“ A TAVERN chair,” said Dr. Johnson, “ is the throne of human felicity.” And again, “ There is no private house in which people can enjoy themselves so well as at a capital tavern. Let there be ever so much grandeur, ever so much elegance, ever so much desire that everybody should be easy, in the nature of things it cannot be. . . . No, sir, there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as a good tavern or inn ; ” and he wound up his eulogium with Shenstone’s hackneyed quatrain : —
Where’er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
His warmest welcome at an inn.”
Although no tippler, the doctor was both a gourmand and a tavern-haunter. He knew the points of a well-kept house, and when seated with his cronies at supper at the Mitre or Turk’s Head, splashing himself with gravy from his lamprey eels or kidney stew, preëmpting the while, with greedy eyes, every untried viand within reach, he touched the highwater mark of physical content.
But although he was the oracle of his own day, his judgment now is only interesting as history. The conditions are all changed, the very subject-matter has ceased to exist; there is no longer any such thing as a tavern. Like the daughters of the mad king, its own children have despoiled it. The private club, the restaurant, the bar-room, its legitimate offshoots, have contributed to rob the tavern of its old-time prestige; and pitiable indeed would be the case of the modern Shenstone who found his warmest welcome at one of our latter-day hotels, where the landlord is an impersonal functionary, where the guest is received with an air of mingled tolerance and preoccupation by the clerk, and admitted to the privileges of the diningroom by the condescending connivance of the head waiter.
Vainly would such spurious progeny don the mantle and claim the fealty yielded to the old tavern, whose kindlier hospitality, though lost to sense, still through memory stirs the heart and kindles the imagination. Indeed, if places are memorable alone for their human associations, what haunts of humankind can rival in interest certain last-century hostelries, reeking as they were, through every beam and rafter, with old tradition, old gossip, communings of men great and vulgar over schemes high or petty ; haunted with echoes of ghostly voices in feastings and revelry, in sallies of wit, in snatches of song, in bursts of laughter, in curses of rage, drunken threats, or, it might be, wails of despair, — in fine, with expressions of every impulse or emotion known to the representation of what the great French master calls this human comedy ?
It is to recount and bring back to mind certain familiar associations of one of the most noted of our old-time taverns that these loose notes have been strung together, — notes which, from a “ plentiful lack ” of material and the fragmentary nature of such as exists, will be inconsequent, luminously vague upon points of highest interest, and tediously prolix upon matters of no account. In extenuation, it is but just to add that everything here set down either was or might have been, and for the rest let sticklers go browse in the archives !
Yonder in the Masonic Temple hang upon either side a door-lintel in the upper hall two single bunches of gilded wooden grapes, the remains of a former cluster of four bunches which for nearly a century swung projected from the corner of one of the most noted taverns of the provincial period.
The Bunch of Grapes was a favorite sign ; hardly a large town in England but had an inn of the name, while in London there were several. Indeed, from a study of the Licensed Victualer’s Directory it appears that next in frequency to the Red Lions, the Blue Lions, and the White Harts come the Crowns and the Grapes.
In the history of signs, ignorance and stupidity have wrought some ludicrous perversions of originally intelligible symbols. In many cases this is due in part to something unusual or grotesque in the sign itself. In the Bunch of Grapes there was no such opportunity afforded ; both in name and emblem it was too simple to be garbled ; its meaning was clear, its appropriateness striking, while its origin was lost in hoariest antiquity. Older than the streets of London, older than the English people, yes, long before the restless barbaric hordes of the Continent were tempted to invade the foggy little island on their western horizon, the bunch of grapes, hanging in sculptured marble or glowing in mural paintings above the portals of Pompeian wineshops, served as a symbol of the good cheer within.
From the door of the vintner, by a natural transition, the familiar emblem passed to that of the licensed victualer ; and so when Landlord Francis Holmes, away back in the beginning of the eighteenth century, set up his hostelry on the corner of King Street and Mackerel Lane, he, with great good judgment, chose for its sign and style so wellknown and time-honored a cognizance as the Bunch of Grapes.
At the outset it is very irksome to have to acknowledge that both the origin of the building and the early ownership of the land are involved in much obscurity. Indeed, flying in the face of all authority, it must be affirmed that the site of the original tavern was not at all where, in historical consistency, it should have been. Whereas antiquarians and local historians of high repute agree in placing it on the corner of King Street and the westerly side of Mackerel Lane, certain obstructive and contumacious old instruments in the Registry of Deeds persist in describing it in unmistakable terms as upon the eastern side.
On the other hand, it must be confessed, in support of the authorities, that there are later deeds, just as authentic, which fix the spot with equal certainty upon the western side. In the midst of the darkling perplexity naturally produced by this conflict of evidence came, like a flash of inspiration, the suggestion of an eminent conveyancer, Mr. James R. Carret, that there might have been two houses, or, more likely, that at some time in its long and checkered career the tavern had been moved across the lane. Before this magic touchstone, the difficulties, insuperable upon any other theory, vanish at once. Down to 1752, the title of the original or eastern house set up by Francis Holmes is straight and clear from the Book of Possessions to Mistress Rebecca Amory (born Holmes), wife of Thomas, the founder of the Amory family in America ; equally straight and clear was the title of the New England Bank to the other or western corner, back through old Governor Bowdoin and the Ervings to William Foye, sometime treasurer of the province.
