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Captain John Smith, founder of the Colony of Virginia, is the first to bring to North America a knowledge of coffee in 1607—The coffee grinder on the Mayflower—Coffee drinking in 1668—William Penn's coffee purchase in 1683—Coffee in colonial New England—The psychology of the Boston "tea party," and why the United States became a nation of coffee drinkers instead of tea drinkers, like England—The first coffee license to Dorothy Jones in 1670—The first coffee house in New England—Notable coffee houses of old Boston—A skyscraper coffee house

Undoubtedly the first to bring a knowledge of coffee to North America was Captain John Smith, who founded the Colony of Virginia at Jamestown in 1607. Captain Smith became familiar with coffee in his travels in Turkey.

Although the Dutch also had early knowledge of coffee, it does not appear that the Dutch West India Company brought any of it to the first permanent settlement on Manhattan Island (1624). Nor is there any record of coffee in the cargo of the Mayflower (1620), although it included a wooden mortar and pestle, later used to make "coffee powder."

In the period when New York was New Amsterdam, and under Dutch occupancy (1624–64), it is possible that coffee may have been imported from Holland, where it was being sold on the Amsterdam market as early as 1640, and where regular supplies of the green bean were being received from Mocha in 1663; but positive proof is lacking. The Dutch appear to have brought tea across the Atlantic from Holland before coffee. The English may have introduced the coffee drink into the New York colony between 1664 and 1673. The earliest reference to coffee in America is 1668[87], at which time a beverage made from the roasted beans, and flavored with sugar or honey, and cinnamon, was being drunk in New York.

Coffee first appears in the official records of the New England colony in 1670. In 1683, the year following William Penn's settlement on the Delaware, we find him buying supplies of coffee in the New York market and paying for them at the rate of eighteen shillings and nine pence per pound.[88]

Coffee houses patterned after the English and Continental prototypes were soon established in all the colonies. Those of New York and Philadelphia are described in separate chapters. The Boston houses are described at the end of this chapter.

Norfolk, Chicago, St. Louis, and New Orleans also had them. Conrad Leonhard's coffee house at 320 Market Street. St. Louis, was famous for its coffee and coffee cake, from 1844 to 1905, when it became a bakery and lunch room, removing in 1919 to Eighth and Pine Streets.

In the pioneer days of the great west, coffee and tea were hard to get; and, instead of them, teas were often made from garden herbs, spicewood, sassafras-roots, and other shrubs, taken from the thickets[89]. In 1839, in the city of Chicago, one of the minor taverns was known as the Lake Street coffee house. It was situated at the corner of Lake and Wells Streets. A number of hotels, which in the English sense might more appropriately be called inns, met a demand for modest accommodation[90]. Two coffee houses were listed in the Chicago directories for 1843 and 1845, the Washington coffee house, 83 Lake Street; and the Exchange coffee house, Clarke Street between La Salle and South Water Streets.

Types of Colonial Coffee Roasters
Types of Colonial Coffee Roasters

The cylinder at the top of the picture was revolved by hand in the fireplace; the skillets were set in the smouldering ashes

The old-time coffee houses of New Orleans were situated within the original area of the city, the section bounded by the river, Canal Street, Esplanade Avenue and Rampart Street. In the early days most of the big business of the city was transacted in the coffee houses. The brûleau, coffee with orange juice, orange peel, and sugar, with cognac burned and mixed in it, originated in the New Orleans coffee house, and led to its gradual evolution into the saloon.

How the United States Became a Nation of Coffee Drinkers

Coffee, tea, and chocolate were introduced into North America almost simultaneously in the latter part of the seventeenth century. In the first half of the eighteenth century, tea had made such progress in England, thanks to the propaganda of the British East India Company, that, being moved to extend its use in the colonies, the directors turned their eyes first in the direction of North America. Here, however, King George spoiled their well-laid plans by his unfortunate stamp act of 1765, which caused the colonists to raise the cry of "no taxation without representation."

