Weedon’s Tavern, Fredericksburg, Virginia 1735-1807 by Harry Schenawolf

Historic downtown Fredericksburg
Historic downtown Fredericksburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Weedon Tavern, Fredericksburg, Virginia, was named for George Weedon, a man who fought in the French and Indian War and was later named a Brigadier General in the American Revolutionary War. He was a friend of George Washington and many of the influential men of the time. He married into the tavern business and ran an inn that became the center of male society for miles around. During the buildup to the Revolutionary War, it became a hub for patriotic discourse.

The tavern occupied lots 25 & 26 in the northwest corner of Caroline and William Street in Fredericksburg. It was first known as Gordon’s Ordinary (ordinary being a common period name given to drinking establishments and public houses of entertainment). John Gordon immigrated to Virginia from Scotland in 1721. He later moved to Fredericksburg in 1735 and opened the tavern and post office. He remained its innkeeper until his death in 1749.

Gordon’s wife Margaret took over managing the inn, calling it Mrs. Gordon’s Tavern. Her daughter Catherine married Captain George Weedon (his title at the end of the French and Indian War) in 1764. Weedon soon took over the management of the tavern. He did not buy out Mrs. Gordon’s share of the tavern until 1773.

Under Weedon’s care the tavern expanded its service to the gentry of Spotsylvania County and beyond. Weedon became a prominent member of the Fredericksburg community and a respected churchman. Many influential men of wealth, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were catered to; Washington himself considerrd Weedon’s (as it was called) his second home. Many ledgers in Washington’s journals during the early 1770’s listed dining with political dignitaries and officers of the militia and later newly formed committee militias. Washington and others ate, drank, and played cards until the sun set. Interestingly, the future first president noted that he always lost at cards because the Fredericksburg fellows were too smart.

Weedon's Tavern (artist's rendering) Philip K Brown
Weedon’s Tavern (artist’s rendering) Philip K Brown

In many ways, the tavern was what would now be considered a country club, providing not only good food and drink, but recreation and relaxation for the affluent guests. It was not uncommon to see several post chases waiting outside as slaves whiled away the hours while their masters were entertained with good food, spirits, and games. Dinner was served in the afternoon and Supper in the evening. Often guests so enjoyed the exquisite atmosphere at Weedon’s that they would begin with Dinner and stay well past Supper. Weedon also established what was called a ‘dinner and club:’  A select group of wealthy gentlemen who often gathered in a private room for gatherings and ‘fine spirits.’

Weedon was also manager of the Jocky Club, the brainchild of William Fitzhugh of Chatham. As such, he would board fine pure-breads in his stables behind the Inn and arrange horse races for the fair. Often he would provide animals for the riding pleasure of his guests. Fees involving board and feed, rental of horses for the day’s outing, were added to the guests’ bill.

The tavern was also a convenience store, offering guests many items both practical and luxurious for wear and consumption. One could buy exquisite wigs, lemons or limes, imported brandy and wines from Europe, gallons of local spirits, or get a cash loan. Other innkeepers and ship captains purchased their meat and produce from the tavern. Weedon formed partnerships with local producers including a butcher business with George Washington’s brother Charles, for example. As a Mason, Weedon’s became the center for Masonic activity.  Meetings were held on a regular basis, including the annual dinner.

Patrons paid their bills in many ways beside silver. Accounts were credited and paid monthly; goods and services were traded (as was the case with many craftsmen who gladly took their wages in spirits). John Mercer, a frequent patron, paid in cloth from one of the spinning factories on Charles Street.

In the years leading to conflict, the tavern became a favorite meeting place for those spouting passionate opinions towards their poor treatment by the British Government.  Steps were discussed to rid the land of tyranny. Those who frequented the tavern were among the most influential men of Virginia who would later help carve a new country. Among the tavern’s regulars were Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Marshall, Hugh Mercer, George Mason,  Richard Henry Lee & brother ‘Lighthorse’ Harry Lee, and Gustavus Wallace, to name a few.

As war loomed, Captain Weedon took a more active role in the militia, accepting a Lieutenant Colonel’s commission in what became the third Virginia regiment under the leadership of his brother-in-law Colonel Hugh Mercer. He leased the tavern to William Smith in March of 1776 to join the militia full time. Smith planned to continue the inn’s service during Weedon’s absence. On August 13th, Mercer was promoted to Brigadier General and the regiment became Weedon’s, who was promoted to the rank of full Colonel. His regiment was soon ordered to deploy to New York City to join the Continental Army.

Weedon remained with Washington’s army and fought in several major battles until a dispute over seniority. He resigned in the spring of 1778 and returned to manage the Tavern. During his absence in 1777, the tavern played host to Thomas Jefferson’s Committee as it revised the laws of the new state of Virginia.

When General Benedict Arnold and General William Phillips threatened Virginia in 1781, Weedon put aside his apron and organized a battalion of militia to meet the danger. After the defeat of General Cornwallis’s forces at Yorktown, a Great Peace Ball was hosted by Weeden at his tavern. On November 11th, 1781, a veritable who’s who of American and French officers, politicians, wealthy planters, and domestic and foreign dignitaries attended. George Washington attended as did the Marquis de Lafayette as he arrived arm and arm with Washington’s mother.

After the war, Weedon remained proprietor of the tavern for a short time, devoting more time to council and as a church vestryman. He retired from inn-keeping to become Mayor of Fredericksburg in 1785. During that period he built a beautiful home he called Sentry Box in lower Fredericksburg that remains standing to this day. The house overlooks the Rappahannock River and was directly opposite ‘Ferry Farm,’ George Washington’s boyhood home.

He died in 1793 and his wife Catherine in 1797. They are buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Fredericksburg. The inn remained active until 1807 when it was destroyed by fire.

RESOURCES:

Felder, Paula S.  Taverns of Fredericksburg:  Weedon’s Tavern.  December 4, 1999:  Article in Free Lane Star, Fredericksburg, VA.

Hamrick, Charles.  A Bag of Nails:  The Ledger of George Weedon’s Tavern, Fredericksburg, Virginia.  A Transcript 1773 – 1701.  2007:  Publ. New Papyrus Company, Athens, GA.

John D. Rockerfeller Jr. Library and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.  George Weedon Commission, 1776:  2013   Web site:  htpp://rocklib.omeka.net/items/show/46

King, George H.S.  General George Weedon.  William and Mary Quarterly 20 (April 1940):  237-252.

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