead House: Reused Eighteenth-Century Timbers" (memorandum, CWF, December, 1995); Wenger and Graham, "Origin of the Framing and its Implications for the Physical History of Lot 58" (report, CWF, 1996); annotated record drawings, 1995-96, site file, Department of Architectural and Archaeological Research, CWF; Chappell, "Coffeehouse Design Notes" (minutes, CWF, February 12 and 26, 1999). Return to Text
  13. York County Records, Deeds and Bonds 5, pp. 388-92. Return to Text
  14. Virginia Gazette (Hunter), September 5, 1751, p. 3; September 12 and 19, 1751, p. 4. Return to Text
  15. Transcribed in Louise Pecquet du Bellet, Some Prominent Virginia Families (Lynchburg: J. P. Bell, 1907), v. 2, pp. 807-08. Fisher's letter from Walthoe indicates that the owner felt the building could serve Fisher well as a store. Fisher's annoucements for opening the tavern and subsequently offering accommodation in the previous Shields Tavern are in the Virginia Gazette, October 3, 1751, p. 3 and February 20, 1752, p. 4. Return to Text
  16. Virginia Gazette (Hunter), October 10 and 17, 1755, p. 3 and October 24, 1755, p. 4. Return to Text
  17. Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), April 25 and May 16, 1771, p. 3. A separate business called the Coffeehouse operated next door in 1772 and was run there by an unknown proprietor until 1777. Advertisements in the January 23, 1772 Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), p. 3, and February 6, 1772 (Rind), p. 3 offered private lodgings for seven or eight gentlemen at this location, "the Coffeehouse, near the Capitol," and in 1774 John Webb of Halifax, North Carolina advertised the property for sale, "where the Coffeehouse is now kept." Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), October 13, 1774, p. 3, and again, "My house . . . at present the Coffee House," Virginia Gazette (Purdie), September 26, 1777, p. 3. Return to Text
  18. Gibbs, "Historical Report," pp. 18-19. Return to Text
  19. Chappell, "Early Coffeehouse Fragments from the Cary Peyton Armistead House, Williamsburg, Virginia" (report, CWF, October 6, 2008); Chappell, "Informative Brick Removed from 1890 Cellar Masonry of the Cary Peyton Armistead House, Williamsburg, Virginia" (report, CWF, September 15, 2008). Return to Text
  20. Matt Webster, "Brick and Mortar Samples from Charlton's Coffeehouse" (report, CWF, October 12, 2008). The darker brick resemble those more commonly used in Williamsburg in the 1760s and `70s. Return to Text
  21. For example, on January 28, 1712, Byrd reported that after dinner "we went to the coffeehouse where the governors of the College were to meet about several matters and particularly about Tanaquil Faber and they turned him out of his place but gave him, however, his salary for the whole year. They agreed to give Mr. Tullit £400 to build up the College hall [after the fire]. Then we played at Piquet and I lost £7." Wright and Tinling, Secret Diary, p. 476. One appeal of coffeehouses for such meetings in winter was that the rooms were heated, as those in the Capitol were not. Sales rooms in stores were generally unheated, as seen in the surviving Williamsburg stores and the archaeological remains of others. Return to Text
  22. Kelly Ladd, "Archaeological Evidence for Casement Windows in Williamsburg," The Co-lonial Williamsburg Interpreter, 19 (Spring 1998): 26; Ivor Noël Hume, "A Window on Williams-burg," Colonial Williamsburg, 20 (Autumn, 1997): 32-39; Isabel Davies, "Window Glass in Eigh-teenth-Century Williamsburg," in Five Artifact Studies ed. by Ivor Noël Hume (Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1973), pp. 78-99. Return to Text
  23. For discussion of the evidence and design for the cellar windows, see Chappell, "Leaded Windows at the Coffeehouse, Williamsburg, Virginia" (report, CWF, September 18, 2008). Return to Text
  24. Susan Buck, "Colonial Williamsburg: Walthoe Storehouse, Paint Analysis Report" (report, SPNEA Conservation Center, Waltham, MA, January 27, 1997); Natasha K. Loeblich, "Cross-Section Microscopy Analysis of Finishes on Architectural Fragments and Foundations, Charlton's Coffeehouse (Block 17), Williamsburg, Virginia" (report, CWF, August, 2008). The size of first-floor windows is provided by post-colonial shutters as well as the original sash. One of the pulley wheels survives, set directly into a jamb rather than in a separate housing, as done in more expensive windows like those at Wetherburn's Tavern and the James Geddy House. Return to Text
  25. Susan L. Buck, "Cross-Section Microscopy Report: Search for Wallpaper and Paint Evi-dence, Charlton's Coffeehouse Architectural Fragments and Wetherburn's Tavern West First-Floor Room" (report, CWF, August 3, 2008). Return to Text
  26. Mark R. Wenger, "Wallpaper-Market Square Tavern and Charlton's Coffeehouse" (report, CWF, July 18 and August 4, 2008). Return to Text
  27. Herman J. Heikkenen, "The Last Year of Tree Growth for Selected Timbers within the Armistead House, Period I, as Derived by Key-Year Dendrochronology," report, Dendrochronology, Inc., March, 1996. Heikkenen's findings and the 1750 deed indicate, then, that trees were cut sometime after October, 1749, and that the building was finished by the following September. Return to Text
  28. Another story-and-a-half example is Seven Springs in King William County, probably built c.1750. It, too, has a single fireplace serving a cellar room. Return to Text