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Indian King Tavern, Haddonfield, New Jersey

and Haddonfield's Famous Tavern

Road post Date stone
A 1773 stone road marker still flanks Haddonfield's central intersection (left). The Indian King Tavern was built in 1750 (right).
In 1745, Philadelphia Quaker merchant and ship owner Mathias Aspden purchased a lot filled with crude brewery buildings in the center of the village of Haddonfield. One of many wealthy colonial businessmen investing in the rapidly growing economy of the Delaware Valley's colonies, Aspden cleared the site and began construction of the largest tavern building along the village's main road. That road -- Kings Highway -- is still marked with a stone direction post from the 1700s (above, left).

In 1750, when the date stone was set into the east wall of Aspden's red brick building (above, right), Thomas Jefferson was just a seven-year-old running about the fields of a Virginia farm; George Washington was an adventurous 18-year-old mapping parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Over the next three decades, the tavern building as well as this new generation of colonists would come of age together in a manner that would forever alter the political and economic landscape of North America.

Rising Colonial Tensions
In 1750, the colonies themselves were a narrow ribbon of coastal settlements hardly a hundred miles wide in most places, Philadelphia being their largest and richest city. In fact, it was the very success of such colonial communities as Philadelphia and Haddonfield that was a point of increasing friction between the locals and their British rulers.

The very structure of colonial empire was designed to maintain its inhabitants in economic servitude. Colonial business was supposed to produce low-cost raw materials that were shipped exlusively to England to be turned into finished, high-profit goods by British factories and mills. Strict laws prohibited colonists from establishing inland settlements beyond the reach of royal governors; iron works such as that at Batsto were only allowed to produce ingots of iron, not finished metal products. It was illegal for colonial tradesmen to export even such common products as hats; many tradesmen were restricted by law from having more than two apprentices to prevent them from establishing factory-like production operations.

Nevertheless, by the mid-1700s, the population of the colonies had reached a million and the output of this thriving community of farmers, merchants, tradesmen and shipping magnates had created a vigorous indigenous economy that had mushroomed beyond the easy control of British overlords.

Ale and Arguments
Taverns -- such as Aspden's -- were the centers of business and social life and, by the 1760s, had also become forums of outrage against harsh measures imposed as the Crown sought to reassert its claim to complete control over colonial life and enterprises. New taxes, new business prohibitions, and the landing of more British occupational forces resulted in protests, riots, and rising anti-British sentiments throughout the 13 colonies.

Crier Battle line
After anti-British sentiments exploded into war in 1775, the conflict engulfed and devastated much of New Jersey.
In 1775, the conflict reached its flashpoint at Lexington and Concord when units of British troops and colonial militia engaged in the first full-scale battles, leaving 122 dead and two nations at war.

Although now frequently romanticized as the unified effort of a galvanized colonial society, the Revolutionary War actually ripped that society apart. In New Jersey, as throughout the rest of the colonies, family members and friends were frequently set against each other in a vicious conflict between "Loyalists" -- who believed the British should and would prevail -- and "Continentals" who were engaged in a crusade that would have horrific personal consequences if it failed.

The politics of the Philadelphia and southwestern New Jersey war zone were further complicated by the presence of large numbers of prosperous Quaker merchants and farmers. Though fierce competitors in business, their faith prohibited them from bearing arms -- a point of philosophy that was often bitterly resented by neighboring families whose members were being maimed and killed by British bullets.

Tavern Owners Embroiled in Controversy
Haddonfield's largest tavern was at the center of this wartime social turmoil -- both in the daily arguments that shook its rafters as well as in the personal fate of the building's owners.

Mathias Aspden, Jr., who inherited the tavern from his father, sold it to Thomas Redman, who ran the village apothecary shop. The younger Aspden had gone to England for his education and returned to Haddonfield a staunch Loyalist. As the Continental Congress convened just across the Delaware River in 1776, Aspden sailed for England, where he remained for the rest of his life. In absentia, he was charged with treason and the properties he still owned in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania were seized and sold, the proceeds going to the Continental Treasury.

As 1776 ended, large armies of Continental and British soldiers marauded across northern and central New Jersey, turning towns such as Princeton and Trenton into smoking battlefields. With the fighting so close, emotions ran high in the village of Haddonfield. Thomas Redman, who had taken over the Aspden tavern, was also clerk of the local Friends Meeting, a position that required him to read various documents at local Quaker gatherings, including statements affirming the sect's policy of refusing to serve as combatants.

In January, 1777, as a result of his pacifist public readings, Redman was charged with seditious acts, arrested at his tavern by an officer of the Continental Army, and consigned to jail in Woodbury, then the county seat.

On March 18, Redman was fined and released from jail. He returned to Haddonfield to find that, earlier the same day, New Jersey government authorities had met in his tavern to create the Council of Safety -- a super-police agency empowered to arrest, summarily try, and imprison local army deserters, Loyalists and others deemed to be enemies of the patriotic cause. Some reports indicate that the cellar of Redman's tavern may have been used as a temporary jail when the small guard house across the street became full.