But to tell truth, notwithstanding the relief afforded by this timely suggestion, its adoption was at first attended by a shock as painful as that which, presumably, comes to the anxious father awaiting the birth of a son and heir when told he is blessed with twins. Directly the precious associations must be parceled out, and the interest and sympathy weakened by division.
Nor is this all ; the difficulty becomes hydra-headed : a third and even a fourth house presently spring up to claim a share in the name and common heritage of historical interest. This subdivision of the cherry into so many bites proved very disconcerting until, upon examination, it appeared that the authentic associations and traditions centred, in the main, upon one spot, and that the subject was still capable of being kept in hand and treated without confusion.
To begin with, the first inn of which anything is known, that which stood upon the eastern corner, although, as has been said, the title of the land comes down unclouded from William Davis, the original owner in the Book of Possessions, to Francis Holmes, who at different times acquired the ownership of the two parcels into which it had been divided upon the partition of a former estate, the origin of the house is still unknown. The authorities vaguely assign it to the year 1712, from the fact that no earlier mention of it is found. In the absence of definite knowledge this date may serve as well as another, and a faint constructive confirmation of it may even be found in a vote of a townmeeting in 1711, to the effect, that Mr. Francis Holmes be allowed eight pounds in consideration of a house of his in King Street being pulled down in order to put a stop to ye fire.”
Here, then, we have evidence of a former house kept by Holmes in the same street, which it would be no violent straining of probability to assume was also called the Bunch of Grapes ; but whatever its name, its existence and character as a public house are established by proof positive, soon to be quoted.
Thus turned neck and heels out-ofdoors by the fire, Holmes naturally hired another house in the neighborhood, one larger and better, presumably, than his former eight-pound dwelling. This is the house of 1712, which for the present purpose may be called the original inn; and here, perhaps,before the door, freshly gilded after being smoked in the fire, was put forth the original sign, to gleam in the sunshine and dangle in the breeze.
Although standing thus in the very heart of the town, a dumb witness of so much that was memorable in our history, the daily haunt of so many men since famed in our records, unhappily no picture or description of the old building has come down to us. None of the early views of the street include either this first house or its successor across the lane. The two or three rude prints of the massacre stop, exasperatingly, at the very threshold of the later house, while giving quite satisfactory glimpses of the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, the Town House, and the Old Brick, its notable neighbors.
Here and there in old newspapers and musty records occurs a chance word or passing mention, the merest scraps and shreds of evidence, as to the semblance of the old inn, but these, one and all, refer to the second or later house, and will be spoken of in due order; touching this earlier building of 1712 not a word of description exists.
For all that, there is reason to think that it was a two-story-and-a-half unpainted frame building with a hip-roof, standing gable-end towards King Street, with a side entrance on Mackerel Lane, with a stable-yard to the east, and with offices and hog-pens reaching down almost to the water behind.
This bold structure of the imagination rests upon no other foundation than a knowledge of the dimensions of the lot and of the general style of building at the time. The Old Corner Book Store, let it be remembered, was built in this very year of grace 1712, and may serve us, at need, as a model, although that is of brick.
As to the interior we are even more at a loss; nothing here is left us but analogy. Happily, there are not wanting divers hints as to the general structure and appearance of other inns nearly contemporary.
Before the use of numbers came into vogue, it was, as is well known, a common practice to designate the different rooms by names, either fanciful or descriptive of their purpose. Thus, an inn is described in Dunton’s Letters, — written about 1684, — containing chambers called respectively the Cross Keys, the Green Dragon, the Anchor, the Castle, the Sun Low Room, the Rose Low Room.
Again, a few years earlier, in the inventory of Landlord Gunnison of the King’s Arms, situated in Dock Square, we get a peep not only at the arrangement of the rooms, but at their furniture. The hall was provided with “ three smale roomes,” — probably like the stalls of our modern eating - houses, — fitted with tables and benches, besides which there was a longer bench and a larger table, which undoubtedly served at need as the table d’hôte.
Opening out of this main hall was a tap-room, described as “ the bar,” which was scantily furnished with three shelves and the frame of a low stool.
For private parties coming to dine or sup, as it might be the governor and deputies, or the ministers after the Thursday Lecture, they must necessarily have had recourse to the upper chambers, which thus answered the double purpose of sleeping or eating rooms as occasion required. Landlord Gunnison gives the contents of his chamber called the Exchange as “ one halfe headed Bedsted with blew pillars, one livery Cupboard coloured blue, one long table, benches, two formes ” (which were long seats without backs, designed to hold several persons), “ and one carved chair.” This double character of all the large rooms is made clearer by the furnishings of the two parlors. In “ the low parlor ” are enumerated one bedstead, one table, benches and forms, etc., while in “ the upper parlor” there was also a bedstead.
Besides these lesser rooms there was. however, a special grand banquetingroom called the Court Chamber, where the more ceremonious feasts were held. Here the bed was tucked out of sight into an adjoining closet, and the room given up to the dining-table, the livery cupboard, forms, and benches.
Down - stairs, besides the kitchen, which had no distinctive feature, there was the larder, fitted up something like a modern pantry, with shelves and dressers about the walls, and a square serving-table in the midst furnished with banisters.
