It was 1769, and members of Virginia’s colonial legislature, the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, were chafing against the Royal Governor, Lord Botetourt. He dissolved their assembly, so they took a short walk from the Capitol down Duke of Gloucester Street to the Raleigh Tavern. It wouldn’t be the last time Members met there, openly or otherwise.
In 1773, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and other patriots held a secret meeting at the Raleigh Tavern to form a committee of correspondence. These committees were groups of patriots in different colonies. They kept each other informed about events and coordinated responses as America moved closer to Revolution. Committees of correspondence played a key role in America’s winning independence from Britain.
In May 1774, Burgesses once again found refuge at Raleigh Tavern. The Royal Governor this time around, Lord Dunmore, had dissolved them in response to their resolutions against the Boston Port Act. Britain had closed the vital Port as punishment for the Boston Tea Party.
The Raleigh was one of the largest taverns in colonial Virginia. It is also one of the most significant in American history, thanks to meetings like these.
The original Tavern was built by 1735. It is named after Sir Walter Raleigh, who founded the lost colony of Roanoke in what is now North Carolina.
In addition to Revolutionary meetings, the Tavern hosted balls and banquets, as well as the usual drinking and gambling.
It remained in continual use until an arsonist destroyed it in 1859. In 1931, it became the first building reconstructed and opened as part of Colonial Williamsburg.
note: The Raleigh Tavern today is a museum with guided tours, not an operating restaurant. To visit, you will need a Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket. Discounts are available for Williamsburg residents.
Raleigh Tavern does however maintain a working Bakery, where you can find drinks and light snacks during the day, including Williamsburg’s popular ginger cakes.
If you would like a full tavern meal, the King’s Arms Tavern is across Duke of Gloucester Street, and Chowning’s Tavern is a short walk down the Street toward Merchant Square (away from the Capitol).