Historical Research Packet on the Colchester Inn

  • ORIGINAL TEXT Significance: At the end of the eighteenth century this tavern elicited the warmest praise from the Englishman, John Davis who was a visitor in the household of the Ellicott family in Occoquan. Davis wrote as an habitue who frequently enjoyed the food and drink dispensed therein: On the side of this bridge stands a tavern, where every luxury that money can purchase is to be obtained at the first summons: where the richest viands cover the table and where ice cools the Madiera that has been thrice across the ocean. The apartments are numerous and at the same time spacious; carpets of delicate texture cover the floors, and glasses are suspended from the walls in which a Goliath might survey himself. No man can be more complaisant than the landlord. Enter but his house with money in your pocket and his features will soften into the blandishments of delight; call and your mandate is obeyed; extend your leg and the bootjack is brought you.
  • AUDIENCE the audience can be broken down into two groups. The primary and secondary. The primary audience is Englishmen who live in Occoquan in the eighteenth century. Englishmen who are interested in a place to stay with decent hospitality, exceptional hospitality even, would read noted from John Davis. Davis was a local who was visiting the house of Ellicott in Occoquan, VA. He didn’t stay at the inn but the bar located inside was enough to make him a constant patron. He enjoyed the food as well as the drinks provided at the Colchester Inn. With this much detail it almost seems like an advertisement for the Inn itself. Appealing to the Englishmen who would see it. The inn was popular with the locals who lived close to it. The secondary audience would be Englishmen who were visiting Occoquan. Davis’s notes would serve as an adequate advertisement for visitors of the town. We know was John would say because of his notes on the Inn but most of the time this information would be passed to the travelers by word of mouth. Travelers who needed a a more than decent place to stay, according to eighteenth century standards, would go the Colchester Inn as the locals would recommend them to do, and then they would be greeted with exceptional food and a luxurious room. They could even expect an ice cold drink. They would also get treated with great hospitality to the point that they may consider staying longer than they expected to. The decor of the inn may also bring in patrons who appreciate well and thought out interior design. The apartments are large and can hold multiple patrons in one room. The carpets were beautiful on the floors of the rooms and the glasses on the walls were suspended high and beautifully.

Revised Text

Colchester is a town that was established in 1753 by the Virginia Assembly. Located on the King’s Highway which ran from Boston, Massachusetts to Williamsburg, Virginia. Colchester became a popular port town where Englishmen would dock and get acquainted with early America. Colcheter’s main export was tobacco as was such with most Virginian towns.  When a traveler enters a town, whether it’s their site of business taking place or they are weary from their constant travels, they would check into what they call an “Inn” which is what is modernly referred to as a hotel. The Fairfax Arms was a tavern that the locals and businessmen would go to get a decent drink and to converse with each other in a safe and lighthearted place. John Davis, who was staying with a local named Ellicott that lived in Colchester at the height if its business. Davis wrote in a note “On the side of this bridge stands a tavern, where every luxury that money can purchase is to be obtained at the first summons: where the richest viands cover the table and where ice cools the Madiera that has been thrice across the ocean. The apartments are numerous and at the same time spacious; carpets of delicate texture cover the floors, and glasses are suspended from the walls in which a Goliath might survey himself. No man can be more complaisant than the landlord. Enter but his house with money in your pocket and his features will soften into the blandishments of delight; call and your mandate is obeyed; extend your leg and the bootjack is brought you.” Davis ranted and raved about how homely and cozy the Fairfax Arms Tavern was meaning that the place was put together enough to have business booming at the tavern. The Fairfax Arms tavern was visited by many travelers, one of which was George Washington who was a regular at the tavern and even brought some troops with him as they were taveling to the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. On May 17, 1756 Benjamin Grayson purchased a lot where the Fairfax Arms Tavern was built. He did not run the tavern however, he had William Linton rent the property and become the manager of the tavern. William had the licenses to run the tavern and also had financial backing from an attorney named Hugh West. West was an established landowner who had a wealthy inheritance from his family as well as a successful tobacco businessman. It’s known that the tavern existed because their were multiple receipts and records of purchases from the local Colchester store owned by John Glassford and Company. Numerous purchases were made from the Colchester stored in 1761. One of these purchases was a tea kettle, which speaks a lot to the patrons of the tavern in that time period. Tea was a huge export in the eighteenth century because everyone in that time loved tea. To have an establishment that had any type of comfort, tea had to be offered. The candlesticks consistently bought was another effort made by Linton to make the tavern as comforting and homely as possible for the patrons of the tavern. Linton owned a slave named Negro Jack. Jack even had an account with the general store to get items for the tavern but mostly buying rum. He also bought nails and hinges for the cabinets and the doors in Fairfax Arms Tavern. The only other slave with an account at the Colchester store was Negro Sue. She belonged to Benjamin Grayson who originally owned the land the tavern. Sue bought a chest and a lock from the store and paid for it with livetsock like chickens and ducks and crops like cabbage. Grayson, ran into some financial struggles in 1762 which caused him to sell the property the Fairfax Arms was located on. Ownership of the land then switched to Hector Ross in 1772. In 1773 the land was bought from Ross by Alexander Henderson, who was the manager and owner of the Colchester store that Linton frequented for his supplies in 1761. With the transfer of ownership and management, the Fairfax Arms Tavern began to provide other services than just the regular food, drink, and lodging it had done previously. Since William Thompson and Alexander Henderson were the town of Colchester’s postmasters, it was likely believed that they began running that operation from inside the Fairfax Arms Tavern. Henderson then sold the property to Thompson in July of 1784. He listed the property for sale in the Virginia Journal and Alexandria Advertising. He had troubling selling the property however; he couldn’t sell the property in his lifetime and ended up dying while he was in possession of the tavern. Before he died he had added two parts to the tavern. He added horse stables to the tavern as well as a meat house. The tavern began to look like a homestead. The horse stables were added so that the patrons would have a place for their living transportation animals to stay while they were staying at the tavern or getting something to drink during their travels. The meat house was so that the Fairfax Arms Taverns could expand their menu from just tea to more complex dishes that included meat for the patrons. The Fairfax Arms Tavern by the time Thompson died, had a spacious cellar, four rooms on the floor with the fireplace, a kitchen next to the fireplace, a room at one end lathed and plastered, glass windows, stable for eight horses and a meat house, and a garden well enclosed. The tavern today is one of the only two original buildings built in Colchester in 1760’s still standing. The building represents an important time period in Colchester dating back to colonial America. It serves as a colonial time capsule located in Virginia. The Fairfax Arms was included in the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1933 and was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1979. On a building is a plaque acknowledging it’s registration as a historical landmark located in Colchester. 

