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Friday, November 14, 2014

COLONIAL COFFEE HOUSES IN WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA

With around 12,000 Starbucks, plus countless other coffee shops in the United States, it’s evident that Americans like their coffee. While coffee, tea, and chocolate all arrived in the colonies in the 17th century, it wasn’t until the mid 18th century when the British decided to tax tea that coffee drinking took off in a big way.

Tea was very popular in the American colonies in the 18th century. When the British imposed taxes on tea, some feisty Bostonians revolted and dumped tea in the harbor. Citizens from all the colonies showed support and began boycotting tea, and coffee quickly became a new favorite beverage.

Coffee establishments began appearing in England in the 17th century and differed from taverns that offered liquor, food, lodging, and gambling. Coffee houses became a popular opportunity for gentlemen of all ranks and stations in life to gather and enjoy coffee, tea, and chocolate while discussing the news of the day. Women were not allowed in these male bastions. By the 1800’s there were said to be 3000 coffee houses in London alone, often with their own particular character.

Virginia, being the most English of the colonies, was not far behind in making coffee houses a popular destination for men to gather and discuss the events of the day. Williamsburg, then the capitol of Virginia, was the home to four known coffee houses, although not at the same time. With a population of 2,000, of which half were slaves, the city could only support one coffee house at a time. Fortunately there has been extensive research done to locate and identify the periods each of these establishments existed.

William Byrd II of Westover, a member of the Royal Governor's
Shield's Tavern
Council kept extensive journals. He identifies a coffee house from 1709 at the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street near the Capitol where he ate, drank, read newspapers and enjoyed cards.

The same gentleman noted another coffee house in the 1740’s. Later, in the early 1750’s a coffee house was located at what is now Shield’s Tavern. Another coffee house believed to be R. Charlton's
R. Charlton's Coffeehouse

Coffeehouse was established in the 1760’s a few steps from the colonial Capitol. In 1765, this coffee house was the site of a hostile crowd confronting the Stamp Act tax collector, George Mercer. Fortunately Mr. Mercer was protected by the Royal Governor Francis Fauquier who
A View of the Capitol from
Charlton's Coffeehouse
happened to be seated with his council on the porch.

That is the last known Colonial Williamsburg coffee house as the Capitol was moved to Richmond in 1780.

Colonial Williamsburg, with an endowment from the Mars family, did extensive research and archaeological work to locate and rebuild the R. Charlton's Coffeehouse. The Armistead house, a Victorian home, rested on the original site of the coffee house. It was moved to a new location on nearby Henry Street. The 35’ by 35’ square two story coffee house was
Excavation of Charlton's Coffeehouse Foundation
reconstructed on the original foundation. By 2009 it had been restored to what it looked like at the time of the Revolution. 

When originally built, the kitchen was located downstairs. Two rooms were available to rent for private dinners or occasions, and one room was the room where citizens, whether they were the Burgesses or a local merchant or farmer, could gather and discuss current events over coffee or chocolate drinks.


Discussing politics with Patrick Henry
Like many other fascinating sites in Williamsburg, tours are available of the R. Charlton's Coffeehouse. You’ll be treated to a complimentary coffee, tea, or chocolate drink and you will be engaged in a spirited discussion of the news of the day. Just like our predecessors in the 1700’s.

For more information about coffee in Colonial America, see Elaine Marie Cooper's earlier post.   http://colonialquills.blogspot.com/2013/03/coffee-in-colonies.html


6 comments:

  1. Wow! Fabulous research! Great information for the coffee, tea and chocolate drinker!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Wendy. I was surprised at the colonials fondness for chocolate.

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  2. Those were the days before they learned how to solidify chocolate into candy, Janet. So they drank it. lol! Wonderful article. It makes me long to get back to Williamsburg again. It's been too long!

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    1. Thanks for coming by, Joan. I never get tired of going downtown and walking the streets of Colonial Williamsburg. Jamestown and Yorktown are also fun and close by. Let me know if you are in the area.

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  3. What a great and informative article, Janet. The next time I'm at Colonial Williamsburg, I will definitely be stopping at the coffee house.

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  4. Good morning, ladies! Busy day for me, but I will be back later to join in the fun and festivities! Have a blessed day! :)

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