In the absence of better evidence these hints may serve for what they are worth in picturing the interior of the first Bunch of Grapes. The second house across the lane, said to have been, originally, the Foye mansion, was doubtless of ampler dimensions, built of brick, and — this we know of certainty and is our one crumb of comfort — adorned with a balcony in front. So much and so little, then, for the mere buildings !
Francis Holmes, already named as the first landlord, seems to have been a steady-going, thrifty publican; for he stuck sturdily by his sign and calling for twenty years and more, and died, at last, owner of the estate which he began by hiring. As significant of his merit in other respects it may be added that he was at different times chosen as hogreeve and scavenger of the town. Touching his professional standing, it is interesting to note that early in his career some objection was raised at town-meeting to the renewal of his license, on the ground that he “ did not keep good rule and order in his inn.” The objection, however, did not avail; the license was granted, nor was there ever again a similar complaint.
Indeed, it is quite safe to assume that Holmes kept a house both of good order and abundant cheer; else, be sure, the Hon. Samuel Sewall had not so much affected it. Nothing would have tempted that stanch old Puritan to frequent an inn of ill or indifferent repute ; for nobody more cordially hated every form of disorder, as nobody more keenly relished a well-cooked dinner. In this respect it is clear Holmes must have reasonably satisfied the judicial palate, as we find the severe magistrate his frequent guest.
For the matter of that, they were old acquaintance, the judge and the worthy publican. A half-score years before 1712 — assigned as the birth-year of the Bunch of Grapes — there appear in the Diary items like these, which can only refer to the former house pulled down to stop the fire : —
“ Deputies treat the governor at Homes’s. . . .
“ I invited the governor to dine at Homes’. . . .
“ Dine at Holm’s ; I supposed the Council had treated the Gov’r, but the Gov’r would pay. . . .
“ Friday I treat the Gov’r at Homes ; had two dishes of Green pease. Sir Charles Hobby, Mr. Commissary, Mr. Leverett, Lt. Col : Ballantine, Mr. Pemberton, Major Pigeon, Capt of the Matroses. Eleven in all, paid 36s.”
Following Holmes came a long list of landlords, of whom we know little or nothing, but who seem in the main to have kept up the credit of the house to the high standard established by Holmes.
There was William Coffin, whose name often appears in the town records, and whose widow, Rebecca, succeeded him as an inn - keeper; Edward Lutwych, whose tenancy could only have lasted a few months; Joshua Barker; William Weatherhead, under whose able management the house seems to have taken precedence, in certain ways, of all the taverns of the day; James Gooch, who ruled the roast at the time of the great fire of 1760; Colonel Joseph Ingersol, ten years later, at the time of the massacre; Captain John Marston, who was in possession during the early and stormy days of the Revolution, and by his outspoken sympathy and ardent patriotism made his house as much a rallying-place for the patriots as its rival, the British Coffee House across the way, was for the Tories. Following the fiery captain came one William Foster, whose reign was short and uneventful; Dudley Coleman, who was twice landlord, comingback after an interval of seven years to the old house in the days of its decay; James Vila, afterwards the popular landlord of Concert Hall; Thomas Lobdell, of neutral and somewhat apocryphal memory ; and, last of all, Jacob Kendall, who left in 1805, and whose advertisement in The Repertory, informing the public that he “ has removed from the Bunch of Grapes tavern to that airy and capacious house No. 26 Batterymarch Street formerly owned by Robert Hallewell esq,” leaves upon the mind an indefinable impression that the house was growing seedy and out of repair. The fact, too, that the later landlords came and went in quick succession is significant. Plainly the day of the old tavern was over; it could no longer hold its own with the larger and better appointed public - houses which were springing up on every hand. And time it was, too : it had well served its turn for the best part of a century. Three generations, meanwhile, had come and gone. A new epoch had dawned upon the world, a new nation had been born, a brilliant new flag waved over the cupola of the old Town House, and a new and stimulating atmosphere pervaded the street and town.
As in the beginning, so to the last, the spot upon which the house stood was close to the very heart of traffic and affairs. It was no place for a tumble-down old inn. Commerce, with envious eye, had already marked it for her own. As a makeshift, the building was fashioned over into shops and offices, and thus for a few years lingered on in a transitional state, like a withered old dame tricked out in grotesque finery. There is preserved, with the preliminary correspondence, an interesting old lease of the building from James Bowdoin, son of the governor, to Nathaniel S. Russell, dated March, 1810, in which the lessee stipulates for the liberty to alter over the house by throwing the whole front on State Street into one room, taking down the balcony and opening one or two new doors on Kilby Street. Mention is made in the lease of one Stephen Holden as a present occupant. Holden is described in the directory as a boarding-house keeper, so that there is reason to believe that the upper part of the building was still devoted to its original purpose.
Soon after the termination of the Russell lease, the absentee landlord, James T. Bowdoin, nephew of the above-named lessor, sold it to the New England Bank for the good round sum of thirty thousand dollars.
Again, however, there was a respite. The Bank was not quite ready to build. At a meeting of the directors, April 26, 1816, it was voted to lease the building to one Mr. Lemuel Pope, a ship-broker. Thus for three years more the moribund old veteran lagged superfluous on the stage. At last, in 1819, the lease expired, the signal was given, the old house was torn down, and in its stead was put up the fine granite structure of the Bank, which now, in turn, having served its day and generation, has gone the way of all earthly habitations.
