“Dined at the City Tavern”

Christmas in the 18th century was celebrated quite differently than it is today. Unlike today, one of  the most important (and wildest) celebrations of the season took place on January 6th, or Epiphany. Also known as Twelfth Night, this holiday is more comparable to our present-day New Year’s celebrations in style and entertainment. Our stereotypical views of a supposedly refined time period perhaps conjure up images of classy champagne toasts and highly intellectual conversations. However, much like the Christmas season itself, 18th century parties and dinners any time of the year were actually quite different from that stereotype.

On September 14, 1787 George Washington wrote in his journal:

“Friday 14th.  Attended Convention. Dined at the City Tavern, at an entertainmt. given on my acct. by the City light Horse. Spent the evening at Mr. Meridiths.”

It appears he enjoyed a simple enough dinner at City Tavern in Philadelphia after a day of Constitutional planning, right? Washington was famous; certainly everywhere he went, people provided “an entertainment” in his honor. As you look more into this event, you find that Washington’s simple diary entries may not always reveal the whole story of what happened.

City Tavern as it appeared about 1800 from an engraving by William Birch. This print dates from 1850. Credit: New York Public Library.

In this entry, he notes the City Light Horse honoring him at the tavern. The Light Horse of the City of Philadelphia was founded in 1774. They fought with General Washington throughout the war, including at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Brandywine.  They were part of the icy-cold crossing of the Delaware and the snow-covered winter at Valley Forge. In fact, although operating under a new name, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry remains intact today as a private military organization whose members all must serve in the Pennsylvania National Guard. Due to its close relationship with George Washington, the troop jumped at the chance to show him its appreciation at the tavern as the Constitutional Convention drew to a close. According to Dr. Gordon Lloyd, the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, the bar tab sent to the City Light Horse remains in the First Troop, Philadelphia City Cavalry Archives. Here is the transcription of the bill:

Courtesy of Dr. Gordon Lloyd, the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University.

As you can see, the total comes to 89 pounds, 4 shillings, and 2 pence. According to the Bank of England, given inflation and changes over time, today this would be approximately £14,083 or around $18,471.

While that sticker price is shocking enough, as we inspect the bill a little more, we notice what all was purchased for the gathering. There are four separate categories on the bill. The bottom section is the fee for the musicians to play. The next section up lists 16 bottles of claret, 5 bottles of madeira, and 7 bowls of punch drunk by the 16 servants and musicians.  Next, comes a line for items broken at the gathering.

Finally, the top section of the bill deals with 55 guests, all men, who were the main party at City Tavern. The men ordered dinner and several different beverages. First, fifty-four bottles of madeira, probably Washington’s drink of choice. Throughout his life, Washington was said to favor this type of fortified wine from the Madeira islands, an archipelago off the coast of Portugal and a frequent stop for merchant ships travelling between Europe and America in the 18th century. Many prominent families in America took a liking to the wine, as it was relatively easy to obtain. According to records at Mount Vernon, Washington ordered Madeira by the pipe, a large, elongated barrel that held about 126 gallons of wine. Often, he ordered multiple pipes at a time. Today, you can still purchase Madeira wine, but be cautious as it runs 18-20 percent alcohol by volume. Similar to its brother, Port, Madeira is often used in cooking and is a staple of French cuisine today.

Next, the sixty bottles of Claret were a French-style wine also popular in America in the 18th century. While Madeira came in both sweet and dry varieties, Claret was typically a dry, dark red. Claret is not a fortified wine like Madeira, meaning it is lighter and only around 13-15 percent alcohol by volume.

The list notes that the gentlemen also consumed eight bottles of “Old Stock”, a term used for whiskey at the time. Perhaps throughout his time as General and President, nights like September 14, 1787 convinced Washington to create his own whiskey distillery later in life. By 1799, the distillery at Mount Vernon was one of the most profitable in the country. During the colonial era, it was not customary to age whiskey. The spirits produced at Mount Vernon, as well as, that served at City Tavern were practically straight from the still.

Whiskey mash in the reconstructed distillery at Mount Vernon. Credit: Elizabeth Hosier.

The porter, cider, and beer listed on the bill are all similar to the alcohols we call porter, cider, and beer today. Porter was a very popular style of beer in both England and America. In fact, the style was so popular, Washington had his own recipe for it to be produced at Mount Vernon.

