July 7

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Packet (July 7, 1773).

“To be lett, THE CITY TAVERN.”

The City Tavern became a landmark in Philadelphia during the era of the American Revolution, but in 1773 it was a new structure that awaited a tenant to oversee its operations.  An advertisement in the July 7 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal described the location “in one of the principal Streets, near the Center of the Town” and described the grand edifice, including the spacious rooms and the lofty ceilings.  Over time, the City Tavern rivaled the London Coffee House as a meeting place for merchants to socialize and conduct business.  Members of the Continental Congress dined at the City Tavern, as did delegates to the Constitutional Convention.  Notable men and women, including George and Martha Washington and John and Abigail Adams, stayed at the City Tavern.  Residents of Philadelphia and visitors to the city alike gathered, dined, and danced at the City Tavern both during the American Revolution and during the decade that Philadelphia served as the capital of the new nation.

What were the origins of such a storied venue?  Why was the “most convenient and elegant structure of its kind in America” in need of a host to run the establishment in the summer of 1773?  Some of the most elite residents of Philadelphia, the largest and most prosperous city in the colonies, determined that their growing metropolis needed “a genteel club the equal of any in England” to serve as “the center of business by day and entertainment at night.”  As the advertisement in the Pennsylvania Journal explained, “the Proprietors have built this tavern without any view of profit, but merely for the convenience and credit of the city.”  The prestige associated with the city having such an establishment was profit enough.  Samuel Powel, a prominent merchant and politician, donated the land.  Seven trustees set about raising funds by subscription, convincing fifty-three subscribers to contribute at least twenty-five pounds each.  In total, they raised more than three thousand pounds for the building.

Once construction was complete, the proprietors needed someone with an “active, obliging disposition” who would certainly “find it in his interest” to oversee operations at the new City Tavern.  They hoped to engage a tenant who would open the tavern to patrons in September.  The proprietors selected Daniel Smith.  In an advertisement in the February 14, 1774, edition of the Pennsylvania Packet, Smith promoted the “genteel Coffee Room … properly supplied with English and American papers and magazines,” the “goodness of his wines and larder,” “several elegant bed rooms, detached from noise,” and the “best livery stables.”  He set about delivering on the “stile of a London tavern” as intended by the proprietors and subscribers who first envisioned the City Tavern as a marker of Philadelphia’s cultural status.

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