Although the act was repealed in 1766, the right to tax was asserted, and in 1767 was again used, duties being laid on paints, oils, lead, glass, and tea. Once more the colonists resisted; and, by refusing to import any goods of English make, so distressed the English manufacturers that Parliament repealed every tax save that on tea. Despite the growing fondness for the beverage in America, the colonists preferred to get their tea elsewhere to sacrificing their principles and buying it from England. A brisk trade in smuggling tea from Holland was started.

In a panic at the loss of the most promising of its colonial markets, the British East India Company appealed to Parliament for aid, and was permitted to export tea, a privilege it had never before enjoyed. Cargoes were sent on consignment to selected commissioners in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. The story of the subsequent happenings properly belongs in a book on tea. It is sufficient here to refer to the climax of the agitation against the fateful tea tax, because it is undoubtedly responsible for our becoming a nation of coffee drinkers instead of one of tea drinkers, like England.

An Early Family Coffee Roaster
An Early Family Coffee Roaster

This machine, known in Holland as a "Coffee Burner," was used late in the 18th century in New England. It hung in the fireplace or stood in the embers

The Boston "tea party" of 1773, when citizens of Boston, disguised as Indians, boarded the English ships lying in Boston harbor and threw their tea cargoes into the bay, cast the die for coffee; for there and then originated a subtle prejudice against "the cup that cheers", which one hundred and fifty years have failed entirely to overcome. Meanwhile, the change wrought in our social customs by this act, and those of like nature following it, in the New York, Pennsylvania, and Charleston colonies, caused coffee to be crowned "king of the American breakfast table", and the sovereign drink of the American people.

Historical Relics Associated With the Early Days of Coffee in New England
Historical Relics Associated With the Early Days of Coffee in New England

These exhibits are in the Museum of the Maine Historical Society at Portland. On the left is Kenrick's Patent coffee mill. In the center is a Britannia urn with an iron bar for heating the liquid. The bar was encased in a tin receptacle that hung inside the cover. On the right is a wall type of coffee or spice grinder

Coffee in Colonial New England

The history of coffee in colonial New England is so closely interwoven with the story of the inns and taverns that it is difficult to distinguish the genuine coffee house, as it was known in England, from the public house where lodgings and liquors were to be had. The coffee drink had strong competition from the heady wines, the liquors, and imported teas, and consequently it did not attain the vogue among the colonial New Englanders that it did among Londoners of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

Although New England had its coffee houses, these were actually taverns where coffee was only one of the beverages served to patrons. "They were", says Robinson, "generally meeting places of those who were conservative in their views regarding church and state, being friends of the ruling administration. Such persons were terms 'Courtiers' by their adversaries, the Dissenters and Republicans."

Most of the coffee houses were established in Boston, the metropolis of the Massachusetts Colony, and the social center of New England. While Plymouth, Salem, Chelsea, and Providence had taverns that served coffee, they did not achieve the name and fame of some of the more celebrated coffee houses in Boston.

It is not definitely known when the first coffee was brought in; but it is reasonable to suppose that it came as part of the household supplies of some settler (probably between 1660 and 1670), who had become acquainted with it before leaving England. Or it may have been introduced by some British officer, who in London had made the rounds of the more celebrated coffee houses of the latter half of the seventeenth century.

The First Coffee License

According to early town records of Boston, Dorothy Jones was the first to be licensed to sell "coffee and cuchaletto," the latter being the seventeenth-century spelling for chocolate or cocoa. This license is dated 1670, and is said to be the first written reference to coffee in the Massachusetts Colony. It is not stated whether Dorothy Jones was a vender of the coffee drink or of "coffee powder," as ground coffee was known in the early days.

The Mayflower "Coffee Grinder"
The Mayflower "Coffee Grinder"

Mortar and pestle for "braying" coffee to make coffee powder, brought over in the Mayflower by the parents of Peregrine White

There is some question as to whether Dorothy Jones was the first to sell coffee as a beverage in Boston. Londoners had known and drunk coffee for eighteen years before Dorothy Jones got her coffee license. British government officials were frequently taking ship from London to the Massachusetts Colony, and it is likely that they brought tidings and samples of the coffee the English gentry had lately taken up. No doubt they also told about the new-style coffee houses that were becoming popular in all parts of London. And it may be assumed that their tales caused the landlords of the inns and taverns of colonial Boston to add coffee to their lists of beverages.

