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William Pitt Tavern (Stavers Tavern)

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William Pitt Tavern (Stavers Tavern)
Court Street, Portsmouth, NH
Illustration (c) 1913 Helen Pearson

Read Slaves at William Pitt Tavern

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Excerpt from "Vignettes of Portsmouth," (1913) by Helen Pearson and Harold Hotchkiss Bennett, Courtesy of Portsmouth Public Library Collection.



This building on land purchased from Hon. Theodore Atkinson in 1765, was built in 1770 by John Stavers and opended "for the accommodation of genteel travelers." It was called the "Earl of Halifax," second of the name, and as the proprietor was an Englishman by birth, it came to be the meeting place of the Portsmouth Tories and Officers of the Crown. The jealousy of the Sons of Liberty was so aroused that on a day in 1777 a mob surrounded the hotel and, with an axe, made an attack upon the foot of the sign post. Mr. Stavers gave a like weapon to one of his black slaves, directing him to defend the property, and to cut down anyone who molested it. A blow on the head of the patriot axe-wielder, which made him insane for the following forty years of his life, brought down the wrath of the mob forthwith upon the establishment. The terrified slave was discovered, after long search, standing immersed to his chin in a rain barrel in the tavern cellar; the landlord was found to have fled on unsaddled steed in the direction of Greenland, whence two riders were sent in pursuit, and after the mob had departed, the tavern was left signless, windowless and desolate.

After the excitement of the populace had been calmed by Captain Langdon and other patriots, Stavers was induced to return, whereupon the Committee of Safety seized him and placed him in Exeter jail. Upon taking the oath of allegiance, he came once more to his hotel, refitted it, replaced the "Earl of Halifax" with "William Pitt," and soon had the good will of his fellow citizens and the patronage of the country's men at arms.

In 1782, when the French fleet rode in Portsmouth harbor, the Marquis De Lafayette came here from Providence to visit some of its officers. Here, too, have stayed John Hancock, Elbridge Gerry and General Knox. In the time of the French Revolution there called Louis Philippe and his two brothers, but finding the hotel full, they took quarters with Governor Langdon.

In the year 1789, President Washington made a final complimentary visit upon General John Sullivan, President of New Hampshire, and his Council at the "William Pitt." In the upper room of the hotel were held for several years the meetings of St. John's Lodge, Portsmouth's historic Masonic Organizadon, and also the early meetings of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire.

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