Saturday, February 20, 2016

Peter Mathews – Tavern Keeper

Peter Mathews played many roles in his lifetime!  Primarily he was a military man – beginning as quartermaster for a British company in Ireland, and advancing through several offices, to become a Captain of the King’s troops stationed in New York.  There is some evidence that he served as a secretary to Governor Benjamin Fletcher upon their arrival in New York in 1692.  In later life he worked to establish St Peter’s (Anglican) Church in Albany New York, and was among the active wardens of that congregation.  He made a trip to England in 1703 to speak for the colonial troops, and he fulfilled a term as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1715.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that, amid all that busyness, he was also recognized as a tavern-keeper in New York City.

The soldiering life in New York was a rather dismal affair overall.  Men suffered the indignity of poor pay, and often lacked the basic essentials of food, clothing and warm blankets.  Of course, the officer fared better than the common soldier, but it was an uncertain lifestyle at best.  For that reason, many of the soldiers and officers found secondary means of supporting themselves and their families.  This may have been the impetus behind Peter Mathews’ tavern.

During his time in New York (1692-1719), Peter Mathews lived back and forth between New York City and Albany.  According to New York City’s 1703 census, Peter Mathews and his family lived in the South Ward of the City, near the Fort.  This was the oldest part of the city, and was probably the location of Peter Mathews’ Tavern.  As was the custom of the day, his “tavern” was likely to be a room, or rooms, that were a part of his principal residence.  We don’t have a name for his establishment, and we know very little of its nature.  Did Peter Mathews and his wife Bridget serve food and drink to the public? Or, was it more of a private club for Mathews’ cronies? – in which case it gave the tavern-keeper an opportunity to take a few pence from his friends. 

New York politics at the beginning of the eighteenth century was a volatile mix.  Following the Leisler Affair, the people of New York City found themselves divided into two strongly opposed factions.  Peter Mathews was allied with the anti-Leislerians.  During his years as governor of New York (1698-1701), Lord Bellomont waged a campaign to vilify his predecessor, Benjamin Fletcher.  This included attacks upon Fletcher’s “friends” - among them, Peter Mathews.  Inside Bellomont’s letters we find clues to the nature of the activities at Peter Mathews’ tavern.  In September 1698 Bellomont mentions a “clubb” (anti-Leislerians) that was probably instituted by Benjamin Fletcher. A later letter, in 1700, hints that this Club might have had meetings at Peter Mathews’ tavern. 

. . . The Jacobite* party in this towne have a clubb commonly every Saturday (which was Colonel Fletcher's clubb day). Last Saturday was seaven night, there mett twenty seaven of them, their ringleaders are Colonel Bayard, Colonel Minviele, both of the Councill, Mr. Nicolls, late of the Councill, and Wilson, late Sheriff of this towne ; there is so great a rancor and inveterancy in these people that I think it by no means proper for me to leave this province . . .
[source]  From a letter of the Earl of Bellomont to the Board of Trade, 21 September 1698. 

. . . My first Lieut's name is Peter Matthews, bred up from a child with Coll. Fletcher & 'tis at his house that the angry people of this Town have a Club and hold their cabals . . .
 [source]  From a letter of Lord Bellomont to Secretary Vernon, 18 October 1700.

*Note that the term Jacobite is probably used loosely here, to suggest that the “club” is on the opposing side to Bellomont.  To call someone a Jacobite often meant he was a schemer.

Sometime between 1709-1711 Peter Mathews moved from New York City to Albany, New York.  He probably made Albany his home until his death in 1719.  There is no indication that he resumed his tavern-keeping habit during the Albany years. 

As a personal aside, I can’t help but mention another grandfather who kept a tavern in New York City during the same period.  His name was John Hutchins, and he officiated over the King’s Arms Tavern on Broadway.  It operated on the opposite side of the political scale from Peter Mathews’ establishment, but coincidentally, from Bayles’ “Old Taverns of New York”, we learn:

Although Hutchins had been favorable to the Leislerians in Fletcher's time, he seems to have gone over to the anti-Leislerians, and had been elected alderman by the votes of that party. He had borrowed money from both Gabriel Minvielle and Nicholas Bayard . . .  These two men are named by Bellomont as ringleaders in the party opposed to him.

We don’t know whether Peter Mathews and John Hutchins were acquainted.  It seems possible!  After the passage of four or five generations, their descendants would meet, marry, and establish a home in Natchez, Mississippi.  –Another story, for another day!

For more details on Peter Mathews, visit his page at the Markham of Chesterfield website.  Peter Mathews is my 8xgreatgrandfather.

Further Reading:
Tavern Keepers and Brewers of Early America; a project at
Old Taverns of New York; W Harrison Bayles, 1915; available online through googlebooks.
History of Coffee in old New York.  Interesting account including many details of John Hutchins and the King’s Arms Tavern (Coffee House).

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