But it is with the human life and associations connected with the old tavern that we are most concerned. For these, — no matter what form of structure covers it, what tons of brick and mortar weigh it down, — for these the place is hallowed in the hearts of all who hold dear the honor and glory of Boston town.
Fittingly, therefore, for such purpose we may treat the story as one. Whether one house or two or more are concerned, whether bounded now a few feet farther to the east, now a little farther to the west, it is essentially the same spot, with a continuous history, a continuous interest, and associations not to be divided.
The solemn feasts of Sewall and his contemporaries have been hinted at. The dullest fancy with existing material might furnish forth the picture : at one end of the board the imposing figure of the diarist himself, with his flowing white locks surmounted by a black skull-cap, with his severe eyes and air of authority, confronted at the other by the dark and insidious visage of his Excellency Governor Dudley, and flanked on either side by members of the council ranged decorously on the backless “ formes.” As for the Court Chamber, where they sat, it was, of course, a lowceiled room, with wainscoted walls, a sanded floor, and a blazing wood fire on the hearth, which baked the backs of the hither row of guests, and left those of the outermost to bristle with gooseflesh.
As easily, did time and space permit, might their talk be reproduced. Its topics ranged within necessary limits, — the latest advices from the English court, meagre enough and stale at that, the incidents of the last town-meeting, the coming marriage, current courtship or latest funeral, the misdoings of a church brother, and discussion of the Thursday Lecture. Touching this last, instance an entry in the Diary : —
“ 1713, January 7. Son J. Sewall preaches the lecture, which is the first sermon he has preached in the old church. Was invited and dined with the court at Holmes’s.”
Little would one not skilled to read between the lines suspect the satisfaction with which those few words were written. As little did Landlord Holmes suspect the zest the old judge brought to his dinner that happy Thursday. “ Son Joseph ” was getting on ; only recently he had been squeezed into the Old South as assistant, despite Parson Pemberton’s covert opposition, and here he was preaching the Thursday Lecture.
Years after this memorable feast, some time in 1733, a well-to-do tailor in Boston, having received due authority from some high official in England, called a meeting of a few chosen spirits in the Bunch of Grapes, — not unlikely in this very room and around this very hearth-stone, — and there in secret conclave laid the foundation of one of the greatest fraternities known to our social history. The man’s name was Henry Price, and the order which he founded was the first Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in America. Price was a man of unusual intelligence and character. His deputation and power were extended over all America, and no less a person than Benjamin Franklin applied to him for a deputation and charter to sanction their proceedings in Philadelphia.
From this feeble beginning sprang a great and influential order which has overspread the New World, as it had previously overspread the Old, including in its ranks alike the prince and peasant, the scholar, thinker, soldier, merchant, and humblest artisan.
The earliest meetings of the Lodge were divided between this house and the Royal Exchange, the rival hostelry situated diagonally across the street, on the spot now occupied by the Merchants’ Bank; but mine host of the Exchange soon won them altogether to his standard, being not only a member of the order, but no other than Luke Vardy, that far-famed cook from London, celebrated in certain lines of Joseph Green, the wit of his day, so often quoted and so much admired that it would now be rank heresy to dub them sorry doggerel.
The fact that, in 1728, the Bunch of Grapes was chosen as the lodging-place of Governor William Burnet shows that it had already attained the first rank among the hostelries of the town. It will be remembered that his Excellency was the son of Bishop Burnet, and a man not only of education and breeding, but of the most ingratiating manners. He was, perhaps, the best liked of all the royal governors, and never had there been such a popular demonstration in Boston as upon his arrival. Beating drums, clashing cymbals, and waving banners heralded his approach, and a long line of dignitaries swelled his train. The Province House not being ready for his occupancy, he was escorted to Landlord Holmes’s, where, of course, he was bestowed in the Court Chamber, and where we may imagine his short, stout figure, clad in a scarlet coat, stepping through the window upon the balcony, and bowing his acknowledgments to the shouting crowds below.
But nowhere do we come so near getting an actual glimpse of the old inn as in the account of Captain Francis Goelet. The constant recurrence of the landlord’s name in his diary, his keen appreciation of the excellence of the house, and the very thorough way in which he tested its hospitality in his bacchanalian visit to Boston in 1750 combine to bring the reader so in touch with time and place that he can almost feel the tingle of that famous punch upon his palate, and the savory odors of the ancient kitchen in his nostrils.
To Goelet we are indebted not only for hints of tavern life, but for a very fresh and graphic picture of the convivial habits of the young bucks of the day. Under date of October 3, 1750, he writes : —
“ Went to Mr. Weatherhead’s at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes in King Street just below the Towne House. Being noted the best Punch House in Boston and resorted by most of the Gentn Merchants and Masters Vessels and where I spent the evening with several Gentn my acquaintance.”
Again, on the 5th : —
“ After breakfast went to see how they went on with the ship and returned about 12 a Clock and to Change from there to Weatherheads with several gentlemen to drink Punch.”
