The Blue Anchor Tavern

The Blue Anchor Tavern, Philadelphia

Located later at Front Street and Dock Creek (Dock Street), the Blue Anchor Tavern stood for more than two centuries and served as a place of hospitality and refreshment for ship captains, tradesmen, and the entrepreneurs of the growing city of Philadelphia. It’s original location in Philadelphia is different, however, and it’s history provides one of the first cases of eminent domain in America.

by Thomas Allen Glenn

While it is the privilege of story-tellers, as Sir Walter Scott observes in the opening chapter of ” Kenilworth,” to commence their tale at an inn, it is compulsory in the historian to begin the annals of the city of Philadelphia with a tavern.

At the time of the arrival of Penn’s company the site of our city and immediate neighborhood was not nearly so great a wilderness as some writers would have us imagine. There was, indeed, a very respectable sort of settlement here, serving for a convenient basis of communication with the more western trading-posts on the Schuylkill River, which had been established long before by the agents of that great trading monopoly, the Dutch West India Company.

For many years previous to William Penn’s proprietorship there had been at Philadelphia (later so called) a constant landing of traders and of those inhabitants of West Jersey who were accustomed to go down to the sea in ships. The favorite landing-place was on the bank of the Delaware, between the present Walnut and Dock Streets, and it was directly back of this landing, on the higher bluff, that the Blue Anchor Tavern was subsequently built.

There were other stopping-places along the north Delaware serving a similar purpose, and at these landings or trading-posts it was the custom to establish ordinaries. In the year 1671 it was proposed by Captain Carr, on behalf of the townspeople of New Castle, and Plantations on Delaware, to the Governor and Council, ” That ye number of Victuallrs or Tappers of Strong Drink be ascertained. That is to say. Three only for ye Towue & some few up ye River, who ye Officrs shall think fitt k approve.” Of the “some few up ye River,” the Blue Anchor Tavern became one.

So far as can be ascertained at present, the first owner was one Captain William Dare, and there can be no doubt whatever that he was the landlord, if not “mine host,” when Penn arrived there in the fall of 1682.

Of this Captain William Dare it is known that he was a master mariner and afterwards a resident of Cohansey, West Jersey, where he became in time quite a prominent person. It seems probable that he came originally from New England, for we find that he had a release from Charles Pickering, attorney for William Wright, of Boston, for all debts due the said Wright, June 26, 1693.1

The first building known as the Blue Anchor Tavern was of brick, was sixteen feet front by about thirty-six feet long, and stood directly in the middle of the present Front Street, then Delaware Front Street, about one hundred and forty-six feet north of Dock Creek, now Dock Street.2 In front of the Blue Anchor was the primitive wharf whereat Penn came ashore on his arrival from Chester, and which he erected into a public landing-place for the inhabitants of Philadelphia forever.

On the 18th of January, 1682 (0. S., 1683 N.S.), William Dare sold the Blue Anchor Tavern to Colonel Edward Hill, of Shirley, on the James River, Virginia.3 No land was conveyed, only the building, the grantor never having acquired any title to the land upon which it stood.

Colonel Edward Hill, whose tomb with armorial bearings the writer has seen in the fields at Shirley, and whose portrait yet hangs upon the walls of that ancient colonial mansion, was a member of the Virginia Council, and exceedingly wealthy and influential. The deed to Colonel Edward Hill conveys simply “one house being & standing in the City of Philadelphia in the said province knowne by the name of the blue anchor.”

It is not probable that Colonel Hill ever personally dispensed liquors at the Blue Anchor bar during his ownership, which it may be presumed was in some way because of his old trading connections with the Dutch and Swedes on the Delaware.

By a deed recorded “20th of ye 9th month, 1684” (recited in next deed). Colonel Edward Hill, “for and in consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds sterling to him in hand paid,” conveyed the Blue Anchor Tavern to Griffith Jones, of the city of Philadelphia, merchant, who held it until 1686.