New England's First Coffee House

The name coffee house did not come into use in New England until late in the seventeenth century. Early colonial records do not make it clear whether the London coffee house or the Gutteridge coffee house was the first to be opened in Boston with that distinctive title. In all likelihood the London is entitled to the honor, for Samuel Gardner Drake in his History and Antiquities of the City of Boston, published in 1854, says that "Benj. Harris sold books there in 1689." Drake seems to be the only historian of early Boston to mention the London coffee house.

Granting that the London coffee house was the first in Boston, then the Gutteridge coffee house was the second. The latter stood on the north side of State Street, between Exchange and Washington Streets, and was named after Robert Gutteridge, who took out an innkeeper's license in 1691. Twenty-seven years later, his widow, Mary Gutteridge, petitioned the town for a renewal of her late husband's permit to keep a public coffee house.

The British coffee house, which became the American coffee house when the crown officers and all things British became obnoxious to the colonists, also began its career about the time Gutteridge took out his license. It stood on the site that is now 66 State Street, and became one of the most widely known coffee houses in colonial New England.

Of course, there were several inns and taverns in existence in Boston long before coffee and coffee houses came to the New England metropolis. Some of these taverns took up coffee when it became fashionable in the colony, and served it to those patrons who did not care for the stronger drinks.

The Crown Coffee House, Boston
The Crown Coffee House, Boston

One of the first in New England to bear the distinctive name of coffee house; opened in 1711 and burned down in 1780

The earliest known inn was set up by Samuel Cole in Washington Street, midway between Faneuil Hall and State Street. Cole was licensed as a "comfit maker" in 1634, four years after the founding of Boston; and two years later, his inn was the temporary abiding place of the Indian chief Miantonomoh and his red warriors, who came to visit Governor Vane. In the following year, the Earl of Marlborough found that Cole's inn was so "exceedingly well governed," and afforded so desirable privacy, that he refused the hospitality of Governor Winthrop at the governor's mansion.

Coffee Making and Serving Devices Used in the Massachusetts Colony
Coffee Making and Serving Devices Used in the Massachusetts Colony

These exhibits are in the Museum of the Essex Institute at Salem, Mass. Top row, left and right, Britannia serving pots; center, Britannia table urn; bottom row, left end, tin coffee making pot; center, Britannia serving pots; right end, tin French drip pot

Another popular inn of the day was the Red Lyon, which was opened in 1637 by Nicholas Upshall, the Quaker, who later was hanged for trying to bribe a jailer to pass some food into the jail to two Quakeresses who were starving within.

Ship tavern, erected in 1650, at the corner of North and Clark Streets, then on the waterfront, was a haunt of British government officials. The father of Governor Hutchinson was the first landlord, to be succeeded in 1663 by John Vyal. Here lived the four commissioners who were sent to these shores by King Charles II to settle the disputes then beginning between the colonies and England.

Another lodging and eating place for the gentlemen of quality in the first days of Boston was the Blue Anchor, in Cornhill, which was conducted in 1664 by Robert Turner. Here gathered members of the government, visiting officials, jurists, and the clergy, summoned into synod by the Massachusetts General Court. It is assumed that the clergy confined their drinking to coffee and other moderate beverages, leaving the wines and liquors to their confrères.

Some Notable Boston Coffee Houses

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century quite a number of taverns and inns sprang up. Among the most notable that have obtained recognition in Boston's historical records were the King's Head, at the corner of Fleet and North Streets; the Indian Queen, on a passageway leading from Washington Street to Hawley Street; the Sun, in Faneuil Hall Square, and the Green Dragon, which became one of the most celebrated coffee-house taverns.

The King's Head, opened in 1691, early became a rendezvous of crown officers and the citizens in the higher strata of colonial society.

