Fire, Fury, Murder and More – Tales from the Roger Mowry Tavern

Not only did Roger Mowry, our 9th Great Grandfather, operate his own tavern, but as constable he was also able to keep his competition in line. As did most taverns in the colonies, the tavern served as much more than just a house of “publick entertainment”.

Mowry was instructed to “set out at the most perspicuous place of said house a convenient sign to give notice to strangers.” This occupation may account for his “entering” thirteen ankers of rum and two barrels of sack the next year. He was also made freeman in 1655.

In 1657, January 27, he was allowed by the town six pence “for this day’s firing and house room.”

Town meetings, council meetings, the quarter court and religious services all met here and it served as the local jail.

The following article from the New England Histiorical Society blog  discusses Mr. Mowry’s tavern

Roger Mowry started life in England and came to Boston in 1631 at about the age of 20. He moved around a bit, spending several years in Salem, Mass. While in Salem he undoubtedly became familiar with the rabble-rousing Roger Williams, and by 1649, Mowry had relocated to Providence, R.I. where he held the privileges of a freeman.

Mowry Tavern (The Descendants of John Mowry of Rhode Island)

In 1653 he built the house that would become the Mowry Tavern at the corner of Abbot and North Main Streets, where it stood for almost 250 years. The tavern was known as a ‘stone ender’ house because one wall of the structure was made of stone and contained a massive (10-foot wide) fireplace that served as a heat source.

1. Murder. Mowry Tavern was site of one of the earliest murders in Rhode Island. John Clauson, a Dutch carpenter, spent an evening at the tavern in the winter of 1660. The next morning he was found, beaten with an ax, in a patch of barberry bushes near the tavern. Clauson, clinging to life, accused a neighbor, the querulous Benjamin Herndon. Then Clauson succumbed to his injuries. A dispute over land was perhaps the motive. The good people of Providence, however, decided guilt lay with an Indian named Waumanitt. He pleaded guilty and was sent off to jail in Newport to await trial. Herndon, meanwhile, was cleared of participating the crime. Clauson, however, placed a curse on Herndon, wishing that his children be cursed with split chins and that his property be inundated with barberry bushes.

2. Riot. Legend has it that a near riot broke out at the tavern in response to a Massachusetts constable arriving in town to arrest a Rhode Islander. The constable had arrested a man and was holding him at the nearby Pray’s Tavern. A group of residents assembled at a hastily arranged town meeting at Mowry’s Tavern. The group sent an emisary to the other tavern to inqure under what authority the Massachusetts’ constable claimed to be operating. The upshot was that the prisoner was set free and the constable returned to the neighboring colony empty handed.

3. The Tavern was a Jail.
In addition to serving as a tavern keeper, licensed to operate a ‘house of entertainment,’ Providence records also show Roger Mowry served as a town constable. When necessary, the tavern was pressed into service as a jail, so rowdy patrons didn’t have far to go if they were arrested.

4. Fire Survivor
In 1676 during King Philip’s War, Indians destroyed nearly every building in Providence. Roger Williams’ own house was destroyed by fire. A handful of buildings survived, either by luck or design. Most histories suggest only five buildings were spared, among them the Mowry Tavern.

5. Changing Names
Roger Mowry died in 1666, and his tavern died with him. After he died, the Mowry Tavern was sold many times, being known as the Olney House and eventually the Abbott House.

Roger Mowry’s Connection to the family.