Lastly, the list claims the gentlemen also went through seven large bowls of punch. Punch recipes varied from tavern to tavern and from house to house in colonial days, but they were typically rum or whiskey-based and often contained more than one type of alcohol. You can read much more about punch and how it was served here and about Mary Washington’s punch bowl here.

With all this drink flowing, we might conclude this was quite a raucous party, but these were rather typical evenings for the people of the 18th century. Keep in mind that water was not always drinkable due to bacteria, they didn’t always have access to fruit to make fresh juice, and certainly soda wasn’t around yet! They were left with few options: tea, coffee, or booze.

Washington returned to the Convention and by the end of the day after the party, the delegates had finished. Copies of the document were ordered, and just two days later, they signed the Constitution of the United States on Monday, September 17, 1787. Washington stated in his journal:

“The business being thus closed, the Members adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together and took a cordial leave of each other.”

What happened that night at City Tavern? Unfortunately, no bill from this night survives to give us any clarification, but Washington provides a hint of just how much steam the delegates needed to blow off. The entry in his journal continued that he returned to his lodgings and:

“retired to meditate on the momentous wk. which had been executed, after not less than five, for a large part of the time Six, and sometimes 7 hours sitting every day, sundays & the ten days adjournment to give a Comee. opportunity & time to arrange the business for more than four Months.”

Momentous work, indeed.

Elizabeth Hosier
Manager of Interpretation and Visitor Services

Little George’s Grand Tour of Europe [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore vacationed in England, Austria, and Hungary last September and October.  Little George accompanied her and enjoyed seeing new sites and delving into the history of Europe.  As the real George Washington left the shores of North America only once to accompany his ailing brother Lawrence to Barbados, this was a chance for Little George to experience an abbreviated version of the traditional Grand Tour of Europe popular in the 18th century.

The first stop was London, where George’s Revolutionary War nemesis King George III once lived, and where Little George already spent some time last summer.  On this return trip for Little George, we saw the usual sites, such as the Tower of London, Parliament, and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding), but also mixed in a little ancient history, iconic pubbing, and English football.

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Little George outside the Stanhope Arms.

Upon arrival, we immediately had to have the nation’s favorite dish, some traditional Fish and Chips! The Stanhope Arms, a pub built in 1853, used to have a private jazz club upstairs and was visited often by the author during her college junior year abroad (1979-1980).

At Chelsea Football Club’s home field of Stamford Bridge, we watched Liverpool Football Club win the match from the nosebleed section of the stadium. Look closely and you can see Little George participating in the opening ceremonies!

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Stamford Bridge, home field of Chelsea Football Club.

On a river cruise we passed beneath the iconic Tower Bridge over the River Thames. Built between 1886 and 1894 in the Gothic style, the bridge stills opens to river traffic.  Little George is waiting in line to enter the exhibition inside the Tower.

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Tower Bridge over the River Thames.

Mudlarking along the Thames’s foreshore can reveal centuries of history hidden among the cobbles on the riverbank. Fragments of medieval and modern pottery, glass and ceramic bottles, tobacco pipe stems, buckles and buttons are all mixed in with 1st century roman roofing tiles, prehistoric tools, World War II shrapnel and spent shells from the Blitz. Little George was very helpful in spying things as he was so close to the ground! During our search of the shore, we found what may have been a Roman roofing tile (below right) from when the Romans ruled Britain between 43 and 410 AD.

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Chocolate with Mozart’s image is in every confectioner’s window in Salzburg.

After London, we headed for the Continent to begin our Grand Tour-inspired travels.  Our first European stop was Salzburg, Austria, the birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a classical pianist and composer who lived from 1756 to 1791.  Mozart and other contemporaries, such as Haydn, were extremely popular and well-known during their lifetimes, and copies of their compositions were present in Washington’s personal musical collection.  Mozart and Washington would never meet, but one can imagine George and his family enjoying Mozart’s music after hosting a dinner party.

A side trip to Festung Hohenwerfen, a medieval castle where the popular 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” was filmed, included a fascinating falconry exhibition.  We watched as a falcon was released, flew around in a huge arc over the castle valley, and then swooped back to the handler, just missing our heads. Little George would have been easy prey for these hunters so, although always fascinated by anything to do with hunting, he kept his distance.

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A falconer holds aloft a falcon as he prepares to demonstrate how to hunt small prey using the birds.