The Indian Queen also became a favorite resort of the crown officers from Province House. Started by Nathaniel Bishop about 1673, it stood for more than 145 years as the Indian Queen, and then was replaced by the Washington coffee house, which became noted throughout New England as the starting place for the Roxbury "hourlies," the stage coaches that ran every hour from Boston to nearby Roxbury.

Coffee Devices that Figured in the Pioneering of the Great West
Coffee Devices that Figured in the Pioneering of the Great West

Photographed for this work in the Museum of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Left to right, English decorated tin pot; coffee and spice mill from Lexington, Mass.; Globe roaster built by Rays & Wilcox Co., Berlin, Conn., under Wood's patent; sheet brass coffee mill from Lexington, Mass.; John Luther's coffee mill, Warren, R.I.; cast-iron hopper mill

The Sun tavern lived a longer life than any other Boston inn. Started in 1690 in Faneuil Hall Square, it was still standing in 1902, according to Henry R. Blaney; but has since been razed to make way for a modern skyscraper.

Metal and China Coffee Pots Used in New England's Colonial Days
Metal and China Coffee Pots Used in New England's Colonial Days

From the collection in the Museum of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield, Mass.

New England's Most Famous Coffee House

The Green Dragon, the last of the inns that were popular at the close of the seventeenth century, was the most celebrated of Boston's coffee-house taverns. It stood on Union Street, in the heart of the town's business center, for 135 years, from 1697 to 1832, and figured in practically all the important local and national events during its long career. Red-coated British soldiers, colonial governors, bewigged crown officers, earls and dukes, citizens of high estate, plotting revolutionists of lesser degree, conspirators in the Boston Tea Party, patriots and generals of the Revolution—all these were wont to gather at the Green Dragon to discuss their various interests over their cups of coffee, and stronger drinks. In the words of Daniel Webster, this famous coffee-house tavern was the "headquarters of the Revolution." It was here that Warren, John Adams, James Otis, and Paul Revere met as a "ways and means committee" to secure freedom for the American colonies. Here, too, came members of the Grand Lodge of Masons to hold their meetings under the guidance of Warren, who was the first grand master of the first Masonic lodge in Boston. The site of the old tavern, now occupied by a business block, is still the property of the St. Andrew's Lodge of Free Masons. The old tavern was a two-storied brick structure with a sharply pitched roof. Over its entrance hung a sign bearing the figure of a green dragon.

The Green Dragon, the Center of Social and Political Life in Boston for 135 Years
The Green Dragon, the Center of Social and Political Life in Boston for 135 Years

This tavern figured in practically all the important national affairs from 1697 to 1832, and, according to Daniel Webster, was the "headquarters of the Revolution"

Patrons of the Green Dragon and the British coffee house were decidedly opposed in their views on the questions of the day. While the Green Dragon was the gathering place of the patriotic colonials, the British was the rendezvous of the loyalists, and frequent were the encounters between the patrons of these two celebrated taverns. It was in the British coffee house that James Otis was so badly pummeled, after being lured there by political enemies, that he never regained his former brilliancy as an orator.

It was there, in 1750, that some British red coats staged the first theatrical entertainment given in Boston, playing Otway's Orphan. There, the first organization of citizens to take the name of a club formed the Merchants' Club in 1751. The membership included officers of the king, colonial governors and lesser officials, military and naval leaders, and members of the bar, with a sprinkling of high-ranking citizens who were staunch friends of the crown. However, the British became so generally disliked that as soon as the king's troops evacuated Boston in the Revolution, the name of the coffee house was changed to the American.

The Bunch of Grapes, that Francis Holmes presided over as early as 1712, was another hot-bed of politicians. Like the Green Dragon over the way, its patrons included unconditional freedom seekers, many coming from the British coffee house when things became too hot for them in that Tory atmosphere. The Bunch of Grapes became the center of a stirring celebration in 1776, when a delegate from Philadelphia read the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the inn to the crowd assembled in the street below. So enthusiastic did the Bostonians become that, in the excitement that followed, the inn was nearly destroyed when one enthusiast built a bonfire too close to its walls. Another anecdote told of the Bunch of Grapes concerns Sir William Phipps, governor of Massachusetts from 1692–94, who was noted for his irascibility. He had his favorite chair and window in the inn, and in the accounts of the period it is written that on any fine afternoon his glowering countenance could be seen at the window by the passers-by on State Street.

