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The First Tavern In America

Today, March 4, in 1634 is when the first licensed tavern in Colonial America opened in Boston, which is why today is also considered “American Tavern Day.” Given that record-keeping was spotty back then, you probably won’t be surprised that it’s not absolutely certain it was the first, although it seems to have been the first in New England at least. Apparently, there is some evidence that another may have opened earlier in Jamestown, Virginia, but I’ve not seen the evidence for that, so here we are.

The account of it opening comes from Boston magistrate John Winthrop, who wrote in his journal under the date 4 March 1634 that “Samuel Cole set up the first house for common entertainment,” this being the first public house or tavern in the colony.

This definitely not Samuel Cole’s Inn but it is typical of taverns of that time period and often shows up in stories about early taverns.

This account is from 1917, and appeared in the book “Old Boston Taverns and Tavern Clubs,” by Samual Adams Drake.


Samuel Cole came to Boston in the fleet with Governor Winthrop, and he with his wife Ann were the fortieth and forty-first on the list of original members of the First Church. He requested to become a freeman October 19, 1630, and was sworn May 18, 1631. He was the ninth to sign the roll of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1637 and in the same year was disarmed for his religious views. In 1636 he contributed to the maintenance of a free school and in 1656 to the building of the town house. In 1652 he was one of those chosen to receive monies for Harvard College. In 1634 he opened the first ordinary, or inn. It was situated on Washington Street, nearly opposite the head of Water Street. Here, in 1636, Sir Henry Vane, the governor, entertained Miantonomo and two of Canonicus’s sons, with other chiefs. While the four sachems dined at the Governor’s house, which stood near the entrance to Pemberton Square, the chiefs, some twenty in all, dined at Cole’s Inn. At this time a treaty of peace was concluded here between the English and the Narragansetts.

In 1637, in the month of June, there sailed into Boston Harbor the ship Hector, from London, with the Rev. John Davenport and two London merchants, Theophilus Eaton and Edward Hopkins, his son-in-law, two future governors of Connecticut. On the same vessel was a young man, a ward of King Charles I., James, Lord Ley, a son of the Earl of Marlborough (who had just died). He was also to hold high positions in the future and attain fame as a mathematician and navigator.

The Earl of Marlborough, while in Boston, was at Cole’s Inn, and while he was here was of sober carriage and observant of the country which he came to view. He consorted frequently with Sir Henry Vane, visiting with him Maverick, at Noddle’s Island, and returning to England with Vane in August, 1637.

His estate in England was a small one in Teffont Evias, or Ewyas, Wilts, near Hinton Station, and in the church there may still be seen the tombs of the Leys. He also had a reversion to lands in Heywood, Wilts.

In 1649 he compounded with Parliament for his lands and giving bond was allowed to depart from England to the plantations in America.

On the restoration of Charles II. in 1661, the Earl returned to England and in the next year was assisted by the King to fit out an expedition to the West Indies. In 1665 he commanded “that huge ship,” the Old James, and in the great victorious sea fight of June 3 with the Dutch was slain, with Rear Admiral Sansum, Lords Portland, Muskerry, and others.

He died without issue and the title went to his uncle, in whom the title became extinct, to be revived later in the more celebrated Duke, of the Churchill family.

It was shortly after the Earl’s departure that Cole was disarmed for his sympathy for his neighbor on the south, Mrs. Ann Hutchinson, and he was also fined at the same time for disorders at his house. In the following spring he was given permission to sell his house, to which he had just built an addition, and he disposed of it to Capt. Robert Sedgwick in February, 1638.

Cole then removed to a house erroneously noted by some as the first inn, situated next his son-in-law, Edmund Grosse, near the shore on North Street. This he sold in 1645 to George Halsall and bought other land of Valentine Hill.

Although it was always known as Cole’s Inn, writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mentions it throughout his play “John Endicott,” but calls it the “The Three Mariners.” For example, from Act IV:

Now let us make a straight wake for the tavern Of the Three Mariners, Samuel Cole commander; Where we can take our ease, and see the shipping, And talk about old times.

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