The New "Indian King"
Within two months, Redman sold his tavern to Hugh Creighton who operated a smaller tavern further down the road near present-day Potter Street. As he took over Redman's tavern building that spring of 1777, Creighton also transferred the famous landmark name from his small tavern to his new one, making the largest tavern in Haddonfield the "Indian King."

A much more "casual" Quaker than Redman, Creighton did a thriving business as the war moved closer, bringing ever-larger numbers of travelers to the village that sat astride a critical crossroads. In one direction lay the ferry landing for Philadelphia; in the other, the river towns whose fortification had thus far denied the British fleet access to the upper Delaware.

New Jersey Created on Tavern's Second Floor
Throughout 1777, the Indian King Tavern, with its huge second-floor meeting hall, served as a major political and administrative center for the Continental war effort. The Council and General Assembly of New Jersey -- the state's main government body -- was forced to evacuate its offices in the battle-ravaged Trenton and temporarily relocate to the Indian King. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was formally read into the minutes of the New Jersey Assembly. And it was here -- with Hugh Creighton and staff serving up great tankards of ale for toasting afterward -- that the Assembly enacted the law that officially changed New Jersey from a colony into a state and adopted that State's Great Seal.

By the winter of 1777, southern New Jersey was engulfed in war. Columns of British dragoons tramped up and down the King's Road in campaigns against the coastal forts that were finally overrun, allowing the British fleet to take control of the upper Delaware River. General William Howe's British army occupied Philadelphia as Washington's forces retreated toward a winter encampment at Valley Forge. Meanwhile, both Washington and Howe were determined that their troops would be fed through the winter with vast quantities of meat, grain and other supplies to be "foraged" from the farms of southern New Jersey -- then the "bread basket" of the Middle Atlantic region.

Throughout the winter, from Burlington to Salem, British and Continental patrols fought ongoing battles for control of south Jersey's roads, creeks, farm stores and livestock. To keep their herds out of sight and hearing of military patrols, Haddonfield farmers built stockaded pens deep in the nearby woods and carefully avoiding making any pathways.

British and Continentals Occupy Haddonfield
Haddonfield and the Indian King Tavern were alternately occupied by both British Hessians and Continental military units. The Hessians looted the village, pulled its occupants from their homes in the dead of night for interrogations at bayonet point and, in at least one instance, set fire to a building near the Indian King in an attempt to burn the entire village down. Local inhabitants, however, were able to confine the fire to a single house. General accounts of the era indicate the Hessians were particularly notorious for "lust and brutality in abusing women." Although there is no written record, it is not difficult to imagine the demeanor of the heavily-armed Hessians as they seized and swilled the liquor stores of the central tavern in an enemy enclave.

British Troops Buried in Haddonfield
In October, 1777, 1,200 of those Hessians launched their disastrous first attack on Red Bank's Fort Mercer from Haddonfield. They suffered 300 casualties, including their commanding officer, and straggled back into the village that night. The Quaker Meeting House, just a short walk from the Indian King, was turned into a hospital and continued to serve as such for both British and Continental soldiers for the duration of the war. Today, the remains of British soldiers who died in Haddonfield remain buried in unmarked graves at the north corner of the Society of Friends' cemetery.

When the Continental army took over the village, they brought with them some of the period's most colorful military figures. Generals "Mad" Anthony Wayne, the Marquis de Lafayette and the Polish Count Casimir Pulaski all pranced their horses up and down the King's Road. Although there is no written record documenting their daily activities here, it seems almost certain that Wayne, Lafayette and Pulaski would have visited the village's various taverns and that the largest of those establishments -- the Indian King -- would have provided the most appropriate place for meetings with their officers and local admirers.

By the summer of 1778, the war was moving away from southern New Jersey. The British army evacuated Philadelphia and marched to New York to repulse the expected landing of a French fleet arriving to support the American cause. The entire British army ferried across the Delaware to Gloucester and Cooper's Landing (now Camden) and plodded north on the King's Road past the Indian King's front door in what became a marathon event. According to one local account:

"The great amount of materials to be transported, and the number and variety of troops, made its movement very slow, as the army was four days and nights in passing through Haddonfield. Bakeries, laundries, hospitals, and smith shops were on wheels, as well as boats, bridges, magazines, and medicine chests. The female camp followers were the greatest annoyance to the residents of the place. They would enter dwellings and premises of the people, carry off such things as they might select, and if interfered with, would insult the owners by lewd conduct and obscene language...cattle had to be driven to secret places. Ware and breakable furniture were buried in the ground, and everything eatable carefully kept out of sight..."

Indian King Tavern: The Real Thing
Today, unlike other colonial tavern attractions such as City Tavern in Philadelphia or those in Williamsburg, Virginia -- the Indian King is not a reconstruction. It is the original building. If one could probe deep with delicate instruments into the boards and bricks and mortar joints here, he could find actual chemical traces of the sweat and blood and rum and gun powder spilled in these rooms more then two centuries ago during those critical years of national conflict and local chaos that resulted in the creation of the State of New Jesey as well as United States of America.

All Rights Reserved
© 1995 - 2001, Hoag Levins


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