Significance

The significance of the Colchester Inn apparent to any historian who may come across the records of it. It’s a time capsule of Colonial America during the time of the American Revolution. George Washington visited the town frequently and even took some of his troops to the Fairfax Arms Tavern on the way to their battle at Yorktown in 1781. So not only was this a specific time capsule that showed the way of life along with the habits of the people living in Colonial America but George Washington himself visited the inn. George Washington being the first U.S. President meant that any place he went of is of utmost importance to the history of America. The Inn is also important because the first manager, William Linton, is first cousins removed from James Monroe the fifth president of the United States. It’s also significant because we get insight on how slaves were treated in Colchester. It was uncommon to have slaves back then as a poor person, if someone possessed had one then they were probably well off close to what would be considered middle class for back then. There were only two slaves in the town of Colchester. They had simple tasks like going to the Colchester Store ran by Alexander Henderson to buy certain goods for their masters. Without Henderson’s store records it would be unknown if their were slaves living in Colchester or not. Another point of significance is that the business practices in Colonial America are similar to the business practices of today meaning that business has relatively stayed the same over the years. Acquiring Licensing from the sovereign power in the area, the need for investors in the beginning of the business, selling the business and buying it. The trouble that comes with maintaining a business and then eventually it closing. It’s also significant in knowing how the buildings were built in that time. Centuries later and people still use nails and hinges to build things. Cellars and rooms dedicated for servants aren’t really too common in present day. Another significant point about the inn was that it was mentioned how much tea was an essential for comfort for the Englishmen, it kinda highlights the gravity of how devastating the Boston Tea Party was at the start of the American Revolution. For it to be that essential to the lives of Englishmen, no wonder tensions ran at a record high between Americans and Englishmen.

Citations 

Nye, R., 2021. The Fairfax Arms: The Place to Be. [online] Projects.cah.ucf.edu. Available at: <https://projects.cah.ucf.edu/economyofgoods/index.php/2018/09/07/the-fairfax-arms-the-place-to-be/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

Loc.gov. 2021. Colchester Inn, 10712 Old Colchester Road, Lorton, Fairfax County, VA. [online] Available at: <https://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/hh/item/va0432/> [Accessed 6 December 2021].

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