Manuscript Group 107, Sign of the Unicorn Tavern (Grahams Tavern), Elizabeth, NJ Records, 1765-1794
Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 107, Sign
of the Unicorn Tavern (Grahams 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
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
After tavern keeper John Clarks 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 taverns patrons, William Graham (d. 1779), who around 1773 took
over management of the business. During this time period, the
establishment was referred to as Grahams 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 Grahams 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 taverns
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 Rattoones lease, Lyon sold the establishment to Lewis Rivers
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 Dalsems 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
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 Grahams 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,
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
|Lewis Rivers||1809-1823||Lewis Rivers||1809-1823|
|Edward Price||ca. 1826||Mrs. Meeker||ca.1826|
Building turned into a boarding house –
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