And so on: out of thirty days spent in Boston he records fifteen visits to Weatherhead’s; and it is evident enough that it was only imperative engagements on the off days which prevented an unbroken record. Such punch must have had irresistible attractions; it is a lasting pity the recipe has not been handed down to posterity. Assuredly it must have been compounded upon some cunning variation of the time-honored rule of
Four of strong, and eight of weak.”
Captain Goelet’s parties, be it said, seldom broke up before the “ wee sma’ hours ; ” indeed, he ingenuously confesses upon several occasions that they were “ exceeding merry drinking toasts, singing and roaring until Morning when they could scarce see one another.” As they filed out of the tavern door and staggered along over the cobble-stones of King Street, where the few oil-lamps swinging at the corners were beginning to pale in the cold gray light creeping over Noddle’s Island, they must have presented — those merry blades — an excellent illustration of the curious list of synonyms for such states of glorification collected by an anonymous English author : “ lushy, bosky, buffy, boozy, cocky, mops-and-brooms, fuddled, balmy, pickled, screwed, funny, three-sheets-inthe-wind, foggy, hazy, groggy, slewed, on the randan, on the reraw, cut, how-cameyou-so, sewed up, muddled, caught it, got it, nailed it, weary, raddled, daggéd, jaggéd, drunk as David’s sow,” — a list somewhat irrelevantly quoted here to give heart to those desponding critics who carp about the poverty of the English language.
But turn we now our shocked eyes away from the frisky captain and his madcap companions upon a more discreet and sober assembly, which, a few years later, was wont to meet in the old inn, and without doubt in the very room where these orgies were held.
The earliest benevolent association in Boston, and one of the oldest in America, is the Scots Charitable Society, whose name still appears in our directory, and which, after more than a century of well-doing, still continues its beneficent work. The records of the society show that its meetings were regularly held in the Bunch of Grapes during 1767 and 1768, where it need do no violence to any prejudice to fancy these sober and worthy philanthropists gathered about a glowing back-log of a winter night, cracking a quiet joke, indulging in songs and memories of Auld Reekie, and quickening their charitable impulses with a wee bit drap o’ usquebaugh for the sake o’ auld lang syne.
A tradition of even greater interest, if it rested upon any sure foundation, is that the first meeting for the organization of Trinity Church took place in the Bunch of Grapes. Unhappily, neither the records of the parish make any mention of this, nor does Mr. Foote, in his interesting account of the birth of that famous daughter of the King’s Chapel, ever refer to such a gathering. Various meetings, indeed, took place at Mr. Weatherhead’s, but not until long after the formation of the society; and no business was transacted at any of them more important than writing a complimentary letter to the rector, or authorizing the purchase of an organ.
As the century rolled on towards its last quarter, the old tavern was destined to have other and more stirring associations. The Boston Massacre, it will be remembered, took place almost before its very door, considering which fact it is rather odd that the only mention of the house in connection with that tragedy is found in the testimony of three witnesses at the trial, who, being, as they said, “ in the front chamber of the house occupied by Colonel Ingersol, heard guns fired, and went into the balcony and saw flashes of guns fired from the Custom House.”
Doubtless, too, our hostelry is one of the “two taverns near the Town House ” referred to by Governor Bernard in the sensational account of the rejoicings over the repeal of the Stamp Act sent by him to the British ministers.
But if all other claims to distinction were wanting, Washington’s stay in the Bunch of Grapes, upon his coming to town after the evacuation by the British, should invest it with a lasting interest. It is not likely that he spent more than one night or ate more than two or three meals under its roof ; but the hours thus passed were memorable, not so much to the general as to the towns-folk, — sad, joyful, jubilant, tragic hours. To realize that crisis it needs but to think of the delight, the anxiety, the trembling apprehension, with which the refugee patriots came trooping back to their homes, so long given over to the marauders; it needs but to think of the state of the town. The trail of the serpent was over it all: the Old North split up for firewood, the Old South made a ridingschool, Faneuil Hall a theatre, and the Common given over to desolation. It was not a grateful spectacle for homesick eyes. But the trouble was not over. One enemy had gone, but another remained ; another more deadly if not so hated; another which, in comparison with those retreating red-coats, might almost be considered a comfortable, companionable fireside enemy, — the small-pox was raging in the town.
Despite all their losses and trials, the relieved and grateful towns-folk gave those earliest hours to an outburst of thanksgiving and jubilation. Their first duty was to God, the next to his Excellency.
Oddly enough, as it seems, a Philadelphia newspaper has the best account of the doings of the Bostonians on that memorable bright day in March, 1776.
“ This day,” says the writer, who was evidently an eye-witness, “ the Thursday Lecture, which was established and has been observed from the first settlement of Boston without interruption until these few months past, was opened by the Rev. Dr. Eliot. His Excellency General Washington and the other general officers and their suites, having been previously invited, met in the council chambers, from whence, preceded by the sheriff with his wand, attended by the members of the Council who have had the small-pox, the Committee of the House of Representatives, the Selectmen, the Clergy, and many other gentlemen, they repaired to the Old Brick meeting-house, where an excellent and welladapted discourse was delivered from the 33d chapter of Isaiah and 20th verse.
“ After divine service was ended his Excellency, attended and accompanied as before, returned to the council chamber, from whence they proceeded to the Bunch of Grapes tavern, where an elegant dinner was provided at the public expense, after which many proper and pertinent toasts were drank. Joy and gratitude sat in every countenance and smiled in every eye.”
