News

Undergraduates Celebrate Second Consecutive Virtual Housing Day

News

Dean of Students Office Discusses Housing Day, Anti-Racism Goals

News

Renowned Cardiologist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Bernard Lown Dies at 99

News

Native American Nonprofit Accuses Harvard of Violating Federal Graves Protection and Repatriation Act

News

U.S. Reps Assess Biden’s Progress on Immigration at HKS Event

Antiquated Ledger Shows Once Prominent Position of Boston Exchange Coffee House---Rendezvous of Leaders

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

An old ledger once the property of the proprietor of the Boston Exchange Coffee House has recently been presented to the Baker Library of the Business School and recalls the part once played by that institution in the social and commercial life of Boston. The edifice, illustrated above, was built in 1808 for the unprecedented sum of half a million dollars as a sort of merchants' exchange. As the Mermaid Tavern was the meeting place of Shakespeare's circle, and the St. James Coffee House the convivial headquarters of the Whigs in the time of Queen Anne, the Exchange Coffee House in the early part of the nineteenth century was a rendezvous of the leaders of maritime Boston. The names over accounts in the ledger of John Jones, the proprietor, show that the patronage included statesmen like Daniel Webster, professional men like Harrison Gray Otis, and military men like General William H. Sumner, but the characteristic features of the house centered around shipping and merchants ship owners, as did the activities of all New England. The leading merchants of the day, like Thomas Handasyd Perkins, Isreal Thorndike, and William Sturgis and John Bryant of the Northwest fur trade, seem to have enjoyed the vintages from Mr. Jones' bar.

In fact, the original purpose in building the Coffee House was to provide appropriate facilities for the genial institution of "Change." This was a time-honored custom of the merchants to meet on the sidewalk of State Street at about 1 o'clock as they left their counting rooms, and talk shop, ships, and politics for half an hour or so. The whole first story of the ambitious new Coffee House was devoted to a great Exchange Floor, but this probably saw little business, for according to the contemporary account of Caleb Snow, the merchants preferred to follow in the way of their fathers, and meet more informally on State Street, "even in the inclement winter months." But the tavern achieved a place in the scheme of things in a number of ways. No expense had been spared to provide every convenience for the merchants. The seven story pile was surmounted by a dome which a periodical of the day describes as "elegant and spacious, . . . 100 feet 10 inches circumference, the base protected by a handsome railing, within which is a seat and box, containing a perspective glass, used daily to ascertain the shipping entering the harbor."

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags