When writing the history of New York City, there are not many places of business that are still in daily operation as old as the Fraunces Tavern. In fact, there are not many buildings as old as Fraunces Tavern in New York City period. Some argue that it stands as the oldest building in Manhattan. This amazing historical site located in the financial district of New York City in the borough of Manhattan was built in 1719. However, the history of the building goes back further than that date. Its significance in the history of New York, the American Revolution and the birth of a nation is undeniable. At the time when it was built the building was located on the corner of Queen Street and Canal Street. While it still stands at its original location, the street names have been changed. Queen Street’s name was changed to Pearl Street. Canal Street is currently named Broad Street. Fraunces Tavern address is now labelled as 54 Pearl Street New York.
History Of New York’s Fraunces Tavern: Origins
The origins of Fraunces Tavern goes all the way back to the late 1600s when the land the building currently stands on was simply a body of water. As the flourishing city area became increasingly vital in trade and commerce during colonial times, the city’s south eastern tip was extended by adding landfill. The new land filled lots were than sold by the city to private ownership. Stephanus Van Cortlandt purchased the land where the Fraunces Tavern now stands in 1686. A man named Stephen De Lancey married Van Cortland’s daughter in 1700 and purchased the land from Van Cortland the same year he married Van Cortland’s daughter . Stephen De Lancey had fled his native home of France in the 1680s. He would become one of the most successful merchants in New York. It would be almost twenty years before De Lancey would construct a building on the landfill site he purchased from Van Cortland. Around 1720, a large brick house was constructed on the site.
From the time the building was constructed around 1720 to the year 1762, the De Lancey building was used in various ways. For a time period in the late 1730s, the building was rented to a man named Henry Holt who taught dance lessons in traditional European fashion. These were colonial times. European culture was the dominating force in the colonies. However, buildings such as the De Lancey building would soon provide a forum that would completely contrast with the celebration of European culture, specifically British culture and rule.
1762 is a very significant year in the history of New York’s Fraunces Tavern. It is the year in which a man named Samuel Fraunces purchased the De Lancey building from the heirs of Stephen De Lancey. Samuel Fraunces converted the building into a tavern he named after England’s Queen Charlotte. The Queen of England had married King George III when she was only seventeen years old. The King was twenty two at the time.
History Of New York’s Fraunces Tavern: Revolution
Samule Fraunces’s Tavern would become a hot spot for political discussion and a gathering place for the formation of civic clubs. See our article on How The Taverns of New York City Stirred The American Revolution for a far deeper discussion on these groups and their formations and uses of these taverns. The political history behind New York’s Fraunces Tavern is quite interesting because while groups like The Sons of Liberty would hold meetings at the Tavern, the Tavern had been handed over by Samule Fraunces to be run by his loyalist son in law Charles Campbell. The Tavern would host a whirlwind of political activity based on both sides of the conflict of the American Revolution.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, New York City remained the last city to have been occupied by the British. November 25, 1783 would be declared Evacuation Day by New York’s Governor George Clinton. The celebration of the removal of the British from New York City took place at Fraunces Tavern. About a week and a half later on On December 4, 1783, George Washington and his officers of the Continental Army met at Fraunces Tavern for Washington’s farewell. His work as General had been completed and he left the city as a victorious General who had led the revolutionaries to victory at the dawn of a brand new nation.
Washington’s Farewell by Alonzo Chappel
During the post American Revolution years, Fraunces Tavern was sold to a man named George Powers who was a butcher by trade. Powers would rent part of the building to the United States as office space for various government agencies. The Department of the Treasury, The Department of Foreign Affairs and what was also known as The War Department. New York City had become the Capitol of the new Nation. That would change in 1789 when George Washington became the country’s first President. In 1790, the governmental agencies moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as did the Nation’s Capitol. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania would serve as a ten year placeholder for the Nation’s Capitol while Washington D.C. was being built to serve as the Country’s new permanent home.
History of Fraunces Tavern: Post Revolution Years
For the next one hundred years, the building that had already signified such an important role during colonial times, in the American Revolution, and then the staging of a new country would be sold and utilized as a boarding house. In the late 1800s, the building at 54 Pearl Place had faced demise for various reasons. The building that Stephen De Lancey had constructed in 1720 had been ravaged by fires in the 1800s and was in poor condition. In 1904, the Sons of The Revolution rescued the building from being torn down. The group restored the building and opened it back up in 1907 as a restaurant and the Fraunces Tavern Museum.
In 1975, tragedy struck the Tavern when a bomb exploded inside the Tavern. A terrorist organization that identified themselves as FLAN (Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation) took responsibility for the bombing. Four people were killed and the building suffered great damage. Currently, there is a plaque hanging in the Tavern’s dining room with a listing of the names of the people who died in the bombing,
A National Landmark
In 1965, the Fraunces Tavern was declared a New York City Landmark. Twelve years later the entire block was appropriated as an Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2008, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 2020, Fraunces Tavern continues to function as it did in the late 1700s as a tavern and a restaurant. Its pretty amazing that in the current political world of unrest, one can still enter Fraunces Tavern and argue politics over an ale just like they did over two hundred years ago.
Breen T.H. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Hill and Wang, 2010.
Carp L. Benjamin. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007
Jackson, K. T. (2011). The encyclopedia of New York City (Second ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.