When Griffith Jones took title to the tavern from Colonel Hill, in 1683, as in the former deed, no land was conveyed. He simply came into possession of a brick house “knowne by the name of the blue anchor,” and standing directly in the middle of Delaware Front Street, which it probably obstructed to a serious extent, and right in front of the public landing-place on the bank of the Delaware. There appears, however, to have been some agreement as to a lot to move the house upon at an early date, Griffith Jones obtaining from Penn, by warrant of Sixth month 24, 1683, and survey of Tenth month 4, 1684, a lot of land almost directly back of the tavern, on the west side of Front Street, for the purpose of rebuilding on. The Patent of Confirmation, Penn to Griffith Jones, for this lot, dated Fifth month 16, 1684, recorded Eighth month 16, 1684, recites that:

“Whereas there is a Lott of land in the County of Philadelphia, containing in breadth sixteen foot to remove the blew ancor house upon being the breadth of the sd house & in length on the North side of the sd Lott from Delaware Front street to the Swamp fourty three foot and from the swamp to the front street, on the south side of the sd Lott thirty Six foot, bounded northward with a vacant Lott, Eastward wth the Delaware Front Street, Southward wth George Bartholomew to the house [log-house] and westward to the Swamp.”4

By deed of Third month 16, 1686,5 recorded Fifth month 7 (July), 1686, Griffith Jones sold the Blue Anchor Tavern to one George Bartholomew, of Philadelphia, carpenter. This deed recites that:

“Wheras by one deed poll of assignment bearing date ye 18th January, 1682, William Dare, then resident in the said province [Pennsylvania] did Bargain Sell Sett over and Lett unto Colonel Edward Hill, of Virginia, his heirs. Execs., Administs. & assigns for ever One house being & standing in the City of Philadelphia in the said province, knowne by the name of the blue anchor and that for the Consideration in the said deed poll exprest — the same containing Warrantie & severall other clauses therein — and also he the said Edward Hill for and in consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds sterling to him in hand paid by the said Griffith Jones, did grant, bargain, sell, assign and make over to him the said Griffith Jones, his heirs & assignment, The above mentioned assignment and also Wm. Penn, Proprietarie — of the Province of Pennsilvania, by his letters patent of Confirmation, — did confirm unto the said Griffith Jones — a certain Lott of Land in the said Coantie, containing in breadth sixteen foot (To remove the blue anchor house upon, Being the breadth of the said house) and in Lengthe on the northside of the said Lott from Delaware front street to the Swamp fourtie Three foot, & from the Swamp to the Front Street on the south side of the said Lott, Thirttie Six foot, Bounded Northward with a vacant Lott, Eastward with Delaware Front Street, Southward with the said George Bartholomew’s Logg-house, westward with the swamp, situated between Wallnutt street on the north, and Spruce street on the South.”

It will be observed from the above that George Bartholomew owned other land, — namely, a twenty-foot lot once the property of James Boyden, south of the Blue Anchor, and towards Dock Creek, there being also several other owners between his south line and the creek bank, placing the site of the first tavern, as before stated, at the distance of about one hundred and forty-six feet from the then bank of the Dock Creek. Bartholomew also acquired a rear lot, back of the tavern, and running into the swamp.

All of this property, including the Blue Anchor, — which we may safely conclude was moved back from the street soon after Bartholomew purchased it, — he mortgaged. Fourth month 3 (June), 1686 [Deed Book E 1, Vol. 5, p. 864], to Griffith Jones, and dying soon after, insolvent, his widow reconveyed the tavern property to Griffith Jones, together with the other mortgaged land, who by deed August 6, 1690 [Sixth month 19, according to another recital], sold the same to Thomas Budd, who also acquired the remaining land to the Dock Creek, whereupon he gradually demolished the old buildings and erected a row of timber and brick houses called in after-times “Budd’s Long Row.” Into the southernmost house of the row the Blue Anchor Tavern was moved, so that it then stood at the corner of Delaware Front Street and Dock Creek.

This would agree with the statement of Watson, who thought that he was speaking of the original tavern when he wrote :

“This landing house, called the Blue Anchor, was the southernmost of ten houses of like dimensions began about the same time, and called ‘Budd’s long row’ — They had to the eye the appearance of brick houses, although they were actually framed with wood and filled in with small bricks, bearing the appearance of having been imported.”

Mr. Watson states that he saw this third Blue Anchor Tavern, then known as the “Boatswain and Call,” pulled down, and that the tavern was twelve feet on Front Street by twenty-two feet on the Dock Creek side, much smaller than the original house.

The precise date of the removal or abandonment of the original building as a public house cannot be definitely ascertained, because it is impossible to find out just when Thomas Budd finished his houses, but it must have been before Fourth month 8, 1697, at which time Thomas Budd conveyed to Anthony Morris:6

“Two brick messuages & tenements with the lots or pieces of ground and other improvements thereunto belonging situate lying and being on the west side of Delaware Front street in Philadelphia — containing forty feet in front a little more or less and in length down to the Dock [i.e., westward] Bounded South with the house and land of said Thomas Budd, Northward with a piece of vacant ground, Eastward with the said Front street, and westward with the said Dock creek. Said messuages and tenements are standing and being upon certain lots of land included in three several patents [that is to say] One Sixteen foot lot part thereof in a patent Recorded in Patent Book A. p. 39, Granted by the Proprietary, William Penn, to Griffith Jones, who by his indenture — 16 May, 1686, conveyed the same to George Bartholomew.”

