Friday, August 7, 2015

Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part II: Tapsters in a Time of Crisis

This post was written by library volunteer Victoria Bohm
As the 18th century came and progressed, the ever increasing rules, regulations, and taxes imposed on the British Colonies by King George II and III, including those on tapsters and liquor, incited the revolutionary spirit. Taverns and inns were more than pre-Motel 6 accommodations for travelers, they were meeting places and conference centers for business, economics, and politics. As the fateful decade of the 1770s rolled around, various taverns took center stage in Schenectady.
Engraving of "Washington's Farewell to His Officers" by Alonzo Chappel. After the British evacuated New York, Fraunces Tavern in New York City hosted a dinner where General George Washington bade farewell to his officers of the Continental Army.  
Though laws had been passed from the mid-17th century on forbidding the sale of trade of liquor to the Native Americans, such statutes were not always followed or enforced. With the French and Indian Wars a memory very much alive, the Committee of Correspondence feted the Oneida Tribe at the William White Tavern in Schenectady in order to curry favor and keep the Oneida from joining or aiding the British. The party favors must have worked because most of the Oneida with the Colonists while other Indian Nations sided with the British. After the War, two treaties were signed by Chief Shenendoah in 1794: the Veteran’s Treaty which acknowledged the Oneida as fighting allies of the Americans, and the Canandaigua Treaty which recognized sovereignty, land rights, and tax freedoms of the Oneida.

Schenectady tavern owner Robert Clench came to America to work under British General Braddock. During the French and Indian War, Clench got to know a certain soldier well during the French and Indian Wars, one George Washington. After the War, Clench married Hannah Vernor in Pennsylvania, had six children, moved to Schenectady in the late 1760’s, bought a tavern named the “Sign of the Crossed Keys”, became a church warden for St. George’s Episcopal Church, and made himself a prominent and respected citizen. Clench’s tavern hosted town meetings, assembly meetings, and saw the St. George Lodge of the Masonic Order formed there in 1774. But all was not well or properly patriotic in the Clench family. In 1776, Robert Clench was reported to the Committee of Safety for statements unbecoming a truly patriotic American. In 1777, he was branded a “dangerous person,” though he declared himself ready to fight in the face of an invasion. When he failed to show up to take the Oath of Allegiance, the Commissioner of Conspiracies went after him. The Committee of Correspondence and the Masons of St. George Lodge decided to move their meetings out of Clench’s Tavern. Finally, in mid-1778, Robert Clench took the Oath. Robert’s son Robert’s son, Ralph, on the other hand, joined the British forces, seeing action under General Burgoyne and with Butler’s Rangers.

New York State Historic Marker showing the location of Clench's Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle photo collection.
Robert Clench died in 1781. His widow Hannah ran the business for a while, then his son Thomas Barton Clench took over. George Washington even visited the tavern in 1782 and 1783, and the Masons thought the tavern once again patriotically respectable enough to resume their meetings there in 1782. After the tavern burned in 1819, Thomas Clench ran a tavern out of the old Arendt Bradt House.
The Revolutionary War did not curtail the tavern/inn business. Records of the Schenectady Committee of Safety from 1777 show a list of those called upon to make sure their licenses were valid and to pay their excise taxes. Reuben Simonds was among those names. Simonds took over the tavern on Church Street from Jonathan Odgen in 1762, already known as a gathering place for patriots. Simonds duly answered the Committee’s summons and paid for his license. The Simonds Tavern continued to be partial to patriots. Reuben himself enlisted and served in the 2nd Albany County Militia. When a fire in 1807 burned Simonds tavern, Theodore Burr’s Mohawk Engineers each gave a day’s work in order to rebuild Simonds’ tavern, allowing Simonds to move back in the day after the fire.
List of Schenectady residents allowed to keep a tavern. From the "Minutes of the Schenectady Committee, 1775-1779." Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.

Between 1762 and 1772, Charles Doyle ran a tavern on Union Street frequented by those known to have Loyalist sympathies. The tavern was next to the Colonial Barracks which housed English Militia men. By the time the Revolutionary War began in earnest, the place had been bought by John Duncan. John and his son Richard Duncan were known to have Loyalist sympathies. Richard was a captain under Sir John Johnson, and after the War both John and Richard managed to remain in Schenectady and hold on to their property. When Duncan’s tavern was demolished, it was discovered to be riddled with secret doors, stairways, and partitions which made it perfect for the comings and goings spies and couriers.

Though most taverns in Schenectady and its surrounding area boast no documented historic even or person during the Revolutionary War, some may simply and proudly boast of their historic standing by standing the test of time. Built in colonial times, surviving the tumult of the Revolution, and still standing through the change of hands and purpose into the 20th century, two are well worth mentioning, the Swart and the Vedder taverns.

Painting of Swart House and Tavern in Glenville. Courtesy of the Schenectady History Museum.
Josias Swart obtained a land grant in 1713 near the Mohawk River in Glenville and proceeded to build a large brick structure which was to be both home and tavern in 1735. One entrance served the tavern, another served the private home. Teunis Swart served as an ensign in the 2nd Regiment of the Albany County Militia, with a great many more family members serving as enlisted men. Swart’s tavern survived the war and into the 20th century as one of the oldest remaining structures of the region. The name-dropping event for the Swart Tavern was the visit by Dewitt Clinton in 1810 on an inspection trip prior to the building of the Erie Canal.

Wine Barrel found in the cellar of the Swart Tavern. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Clinton would also visit a nearby tavern owned by the Vedder family. The long-standing tavern run by the long-standing Schenectady family Vedder stood on the Amsterdam-Schenectady Road a few miles outside of Schenectady.  Even older than the Swart Tavern, the original structure, built of brick in Dutch fashion, saw at least two additions and a stucco overlay.  The tavern was also known to quarter slaves in two large rooms in the cellar. Many of Schenectady’s first (and second) families owned slaves well into the 1800s. The Vedder family supplied the American troops with many soldiers, their names in the New York State Militia Rolls as enlisted men and with Lieutenants A.S. Vedder, Philip Vedder, Albert Vedder, and Francis Vedder. Revolutionary War hero Albert A. Vedder is buried in the Vedder burial site on the former family homestead.

Photo of the Vedder Tavern in Glenville, NY. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photo Collection.
Whether slaking the thirst of the British or the Americans, the taverns of Schenectady and its environs provided food, drink, shelter, rest, and company for centuries in war time as well as peace time. More information about the taverns, inns, brews, and breweries of the Schenectady region, as well as the families involved with all such activities, may be found in Grems-Doolittle Library at the Schenectady County Historical Society

Stay tuned for our next installment of the taverns and inns of Schenectady where we cover some of Schenectady’s popular taverns during the 1800s.

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