After the beginning of the eighteenth century the title of coffee house was applied to a number of hostelries opened in Boston. One of these was the Crown, which was opened in the "first house on Long Wharf" in 1711 by Jonathan Belcher, who later became governor of Massachusetts, and still later of New Jersey. The first landlord of the Crown was Thomas Selby, who by trade was a periwig maker, but probably found the selling of strong drink and coffee more profitable. Selby's coffee house was also used as an auction room. The Crown stood until 1780, when it was destroyed in a fire that swept the Long Wharf. On its site now stands the Fidelity Trust Company at 148 State Street.

Another early Boston coffee house on State Street was the Royal Exchange. How long it had been standing before it was first mentioned in colonial records in 1711 is unknown. It occupied an ancient two-story building, and was kept in 1711 by Benjamin Johns. This coffee house became the starting place for stage coaches running between Boston and New York, the first one leaving September 7, 1772. In the Columbian Centinel of January 1, 1800, appeared an advertisement in which it was said: "New York and Providence Mail Stage leaves Major Hatches' Royal Exchange Coffee House in State Street every morning at 8 o'clock."

In the latter half of the eighteenth century the North-End coffee house was celebrated as the highest-class coffee house in Boston. It occupied the three-storied brick mansion which had been built about 1740 by Edward Hutchinson, brother of the noted governor. It stood on the west side of North Street, between Sun Court and Fleet Street, and was one of the most pretentious of its kind. An eighteenth century writer, in describing this coffee-house mansion, made much of the fact that it had forty-five windows and was valued at $4,500, a large sum for those days. During the Revolution, Captain David Porter, father of Admiral David D. Porter, was the landlord, and under him it became celebrated throughout the city as a high-grade eating place. The advertisements of the North-End coffee house featured its "dinners and suppers—small and retired rooms for small company—oyster suppers in the nicest manner."

Metal Coffee Pots Used in the New York Colony
Metal Coffee Pots Used in the New York Colony

Left, tin coffee pot, dark brown, with "love apple" decoration in red, New Jersey Historical Society, Newark; right, weighted bottom tin pot with rose decoration, private owner

A "Skyscraper" Coffee House

The Boston coffee-house period reached its height in 1808, when the doors of the Exchange coffee house were thrown open after three years of building. This structure, situated on Congress Street near State Street, was the skyscraper of its day, and probably was the most ambitious coffee-house project the world has known. Built of stone, marble, and brick, it stood seven stories high, and cost a half-million dollars. Charles Bulfinch, America's most noted architect of that period, was the designer.

Exchange Coffee House, Boston, 1808, Probably the Largest and Most Costly in the World
Exchange Coffee House, Boston, 1808, Probably the Largest and Most Costly in the World

Built of stone, marble and brick, it stood seven stories high and cost $500,000. It was patterned after Lloyd's of London, and was the center of marine intelligence in Boston

Like Lloyd's coffee house in London, the Exchange was the center of marine intelligence, and its public rooms were thronged all day and evening with mariners, naval officers, ship and insurance brokers, who had come to talk shop or to consult the records of ship arrivals and departures, manifests, charters, and other marine papers. The first floor of the Exchange was devoted to trading. On the next floor was the large dining room, where many sumptuous banquets were given, notably the one to President Monroe in July, 1817, which was attended by former President John Adams, and by many generals, commodores, governors, and judges. The other floors were given over to living and sleeping rooms, of which there were more than 200. The Exchange coffee house was destroyed by fire in 1818; and on its site was erected another, bearing the same name, but having slight resemblance to its predecessor.

Coffee Pot

The reception took place April 23, 1789, one week before his inauguration. From a painting by Charles P. Gruppe, owned by the author