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American Public House Reviw small black logo
   A NIGHTCAP IN NEWPORT

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS POH
Rochambeau Takes a Long Stroll And Helps Save America


Whitehorse Tavern logo as seen in American Public House Review

Of all my perambulations during the past fifty three years of life, those late night patrols through the narrow dimly lit streets and alleyways of Newport, Rhode Island have been among my favorite. Like a well seasoned mouser I would stalk the ghosts of Americas’ past at every turn. On one such evening a good stretch of the legs delivered Fran and me to the holy grail of historic licensed houses -The White Horse Tavern.
 
There on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough Streets contained within this simple red clapboard tabernacle was the heart and soul of the American public house. I had finally arrived at this country’s oldest operating tavern. The abundance of candlelight emanating from within creates a welcoming glow that spills out to the street. My wife and I agree to abandon forward momentum in favor of a nightcap.

We skirt by the host and turn toward the main taproom. A few short steps and I find myself entering a space that until this moment has only been captured in my mind’s eye; that celebrated room where generals, statesmen, commoners and literati engaged in conversations that would decide the course of a nation.


White Horse Tavern main bar as seen in American Public House Review
THE WHITE HORSE TAVERN'S MAIN BAR



Mark strikes the perfect figure behind this bar. His demeanor and countenance exude eighteenth century manners and twentieth century savvy. After an exchange of pleasantries, background information and single malt recommendations he shares a bit of local lore and history.

The original structure built in 1652 officially became a tavern in 1687, and for one hundred years it served as the meeting place for Rhode Island’s General Assembly. Among the list of proprietors was the notorious, but locally loved pirate William Mayes. He acquired the establishment in 1702. But the real piracy began in 1708 when the tavern became “the birthplace of the businessman’s lunch”. It seems that members of the city’s governing class had a penchant for charging their meals to the public treasury. As I listen my eyes dart around the room chasing the shadows of men long past dancing in the light of flickering sconces.

Men in period costumes at The White Horse as seen in American Public House Review
AN ORIGINAL BUSINESS MAN'S  LUNCH

The Comte de Rochambeau began strolling the streets of Newport two hundred plus years before my arrival. On July 11th 1780 a French naval squadron under the command of Admiral Chevalier de Ternay landed the general and five thousand troops on Aquidneck Island. Their arrival garnered little fanfare. The citizenry distrusted the French and assumed their presence was no more than a re-supply operation that would be carried out at the expense of the local population. The doors and windows of the city were shuttered against the intrusions of the blue coats.



Newport Lighthouse as seen in American Public House Review
NEWPORT LIGHTHOUSE



Old photo of the White Horse Tavern as sen in the American Public House Review
BYGONE DAYS


dining table at the Whithorse as seen in the American Public House Review
DRAMATIC DINING ROOM



By the following evening quite a different chord was struck. The arrival of a welcoming officer from Washington’s staff, earlier that day, signaled that the French presence was by design and most likely a matter of allegiance to the American cause. Candles were dispersed to every household, and a grand illumination heralded the arrival of the European allies.

For nearly a year Rochambeau headquartered at the Vernon House, located a short distance from the White Horse Tavern. Although he spoke little English, his strength of character, natural charm and simple ways ingratiated him to the judicious occupants of this New England Port.



White Horse Tavern exterior as seen in American Public House Review
A GLITTERING WELCOME


A White Horse still life as seen in American Public House Review
ROMANTIC WARMTH



History records visits by the Marquis de Lafayette and his Excellency General George Washington during the French encampment. While there is no supporting documentation, I suspect Rochambeau may have raised a vessel or two at the White Horse. I can imagine the old general enticing his comrades to sneak away from the social engagements and entanglements of Newport Society in order to seek the more reasonable comforts of that nearby tavern.

On June 10th, 1781 the Commander of the French Expeditionary Forces concluded his local promenades. His infantry, artillery and hussars began a three month long, five hundred and fifty mile march that carried them from Rhode Island to Virginia. Rochambeau and Washington maneuvered their armies with such brilliance that Sir Henry Clinton, commander of the British forces in New York, was convinced that he was the focus of their malicious intent. This costly misread of the unfolding campaign caused Clinton to remain in New York while his counterpart in Yorktown, Virginia pleaded for relief and reinforcements that would never arrive.


On October 19th, 1781 Charles Lord Cornwallis placed his sword in the hands of his second-in-command, Charles O’Hara with orders that he surrender it and the army to the Comte de Rochambeau. The ever gracious Frenchman further honored the Franco-American alliance by deferring the surrender to General Washington. George responded to the English snub of protocol by deferring the British capitulation to his second-in-command, Major General Benjamin Lincoln. The events of this day would ultimately dispel any notion that Americans would be subservient to king or queen.

Rochambeau departed the colonies on the 8th of January 1783. Many of his countrymen remained behind to enjoy the fruits of revolution and liberty. From Annapolis to Newport they settled into peaceful lives as citizens of the new republic, and assuming they adopted the traditions and habits of colonial life, a visit to a tavern would certainly be part of ones daily constitutional. So as I sip my single malt, warmed by the kinship and ambiance of the White Horse, I keep a watchful eye for the spirit of Rochambeau and those brothers-in-arms that walked side by side in order to safeguard a nation.



A night cap extraordinaire as seen in American Public House Review
A NIGHT CAP EXTRAORDINAIRE






THE WHITE HORSE TAVERN

26 Marlborough Street
Newport, Rhode Island 02840


(401) 849-3600


www.whitehorsetavern.com


DIRECTIONS



AMERICAN PUBLIC HOUSE REVIEW text, images, and music © 2007-2009. All rights reserved. 
All content is subject to U.S. and international copyright laws. Email: ed.petersen@americanpublichousereview.com for permission before use.

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