In the Colonial Records there are two references to the Blue Anchor Tavern that are of interest.

“At a Council held at Philadia., y 18th of 10hr, 1700.
“Griffith Jones, first Purchaser and Henry Elfrith, mean Purchaser under him complain That part of a Bank Lott in the ffront Street, before the Blue Anchor, granted by the Prop’rs, Comm’rs by patent to the said Griffith Jones, and by him sold to John Townsend, who sold it to the said Elfrith, was by a Publick Order of Govr Lloyd, attended by the Justices, taken for the use of the Publick, the said Elfrith’s building hindred and stop’t, to their great Damage.”

Henry Flower and others appeared before the Council and certified that the justices “stopt” Elfrith’s building about 1691.

“Att a Council held at Philadelphia ye 19th of 10hr, 1700.
“The Business of Henry Elfreth and Griffith Jones being “journed yesterday to this morning, was again brought on.
“Ordered that David Lloyd, in whose hands several papers relating to that Affair are said to be lodged, should be call’d and accordingly he came, and produced a petition signed by several Housekeepers and Inhabitants, requesting that there being the greatest Conveniency of a landing Place & harbour at that place of the bank [of the Delaware] where the blue Anchor stood, it should be ordered by the Gov. and Council, who have power thereof, to be laid out for a Public Landing place & harbour, that being the Inducing reason at first to Settle the Town where it now is. There was also produced an Order of Council held at Philadia ye 4th 6 Mo, 1691, in ye rough Draught, that then should the place be reserved for a Landing place, &c.”

The order, dated Sixth month 4, 1691, was produced and satisfaction given to Elfrith for the loss which he had suffered.

Of those who actually dispensed liquors at the Blue Anchor we know but little. There is but slight question that Captain Dare maintained it himself to January, 1682 (0. S., 1683 N.S.). After this the claim that Alice Guest kept the tavern is open to discussion.

From 1686 to 1689 it was kept by George Bartholomew in person.

At the time of the Revolution the Blue Anchor at Dock Creek and Front Street was changed to the “Boatswain and Call,” and was kept in after-years by Peter Evans, being No. 188 South Front Street (0.S. No.).

Some time about the beginning of the present century it was torn down, in Watson’s recollection, and in after-years the present “Blue Anchor Tavern,” on Dock Street, above Second, continued the old name.

No attempt has been made here to trace the title of the old public landing-place, or to ascertain by what fortune it became again private property, to be bought and sold. At present the great wharves of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company cover the site, and a heedless crowd cross constantly over the spot where the Founder first set foot on Philadelphia’s soil.

The curious, however, can still mark, in the grade of Water Street, at the distance of about one hundred and fifty feet north of Dock, a slight depression, which runs from the river to Front Street, marking, doubtless, the shelving bank which formed a pathway over which William Penn travelled from the landing to the Blue Anchor Tavern in the year 1682.

Source: Glenn, Thomas Allen. The Blue Anchor Tavern, being a report made to the Colonial Society of Pennsylvania, November 9, 1896. Published in Vol. 20 (1896), The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 1896.

  1. Minutes Board of Property, Book “F” “Pennsylvania Archives,” Vol. XIX. p. 107. []
  2. I arrive at this definite statement thus : The lot granted by Penn to Griffith Jones to remove the Blue Anchor upon was on the west side of Front Street, directly back of the public landing-place. On the north was vacant land, on the south land and log-house of George Bartholomew, whilst in front, on the east side of Front Street, Griffith Jones owned to the river, which east side lot, being in front of the public landing-place, he sold to one Elfrith, which Elfrith’s lot was declared to run from the eaat side of said Delaware Front Street to the landing, being in front of where the Blue Anchor stood. See infra. []
  3. Recited in deed of Griffith Jones to George Bartholomew, Deed Book E 1, Vol. 5, p. 861, etc., office Recorder of Deeds, Philadelphia. []
  4. Exemplification Record, Philadelphia. []
  5. Deed Book E 1, Vol. 5, p. 861, etc., Philadelphia. []
  6. Recorded Eleventh month 7, 1712. Deed Book E 7, Vol. 8, p. 263, Philadelphia. []

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