Gaspee Days CommitteeHistory Files
The History of the Sabin Tavern
by Dr. John Concannon
Historian, Gaspee Virtual Archives
Providence Public Library
                    collection wc688.1
The Sabin Tavern, built in 1763, was a popular hostelry owing to the fact that is was located directly opposite the Fenner's Wharf, from which a packet ship plied the waters between Providence and Newport on a daily basis. Partly owing to this fact, according to Judge Staples in History of Providence (1849) Sabin's Tavern was the most frequented such establishment in the town.

Left: Sabin Tavern c1880. The South-East Room, where the Gaspee Raiders met, can be seen behind the tree on the right side of the picture.  The octagonal end of the room, while not original, marks its location.  Providence Public Library Collection wc 688.1  The house structure to the right (behind the tree) is not part of the Sabin Tavern but is instead the "Half-House" of Gaspee Raider Abial Brown.  Click to enlarge

It was in the South-East room of this tavern on the evening of June 9, 1772, Rhode Island patriots met and made plans to burn the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee. The patriots even cast their bullets in the tavern fireplace, and it was from across the Main Street at Fenner's Wharf that the brave men from Providence departed in their longboats to attack the Gaspee.

The site of the Sabin Tavern was originally part of the 1640 grant to William Burrows and then subsequently owned by the Lanham family.  According to An Address by Edward Field entitled "A Night at Sabin's Tavern",

Sabin's tavern was the former home of Captain Woodbury Morris, mariner, he having purchased the estate from Joseph Whipple, 13 Jun 1757 for ₤1200 and built the house soon after [1761]. Seven years later Captain Morris, while on a voyage to sea, died on the coast of Africa. On the second day of December, 1765, Mary Morris, the captain's widow, wrote in a little memorandum book, wherein her husband had formerly kept his accounts, and which she had continued to use: "Then Mr. Sabin moved into my house.  From this time until December, 1773, James Sabin lived here, and catered to the wants of man and beast, but on this date he purchased a tract of land on the west side of the river, near the Great Bridge, about where the Merchants Bank Building now stands, and left the tavern."  James Sabin took the name with him and reestablished the Sabin Tavern nearer Market Square.  (See more about James Sabin and his later Sabin's Tavern)

The house was then purchased in 1785 by Welcome Arnold, a distinguished merchant of Providence, whose first house still stands further up on Planet Street. He made many additions to the structure, and occupied it as his residence until his death in 1798. It remained in the Arnold family for more than a hundred years. During their occupancy of the house, the room wherein the 'Gaspee' party met was used as a dining room, and there, on the wall, hung, for many years, an account of the affair, prepared by Colonel Ephraim Bowen, the last survivor of the party, and engrossed by the hand of his daughter. Welcome Arnold passed the ex-tavern onto his eldest son, Samuel Greene Arnold, who then passed it on to Samuel's younger brother Colonel Richard James Arnold, for which it was used as his personal residence in the 1830s. 

A Providence Preservation Society Report by M A Gowdey (1965)  indicates that the original Sabin Tavern building was 40 ft frontage by 36 feet front to rear.  The wood structure was two story with a hip roof, likely clapboard faced, and built atop a stone-walled basement dug into the Planet Street slope. 
"It is probable that the basement contained fully-usable space not counted as a story and the hip roof contained an extra half-story or at least a good garret.  It is also probable that the main entrance was situated well above the South Main level (a characteristic of surviving nearby houses)." 
By 1823 a two story brick addition had been constructed on the back of the building and by 1851 a third story was added transitioned what was probably a Colonial style structure to a rather grotesque Italianesque-Victorian building as seen in the photos c1880.  According  to an article appearing in the Newsletter of the Warwick Historical Society, May 1990,
The house was originally constructed as a double wooden framed house of two stories.  There was a wide hall inside which extended completely through the house from front to rear.  This was very beautiful because of the rich paneling, about four feet high.  From this hallway a fine old staircase with old-fashioned balustrade and a paneled side led to the second floor.....In 1820, [Richard J. Arnold] added an ell of brick to the house with an entrance through an archway into the "Gaspee Room".  A good many years afterwards he built a third story to the house and put an octagonal end on the famous southwest room.

SabinTavern c1880Right: Painting of the Sabin Tavern based on the above photo c1880. Providence Public Library collection pc7142, original at the RIHS John Brown House Museum.  These images of the Sabin Tavern show an Italianesque-Victorian style mansion that had been extensively renovated since the times of the Revolution. The house to the extreme right (behind the tree) is probably the "Half-a-house" of Gaspee raider Abial Brown.

Over time the river front was filled in and what is now Water Street was created, in effect moving South Main Street one block further away from the Woonasquatucket River that was central to the town.  Fenner's Wharf most likely lied below what is now The Packet Building at 155 South Main Street. In 1772 there was only one Main Street which only later was differentiated into North and South Main Street based on their directions from the city center at Market House. The Sabin Tavern lot adjoined that of the later Abial Brown "Half-House" on Planet Street. Abial Brown was also one of the known participants in the attack. Circa 1780 Welcome Arnold also had another house built that still exists on the other side of the where the Abial Brown House once stood.

