Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Second London Coffee House

London Coffee HouseProbably the most celebrated coffee house in Penn's city was the one established by William Bradford, printer of the Pennsylvania Journal. It was on the southwest corner of Second and Market Streets, and was named the London coffee house, the second house in Philadelphia to bear that title. The building had stood since 1702, when Charles Reed, later mayor of the city, put it up on land which he bought from Letitia Penn, daughter of William Penn, the founder. Bradford was the first to use the structure for coffee-house purposes, and he tells his reason for entering upon the business in his petition to the governor for a license: "Having been advised to keep a Coffee House for the benefit of merchants and traders, and as some people may at times be desirous to be furnished with other liquors besides coffee, your petitioner apprehends it is necessary to have the Governor's license." This would indicate that in that day coffee was drunk as a refreshment between meals, as were spirituous liquors for so many years before, and thereafter up to 1920.

The London coffee house was "the pulsating heart of excitement, enterprise, and patriotism" of the early city. The most active citizens congregated there—merchants, shipmasters, travelers from other colonies and countries, crown and provincial officers. The governor and persons of equal note went there at certain hours "to sip their coffee from the hissing urn, and some of those stately visitors had their own stalls." It had also the character of a mercantile exchange—carriages, horses, foodstuffs, and the like being sold there at auction. It is further related that the early slave-holding Philadelphians sold negro men, women, and children at vendue, exhibiting the slaves on a platform set up in the street before the coffee house.

The resort was the barometer of public sentiment. It was in the street before this house that a newspaper published in Barbados, bearing a stamp in accordance with the provisions of the stamp act, was publicly burned in 1765, amid the cheers of bystanders. It was here that Captain Wise of the brig Minerva, from Pool, England, who brought news of the repeal of the act, was enthusiastically greeted by the crowd in May, 1766. Here, too, for several years the fishermen set up May poles.

Bradford gave up the lease in 1780, transferring the property to John Pemberton, who leased it to Gifford Dally. Pemberton was a Friend, and his scruples about gambling and other sins are well exhibited in the terms of the lease in which said Dally "covenants and agrees and promises that he will exert his endeavors as a Christian to preserve decency and order in said house, and to discourage the profanation of the sacred name of God Almighty by cursing, swearing, etc., and that the house on the first day of the week shall always be kept closed from public use." It is further covenanted that "under a penalty of £100 he will not allow or suffer any person to use, or play at, or divert themselves with cards, dice, backgammon, or any other unlawful game."

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