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Castle Hohenwerfen, where the war movie “Where Eagles Dare”, starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, was filmed in 1968. Credit: Memorator / Wikipedia

After walking the streets and alleys of Salzburg’s old city and crossing the river to stroll through the world famous Mirabell Gardens and Palace, we retired for a late afternoon respite in a local beer hall, the Augustiner Brau. This brewery has been serving beer since 1621 and is Austria’s largest.  We sat in one of several halls inside the brewery and tried our best to have a conversation with a local using high school German and an English-German dictionary.  During the 18th century, whether in the colonies or Europe, beer was drunk daily since water was looked upon as unsafe, which it often was.  As a child, George Washington drank “small beer,” which contained almost no alcohol. In later times, Washington built a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. In 1799, his distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey.

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Augustiner Brau beer hall in Salzburg.

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Little George enjoying a big mug of beer.

In Halstatt, Austria, we enjoyed walking this picturesque town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and visiting the famous bronze-age salt mine and graveyard in the mountains above the village. The unique preservative qualities of salt and sealed caves allowed the preservation of two thousand-year-old leather goods, such as the sandals pictured below. In contrast, acidic soil conditions at Ferry Farm and Kenmore do not allow the preservation of 200-year-old leather items.

The 19th century excavation of the Halstatt’s bronze-age cemetery and its thousands of funerary goods led to the designation of the epoch from the 8th to the 5th century BC as the “Halstatt Culture.”

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Halstatt, Austria, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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4th Century BC leather shoe found in the salt mines

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Bronze Age Grave goods

 

Of the many sites we visited at our next stop in Vienna, Austria’s capital, our time spent at the world famous Spanish Riding School was perhaps the highlight of Little George’s trip.  Here at the Winter Riding School located in the Hofburg Palace, we watched the famed Lipizzaners and their riders perform their morning exercises to classical Viennese waltzes.  George Washington himself was an excellent horseman and would have appreciated the dedication these riders demonstrated towards learning their lessons.

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Little George enjoying the Lipizzaners at the Hofburg Palace.

On a side trip to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in the town of Melk overlooking the Danube River, Little George had the pleasure of meeting up with a contemporary of his, Empress Maria Theresa, a member of the Hapsburg dynasty and Queen of Austria and Hungary. Maria Theresa reigned from 1740 to 1780. They had much to talk about, as she was the first and only female Hapsburg ruler, and George was the first American president.

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Little George and Maria Theresa having a private chat at Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey is noted for its extensive library containing hundreds of medieval manuscripts. George himself did not have the classical education in an English school that his older half-brothers had, but he spent his life reading as much as he could and enjoyed amassing a library of his own at Mount Vernon.

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The library at Melk Abbey.

After a short stay in Sopron, Hungary, our last stop was Budapest, the capital of Hungary.  We spent five days here, exploring and learning about the ancient and modern history of the city, walking around the castle on top of the hill, taking road trips outside the city to visit more castles, and taste testing the new fall Hungarian wines.

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St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools.

One of the last things we did in Budapest was visit the famous St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools.  It is a natural hot spring spa housed in a beautiful building with additional outdoor pools and relaxing spa treatments.  George Washington was certainly no stranger to the healing powers of hot springs, as he visited and enjoyed the warm springs in present-day Berkeley Springs, WV, and eventually purchased property in the town, which in his day was called Bath.

Then it was time to head back home.  Little George had a wonderful time exploring the archaeology and history of our host cities, meeting contemporary persons of fame, relaxing in the spas, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, and trying new foods.

Judy Jobrack
Archaeology Lab Assistant and Co-Field Director

Lecture – Drinking with the Washingtons: Archaeological Evidence of Colonial Imbibing at Ferry Farm [Video]

On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, Archaeologist Mara Kaktins, Ceramics & Glass Specialist at The George Washington Foundation, presented a lecture titled “Drinking with the Washingtons: Archaeological Evidence of Colonial Imbibing at Ferry Farm.” Mara explored a wide variety of beverage-related artifacts from teawares to punch bowls and discussed how cups and glasses reflected efforts by Mary Washington to demonstrate the family’s economic status and refinement.

Join us on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 for “Food in the Eighteenth Century” when Deborah Lawton, Park Ranger at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, will explore the new dishes and changing tastes that marked the foodways of the eighteenth century. Talk begins at 7:00 p.m. The lecture is FREE and hosted at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library at 1201 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia. To learn more, visit http://www.kenmore.org.