Thursday, August 25, 2011

William Pitt Tavern

The William Pitt Tavern is located on the southwest corner of Court and Atkinson Streets.

A plaque placed on the building in 1901 by the NH Society of the Sons of the Revolution incorrectly gives the construction date of this building as 1770. Researchers have discovered that John Stavers purchased the land from Theodore Atkinson in 1765, and that this establishment was open for business as the Earl of Halifax Hotel by May 1768.

This was the second Halifax Hotel in Portsmouth.  Previously, John Stavers operated a Halifax Hotel on State Street and, in 1761, began a weekly stagecoach circuit to Boston called the “Flying Stage Coach”. This may have been the first regular stagecoach service in America.

When he moved his hotel to this location, John Stavers brought his Earl of Halifax tavern sign with him. Because of that noble name and Stavers’ sympathies towards England, the local Tory Party began congregating here. In 1777, anti-British patriots mobbed the hotel and caused substantial property damage. Following repairs and a lesson in patriotic duty, Stavers renamed the hotel and tavern after the less controversial William Pitt, who had been Prime Minister of Great Britain and sympathetic to the American independence movement.

The Pitt Tavern became a patriot meeting place. Several signers of the Declaration of Independence stayed here, including John Hancock. General Henry Knox was a frequent visitor. During September 1782, the Marquis de Lafayette stayed here and visited with officers of the French fleet who were in town. The future King of France, Louis Phillipe, and his two brothers stopped in during the French Revolution. George Washington met with the President (Governor) of New Hampshire, John Sullivan, and the Council of New Hampshire at the William Pitt Tavern on November 4, 1789.

At the time of the old photograph above, the building had been converted into a multi-family home. Now in the possession of  Strawbery Banke Museum, the William Pitt Tavern has been restored to its original configuration.

The white house to the right (west) in both pictures is the Thomas Bailey Aldrich House.

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