That very same year, a few months later, the town rang again with rejoicings. With the clamorous accompaniment of ringing bells, roaring cannon, and shrill huzzas, the sheriff of the county read from the balcony of the Town House the Declaration of Independence. A collation was served in the council chamber, at which were drunk seven loyal toasts, too long to be here repeated; and the day wound up with a bonfire of immortal memory, kindled in King Street before the Bunch of Grapes, and fed with fuel composed of “ every King’s Arms in Boston and every sign with any resemblance of it, whether Lion and Unicorn, Pestle and Mortar and Crown, Heart and Crown, together with every sign belonging to a Tory.”
Although in charge of a firm and loyal hand, the years of the Revolution proved troublous years to the Bunch of Grapes. On account of his stanch support of the rebel cause, Captain Marston may have been driven out or roughly treated during the British occupation, or he may have found himself in uncomfortable proximity to that hornets’-nest of Tories over the way in the British Coffee House. For whatever reason, it is certain that at some time during the war the tavern was moved for a while to Congress Street. Two different newspaper notices in the latter part of 1777 refer to it explicitly as on Congress Street. The last was on the occasion of Stark’s victory at Bennington. What wonder that the loyal Bostonians huzzaed themselves hoarse over that news, after the long-drawn gloom of Ticonderoga; and when, shortly afterwards, Stark himself arrived, they showed by the ardor of their reception a significant contempt for the stupid snub recently administered by Congress to the Green Mountain hero.
“ On Friday last,” says the Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser, “ a select company of the Sons of Freedom made a very elegant entertainment at the Bunch of Grapes ” — mark the words! — “ in Congress Street for the Honorable Brigadier General Stark, who was then in town, in testimony of the great and important services rendered by that brave and intrepid officer to the United States of America ; after which a number of patriotic toasts were drank and rockets, etc., exhibited from the balcony.”
“ We kept it up in high taste,” says one of the guests in an account quoted by Mr. Drake. “ At sundown about one hundred of the first gentlemen of the town with all the strangers then in Boston met at the Bunch of Grapes, where good liquors and a side-table were provided. In the street were two brass field-pieces with a detachment of Colonel Crafts’ regiment. In the balcony of the Town House all the fifes and drums of my regiment were stationed. The ball opened with a discharge of thirteen cannon, and at every toast given three rounds were fired and a flight of rockets sent up. About nine o’clock two barrels of grog were brought into the street for the people that had collected there. It was all conducted with the greatest propriety, and by ten o’clock every man was at his home.”
“ Two barrels of grog brought into the street for the people . . . and all conducted with the greatest propriety.” — Let us be indulged in a moment’s bewildered repetition, and excused for the inevitable reflection that not only has the matter of public jubilation become a lost art, but we, alack ! a different people.
In the long line of Boston’s distinguished visitors none was ever more welcome than Lafayette. Next to Washington he was the popular idol; his youth, his high rank, his enthusiasm, his generosity in jeoparding life and limb in a doubtful cause and refusing all emolument for his service, combined to invest him with a romantic interest now almost inconceivable. In person, it must be confessed, the marquis was not of heroic type ; his small head, his retreating forehead, and staring eyes, all painfully emphasized by the glaring white facings of his uniform, gave an impression of pronounced ugliness. It was, however, a fascinating ugliness, as effective in its way as beauty. Moreover, it was straightway forgotten in his presence by the ease, elegance, and winning affability of his manners ; for the rest, his foreign air and broken English no doubt combined to lend him distinction.
Among the many traditions of the Bunch of Grapes is one that the marquis was lodged here on the occasion of his second visit in 1780. Not only do the newspapers of the day fail to confirm this statement, however, but a quite different impression is gathered from the report of the committee appointed by the General Court to provide for his reception and entertainment. They recommend that suitable accommodations be provided “ at Mrs. Fraser’s in State Street, and that a committee of both Houses be appointed to wait on him at his landing and conduct him to the lodgings provided for his reception.”
But the end of the war was at hand, and with the coming of peace, naturally enough, the country abounded for a time with the disbanded soldiers, heroes young and old, grown rusty in the arts of gaining a livelihood, who thus found themselves without resources for the present or hopes for the future. To provide these deserving children of the republic with homes and means of subsistence, an enterprise was set on foot which, in its results, has far outgrown the wildest dreams of its projectors.
This was the Ohio Company, formed to buy and settle the Western Reserve. The first meeting for organization was held in the Bunch of Grapes, and on the whole it may, perhaps, be considered the most memorable event connected with its history. General Rufus Putnam and that accomplished, distinguished, versatile, delightful man, the Rev. Manasseh Cutler, were the leading spirits in the enterprise. It was they who set the movement on foot, who got aid and encouragement from Congress, who obtained recruits and filled the hearts of the pioneers with courage and enthusiasm.
From that feeble beginning in 1786, in the Court Chamber of the old tavern, has sprung one of the richest, most populous, and powerful States of our Union ; and among the prime causes of her progress and success let it not be reckoned the least that Ohio was settled by scions of the good old stock of New England, — men of brawn and brain, of pluck and persistence, of energy, sobriety, and all the many sterling traits which time out of mind have distinguished the descendants of the derided Puritans.
