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So You're Obsessed with Hamilton: Fraunces Tavern

Welcome to the first installment of So You're Obsessed With Hamilton, an ongoing series devoted to the events and people involved in a little musical we all love (a little too much). If you're newly indoctrinated into the Hamilcult and want to know more about the real-life history surrounding the story, this is the place.

Think of this series as a little bit of a syllabus: I'll be covering the actual stomping grounds of our cast of characters, recommending books and media for additional reading, listening, and viewing, and doing some deep dives on some of the other historical references that may have passed you by the first time around. (I hail from the birthplace of the Whiskey Rebellion, after all….

We'll start today at pretty much the same place we first meet our boy Hamilton: at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan.

Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan

First things first: the Fraunces Tavern you step into at 54 Pearl Street is not the same tavern whose floorboards were trod by Hamilton, Washington, and Lafayette. This is a common refrain for many of the buildings in this area, no matter how old they might look, because of the many natural and manmade disasters that have swept through the neighborhood over the centuries.

The original Fraunces Tavern burned down in 1832 and was rebuild on a few subsequent occasions. The building on site now is the result of a reconstruction that took place in the early 1900s, but which was built as kind of a guesstimate based on 19th-century photos and the different walls and rooflines found on the property during the restoration. There are no drawings of the original Tavern.

But let's rewind and get to the parts that matter: At the time of the Revolution, Fraunces Tavern was the meeting place for the New York branch of the Sons of Liberty—yes, the group that included HERCULES MULLIGAN! Though Hamilton did not, in fact, encounter Mulligan, Laurens, and Lafayette drinking Sam Adams together in the tavern, it is where the semi-fictionalized events of "My Shot" and "The Story of Tonight" take place.

Fraunces Tavern main dining room

Look at the chandelier and lanterns in the main dining room: do they look familiar to you? And if you haven't seen the show yet, pay attention to what's hanging over the table in "My Shot" and, as if you couldn't, note the lanterns that appear during "A Winter's Ball." You see it, right?

After the war, George Washington went back to New York and gave his farewell address to his troops here in 1783 in the Long Room. (You can see this restored room and learn more about the reconstruction of the building, the historical context of the site, and maybe even see Lafayette's bloody sash from the Battle of Brandywine as part of the Fraunces Tavern Museum on the second floor.)

Tavernkeeper Samuel Fraunces rented the building out to the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1785, during which time Hamilton and Burr were practicing law down the street, and eventually sold the building. By 1787, it was no longer a tavern: the provisional Treasury and War departments were using the space as offices, but this was all while Hamilton was at the Constitutional Convention!!!, so he never ran any departments here. (That story's for another installment.)

BUT! On July 4, 1804, having already put the duel on their respective calendars, Hamilton and Burr ended up in the same room together at Fraunces Tavern. Awkward.... They both attended a meeting-slash-celebration as members of the Society of the Cincinnati, a war veterans group, and basically had to frenemy it up so no one would get tipped off to the illegal duel in the works for the following week. Imagine if they had settled their beef that evening—the world would never be the same in a very different way.

And that's the quick story of Fraunces Tavern as it relates to Hamilton. If you want to know more about the ambience there today, take a look at this post on my food-centric website, Good. Food. Stories.—you'll be more than happy to raise a glass have another round here, I think.