Wolfe Tavern Sign

Wolfe Tavern Sign


Captain William Davenport was by trade a skilled carver, so the original Wolfe Tavern sign was surely a product of his own craftsmanship. Legend describes the unique design as a carved relief of the head and bust of General James Wolfe surrounded by an elaborate scrolled wreath. Painted and gilded, it was said to bear a striking resemblance to the British commander who led the expedition in the reduction of Quebec during the French and Indian War.

The quaint sign that hung from a lofty pedestal in front of Davenport's tavern barely survived the Revolutionary War. At the time, public sentiment so denounced anything associated with British Royalty that Newburyport's Queen and King Streets were renamed Market and Federal Streets, respectively. Editorials in The Essex Journal soon excited the opinion that the tavern's sign of the British hero General James Wolfe "is an insult to the inhabitants of this truly republican town."However, since many considered the sign to be as much a tribute to the Newburyport militia who served under Wolfe in the Battle of Louisbourg, on that merit, the wooden sign would escape the bonfire.

The original sign was destroyed with the tavern during the Great Fire of 1811, which had consumed a large portion of downtown Newburyport from the Waterside's counting houses and markets stalls to Corn Hill (the crest of State Street). Reopening at its interim situation on the corner of State and Temple Streets, the tavern was later removed to the corner of State and Harris Streets in 1814. It was at that point that a limner was engaged to replicate the earlier sign, which would be painted by an artist of distinction named Moses Cole. For a brief period the establishment was called "Merrimac House" and the sign was withdrawn from public view, but was soon restored to its former prominence along with the tavern name in the year 1887.

The old Wolfe Tavern sign became a signature piece and the image was replicated on various memorabilia such as the postcard above. Though many precious antiquities were auctioned and removed from the Newburyport area during the tavern's demolition a half century ago, the peculiar Wolfe Tavern sign found a resting place in the Historical Society of Old Newbury's Cushing House Museum --- along with some other paraphernalia and keepsakes from the Wolfe Tavern of yore.



[Historical facts confirmed with John J. Currier's "Ould Newbury: Historical and Biographical Sketches."]


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