Suggested by this Marietta colony there comes to mind another society of veterans, formed of similar material, but for a different purpose, concerning which it may be said there is no association of strictly American origin so distinguished in its purpose and membership, the renowned Society of the Cincinnati. With high hearts, and wounds, it might be, still smarting, the members of this famous body are said to have held some of their early meetings in the Bunch of Grapes.
In the same category of the was or might-have-been may be included pleasant traditions that certain Mohawk braves came to the old tavern to make their toilets for a certain tea-party we all know about; also that the Ancient and Honorables and Cadets found here a favorite rallying - place. Nothing is more credible, and no doubt it would be safe enough to say generally of any or all of our local societies and organizations, civic, military, or eleemosynary, dating back to the last century, that at some time or other in their history they gathered in the comfortable Court Chamber of the Bunch of Grapes.
With regard to the Cadets, such meetings, if any, must have been before the Revolution, in the days of the martial and imposing Colonel Bollard ; for since the reorganization of the corps, its records, quite systematically kept, show the favorite resorts to have been Vila’s or the Royal Exchange. One rose of promise did indeed blossom for a moment in a report of a “ meeting at the Widow Marston’s,” — presumably relict of sturdy old Captain John, — at which a communication from his Excellency Governor Bowdoin was read, bidding the corps hold itself in readiness to march at a minute’s notice to take part in putting down that tea-pot tempest, Shays Rebellion. But, alack! side by side with the blooming rose protruded an ugly thorn in the shape of an unmanageable date, which forbade any attempt to include that interesting meeting in our nosegay of reminiscences.
Moving on, what joy to find a foothold again upon solid ground! An impulse not to be resisted tempts us to pause for a long comfortable sigh of relief upon the firm basis of one indubitable fact. On a certain fair day, or it may have been night, in 1785, there was born in the old inn, not a babe, but a project, which must by no means be forgotten, for it had as sponsors James Bowdoin, Rev. James Freeman, and other noted men, and was destined to make no little stir in the world. Let there be no regret that it was not a veritable flesh-and-blood babe, for no human suckling known to our annals ever grew up to be such a power for good in the community as the Boston Humane Society.
Few among its careless beneficiaries of the present day know or care that this same Humane Society, organized by those half dozen men over Landlord Coleman’s good madeira, was instrumental in founding our first asylums for the insane and for lying-in women, our first free beds in hospitals, our lifeboats, huts for shelter, and all the lifesaving gear on our rugged sea-coast.
Meanwhile, what with all these years and experiences the old tavern began to show signs of wear and tear. Its owners, not blind to the fact, did what they could to repair the ravages of time, and about 1790, as appears from the following notice in the Columbian Centinel, the house seems to have taken on a new lease of life in more senses than one: —
“To Be Let: The Bunch of Grapes Tavern in State Street in complete repair with every accommodation for a Tavern. In addition has lately been built a number of handsome chambers for accommodating Lodgers or Boarders.”
Happily for the needs of art, human history abounds in effective shadows, and just at the ripe moment when there is appropriate place for one in this record to relieve and emphasize all the foregoing cheerful associations, behold it forthcoming!
For it is a black bead which next comes to hand upon this rosary of remembrance, marking the connection of the old tavern with another tragedy, in which, as before, it dumbly looked on and made no sign, crumbling away to dust with its secret untold ; and forever untold, as it seems, must remain the secret motive which prompted Thomas Selfridge to shoot young Charles Austin to death before the tavern door. Whether, as some affirm, it was the outcome of a political quarrel, or, as others say, of some idle dispute about “seven roast pigs and ten bushels of green peas,” is of no consequence now. What chiefly interests the reader of to-day is the behavior of the press. Incredible as it may seem, there is no published discussion of the causes of the quarrel; no biography of the unhappy criminal; no picture of him, his cousins, aunts, or grandparents, or childhood’s home; but only this short discreet notice of the funeral of the luckless victim : —
“ The remains of Mr. Charles Austin were entombed on Wednesday last; the procession, which was very numerous and respectable, moved from the dwelling-house of his parents in Cambridge Street, through Court Street, down State Street as far as the Bunch of Grapes, and through Cornhill to the Chapel burying-ground, where the body was entombed. The pall was supported and the corpse preceded by the senior class of Harvard University, of which Mr. Austin was a member, and followed immediately after the relations by the president, professors, and tutors of that seminary.”
How significant, too, of by-gone times and changed conditions to read of the president and faculty attending in a body the funeral of a mere undergraduate !
Casting backward now a retrospective glance, is it too much to say that the century covered by the old tavern’s existence is, in some respects, the most memorable in our history ? Dating almost from the beginning of the provincial era, it saw come and go like shadows on the wall the long procession of royal governors, — the saturnine Dudley, the choleric Shute, the affable Burnet, the intriguing Belcher, the martial Shirley, the gallant Pownall, the scheming Bernard, the treacherous Hutchinson; saw next advancing, amid the storm-clouds of war and anarchy, a grim, determined throng covered with the blood and sweat of battle, waving ragged, smoke-begrimed banners, bearing aloft the laurels of victory, and pursued by the thunderous acclaim of a delivered people, — the heroes of the Revolution, Washington, Warren, Prescott, Lafayette, Lincoln, Putnam, Stark, and a hundred dimmer but yet radiant figures ; saw, as these passed on and the war-clouds gave place to the sunshine of peace, a new era of growth and prosperity inaugurated, as the young republic, freed of all trammels, started forth on its career of matchless development.
