Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 107, Sign of the Unicorn Tavern (Grahamís Tavern), Elizabeth, NJ
Records, 1765-1794, 0.25 linear feet / 1 volume
Call Number: MG 107
Financial accounts, with an index of 280 names, including William Alexander, Lord Stirling; Christopher Bancker; Elias Boudinot; Jonathan Dayton; Jonathan Elmer; Thomas Kinney; William Livingston, Jr.; Aaron Ogden; Matthias Ogden; Matthias Williamson; and Lewis Woodruff.
Gift of Edward Ritter, 1930.
Around 1760, a tavern was built on the corner of what is now Broad and East Jersey Streets in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The tavern was probably built by John Clark (1728-1771), who named it the Sign of the Unicorn and who ran it until his death in 1771. The tavern was located along popular stagecoach lines and thereby often frequented by travelers who might stable their horses, eat a meal, have a drink, or rent a room for the night. It was, however, also a place for local inhabitants to meet, eat, drink, listen to music or stories, talk politics, and hear the latest news. The tavern also contained a "long room" where meetings, vendues (public sales or auctions), and special sessions were held.
After tavern keeper John Clarkís death, his widow Sarah (Badgley) Clark (d. 1793) assumed control of the business. She ran the Sign of the Unicorn for about two years before she married one of the tavernís patrons, William Graham (d. 1779), who around 1773 took over management of the business. During this time period, the establishment was referred to as Grahamís Tavern and was often a meeting place for revolutionary figures. Men such as William Alexander, Lord Stirling; Stephen Crane; Colonel John N. Cummings; Captain Elias Dayton; Dr. Robert Halstead; General Thomas Mifflin; and Matthias Williamson all patronized the tavern during the war era.
William Graham died in 1779, leaving Sarah, now the Widow Graham, once again in charge of the tavern. Although business was slow in the hard times immediately following the end of the Revolution, a new stagecoach line running from Philadelphia to New York and stopping at the Sign of the Unicorn (or Grahamís Tavern), revived business. After adding a new room to the tavern and increasing the size of the stables, the Widow Graham turned management of the business over to her son-in-law Morris Hatfield (1757-1820). Hatfield changed the tavernís name to the Sign of the Two Lions.
Sarah Graham married a third time in 1791 to Robert Forrest (d. 1806) and, soon after, management of the tavern passed from her son-in-law to her new husband. After two years of slow business, Forrest leased the Sign of the Two Lions to Joseph Lyon (ca. 1864-1829). Lyon managed the tavern from 1793-1806, during which time Sarah Forrest died, Robert Forrest sold the inn to John Van Dyke, and Van Dyke in turn sold it to Lyon.
Joseph Lyon ran a successful business and in 1803 a new coach line opened that carried passengers from the Sign of the Two Lions in Elizabethtown to Elizabethtown Point where they could catch a ferry into New York.
From 1806 to 1809 Lyon rented the tavern to Robert Rattoone, who changed its name to the City Tavern. Rattoone was soon also involved in a new stagecoach line running between Morristown and Paules-Hook, which conveniently stopped at the City Tavern. At the end of Rattooneís lease, Lyon sold the establishment to Lewis Rivers (1763-1828).
Upon gaining ownership of the property, Rivers tore down the old wooden tavern and stables and build new edifices. He ran the new City Tavern, now a brick building, until 1823 when he either sold or leased it to Captain Henry Van Dalsem. On September 28, 1824, under Van Dalsemís management, the tavern reached a high point when it hosted General Lafayette who was touring through New Jersey. Two years later, the building was sold to Edward Price, who leased it to a Mrs. Meeker. Meeker converted the building into a boarding house, thereby ending its existence as a tavern. The building itself was razed in May of 1929.
Hutchinson, Elmer T. "An Elizabethtown Tavern and its Ledger," Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, ns: 14: 443-466, ns: 15: 84-95.
The volume was donated by Edward Ritter of the Ritter-Hopson Galleries in 1930 (M2339). Ritter, a rare book dealer, discovered the volume, which had been used as a scrapbook by previous owners.
The Records consist of an account book from the Sign of the Unicorn (or Grahamís Tavern) dating from 1765-1794. The accounts from the tavern itself date from 1771-1794, placing the volume from the time period when Sarah Badgley Clark Graham Forrest owned the establishment. The various tavern keepers during this time period were Sarah herself, her second and third husbands William Graham and Robert Forrest, and her son-in-law Morris Hatfield.
The volume itself contains the accounts of various patrons of the establishment. An account is labeled with the name of an individual and then notes date, drink or food purchased, and price. Patrons generally purchased such comestibles as brandy, grog, toddies, punch, and dinner.
The account book itself is in poor condition due to its use as a scrapbook by a previous owner. The pages have remnants of glue and newspaper on them, often making the account entries difficult or impossible to read. The pages of the volume are numbered, however, they too are difficult to read. The volume is not indexed.
For a list of patrons listed in the account book, see the article "An Elizabethtown Tavern and its Ledger," written by Elmer T. Hutchinson and published in Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society (ns: 14: 443-466, ns: 15: 84-95), available in the Library of The New Jersey Historical Society.
In addition to the tavern accounts, the front of the volume contains entries recording money transactions for such things as calfskins, fish, and wheat. These entries date from 1765-1776 and seem to be entered by a member of the Hatfield family, possibly Morris Hatfield. At the end of this section there is also a list of the birth dates of Morris Hatfield and his siblings.
Tavern built - ca. 1760
Building turned into a boarding house - ca. 1826
Building razed - 1929
Processed by Kim Charlton, June 2000 as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The New Jersey Historical Society