In conclusion it may not be without profit to compare for a moment the surroundings of the old tavern at the beginning and end of its existence. Excuse a summary of such familiar facts as that in 1712 Boston was still but a thriving town of four thousand houses, eighteen thousand inhabitants, a dozen churches, as many or more taverns, half as many schools or thereabout; and for general public buildings, the Town House, bridewell, work-house, Faneuil Hall, and_the powder-house on the Common,— a rough passing estimate to serve for a comparison. Recall the fact that its streets had only recently been named, and that many of them were still unpaved ; that a post-office had but just been set up, — not in a separate building ; and that worthy Jonathan Wardwell of the Orange Tree Inn had caused a great sensation by the introduction of hackney coaches. Moreover, so near was all this still to the beginnings of things, to the days when the peninsula was an uninhabited waste, that Anne Pollard, the lively young woman well known as the first of Winthrop’s colonists to jump ashore, still survived, and had just given her deposition with regard to the site of William Blaxton’s garden. Remember, too, that the King Street of 1712, although nearly doubled in length by the recent building of Long Wharf, was an unimposing thoroughfare, without sidewalks, rudely paved with cobble-stones, and contained besides the Town House scarcely a dozen buildings of note. Although, in the main, given over to trade, it still retained several dwelling - houses surrounded with gardens, notably the old Leverett mansion, soon to be lost to the family by its owner’s lavish munificence to Harvard College. At the corners of the streets were stone hitching - posts, so needful where half the world rode horseback, while the southern tine of the fork into which, as now, the upper street is split by the Town House was barred at its junction with Cornhill by an iron chain, leaving only passage for pedestrians. Leverett and Pudding lanes were insignificant by - ways, while Mackerel Lane was but a narrow winding footpath, following so closely the line of the shore that the unsuspecting wayfarer might almost be splashed by the slops which, at high tide, the slatternly kitchenwench of the Bunch of Grapes threw into the cove.
The every-day aspect of the street, moreover, is easily imagined: the merchants in wigs and knee-breeches, the apprentices bareheaded and with leather aprons, a slave sauntering on his errand, a creaking ox-load, a rumbling push-cart, a clumsy family carriage, a chance sedan-chair with tarnished upholstery and already beginning to go out of fashion, country-folks on pillions, groups of idlers at the tavern doors, a roving hog or two, — in short, a combined impression of the leisurely activity befitting the main street of a country town of the present day.
Quiet as it seemed, it was, however, the very centre of life, and doubtless the busiest spot on the continent. The lower story of the Town House, supported on ten Doric columns, lay open to the street, forming an arcade which the merchants used as an exchange ; the Market was close by in the Dock ; within a stone’s-throw were a half dozen inns and the best shops in town ; the whole, in its compactness, recalling a wag’s famous picture of old-time London : “ Coffee and gruel to be had at the Rainbow and Nandos at four, hot furmety at Fleet Street at seven, justice to be had at Doctor’s Commons when people can get it, a lecture at Pinner Hall at ten, excellent peas pottage and tripe at Baldwin’s Gardens at twelve and [nameless naughtiness] all over Covent Garden and five miles around it.”
Presto ! a century passes, and behold another place! The same in metes and bounds, but otherwise how changed ! The royal name, the royal dispensation, and all that belonged to it died out in the white ashes of those heraldic emblems burnt before the tavern door. State Street would never be recognized for King Street, for all the Town House still standing in the cross-roads and the old tavern hard by on its corner. The street has not only a different air, an air of bustling activity, but a different odor, a pungent aromatic odor of spices, coffee, and dried fruits, telling of the foreign trade for which it has already grown famous.
Begotten, perhaps, of this reminiscent odor is the audacious fancy which seizes us to repeople these shops and offices. By dint of no little patience and much tedious rummaging through old directories the task is done. Behold the old street with its human denizens put together again, number by number, like a child’s block-work, — every man in his place !
Such a mustering of ghosts, such a ransacking of the Granary, Copp’s Hill, and the Chapel burying-grounds, and haling forth their sleeping inmates, is violent business, not to be warranted did it not point a moral as well as adorn a tale ; for here, humbly working in the rank and file, see many an old worthy industriously laying the foundation of the splendid prosperity of careless progeny of to-day ! Let patient toilers of the present take heed and heart, and remember that the laborer is still worthy of his hire.
Meantime, each of the spectral throng dispersed to his once familiar place stands peering from the doorway of his former shop, while, as if touched by electric light, his old-time sign gleams forth again above his head. Marshaled under their divers trades and callings, the tale shows thirty-six merchants and shopkeepers, ten tailors, nine attorneys, seven auctioneers, six printers, three ship-andtallow brokers, two hair-dressers, and a boarding-house keeper.
With their names thus listed and outspread, mentally we call the roll, and hark! a hollow “ Here ! ” wrung from each ghostly lip echoes with the alternate numbers adown the street, until the fading answers are lost among the plashing waters of the bay.
Edwin Lassetter Bynner.