By 1889, the old Sabin Tavern building had fallen into disrepair, and shifting demographics had made the neighborhood less desirable  The Providence Journal said that "the house was dilapidated, and the bank had foreclosed on the mortgage with the building to be demolished."  Again, per The Gaspee Room, pamphlet, Providence, Old Stone Bank, 1931, later republished in Warwick Historical Society Newsletter, May 1990

Following his [Richard J. Arnold] death in 1873, the house became the property of his two sons; but before long a mortgage on the house had to be foreclosed and the old historic dwelling was taken over by the Providence Institute for Savings.
        That bank held the house until a suitable purchaser could be found, but it was finally sold at auction to W. R. Talbot.  At this point it is interesting to note that Mr. Talbot had married Mary Cornelia, the third daughter of Richard J. Arnold, and that because of this the house came back into possession of one of the Arnold family. 
        However, only the house was bought by Mr. Talbot and it had to be removed from its site at South Main and Planet Streets. But no lot could be found to hold the house, and all plans and   negotiations failed. Consequently it was decide to pull it  down.  Still, if the house was not saved,  the famous "Gaspee Room" was.
        It   was detached   very carefully from the rest of the structure,  along with  the adjoining portion of the hallway and even the staircase itself. Placed on rollers as one unit, it was moved up and over the crest of the hill to Mr. Talbot's own home at 209 Williams Street. There it was just as carefully attached to the Talbot house, becoming an integral part of the latter. All  the  wainscoting  and paneling from the original hallway had been studiously saved and was used over again. A new chimney had to be built, but it was put together out of the old brick of the  old chimney, and the same square tiles and hearth were used. The mantel above the fireplace was re-constructed out of the timbers from the kitchen of the old house, in which the patriots had molded bullets. Upon this mantel were  cut inscriptions which told the history and significance of the room.
        On January 11, 1892, Mrs. William R. Talbot organized Gaspee Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, in the historic "Gaspee Room". The Gaspee Chapter attained its ambition of buying the house with the famous shrine, the "Gaspee Room". The purchase was made December 16, 1929. The Chapter dedicated its new home on January 12, 1931 in honor of its founder, Mrs. Talbot, and a bronze tablet with her head in relief was placed in the famous "Gaspee Room".

PPL
                              collection gc 2653
209 Williams
                          historical plaque

Left:  Old photograph of the interior of the Gaspee Room, now part of the Mary Arnold Talbot house - Providence Public Library Collection gc 2653. 

At the World's Colombian Exposition of 1893 which took place in Chicago, the Rhode Island exhibition displayed the fireplace and marble mantel, taken from the old Sabin Tavern.

Note the inscription on the fireplace mantel which reads: "June 9,1772, was formed the plan for destruction of the British Naval Schooner, 'Gaspee'".  Click to enlarge.

Right:  Commemorative plaque on outside of the Gaspee Room, 209 Williams Street, Providence.

Text Reads:

THIS HOUSE CONTAINS THE
HISTORIC GASPEE ROOM
TAKEN FROM THE GASPEE HOUSE
SOUTH MAIN STREET IN 1891 AND
MOVED TO THIS LOCATION
IT WAS IN THIS ROOM ON JUNE 9, 1772
THAT THE PLOT WAS FORMED
TO DESTROY THE BRITISH NAVAL
SCHOONER GASPEE

OWNED AND PRESERVED BY GASPEE CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION

209 Williams
                        Street-South 209 Williams
                        Street-East
Left: The Gaspee House incorporated the original room from the old Sabin Tavern as an attachment, seen on the left. Providence Public Library Collection pc 7180 --South aspect
Right: The Gaspee Room (2001) as currently located at 209 Williams Street is now a condominium. Note that Providence City tax assessors maps list these 4 condos at 207 Williams Street, not 209.-- East aspect

As it turns out, Mrs. Talbot was married to a descendant of Capt. Silas Talbot, a suspected Gaspee Raider.  We note that only the original 2 stories of the Gaspee Room were moved; the third story added c1823-1851 was demolished along with the rest of the remnants of the "Sabin Tavern" in 1891.  According to an article "Revolutionary Relics in the Room Where Burning of the Gaspee Was Planned", Providence Sunday Journal June 5, 1910, Sec 4:7 the Gaspee Room was used as the library for the Talbot House, and was also used as the meeting room for the DAR.  A Providence Journal article of 1975 relates that by 1975 the membership of the Daughters of the American Revolution had dropped and the building was given to the Rhode Island Historical Society. The Society sold the building in 1983 and it is now used as an apartment house. In 2017 the Providence Journal ran an article highlighting the condo owner: http://www.providencejournal.com/entertainmentlife/20171021/historic-providence-home-great-place-for-rebellious-celebration .

Sabin Tavern Door, Pawtuxet
                Rangers ArmoryLeft:  Sabin Tavern Door installed into wall of the current Pawtuxet Rangers Armory.

In the mid-1950s, the Gaspee Building (c1891-1954), a large two story structure that had been built on the site of the original tavern at the South Main Street and Planets Street was being demolished when beneath the rubble the wreckers discovered parts of the old Sabin Tavern.  A Warwick resident salvaged the original door and and it was eventually given to the Gaspee Days Committee. In 1988, the Committee voted to let the Pawtuxet Rangers keep the old door in their headquarters, the old Masonic Hall at the corner of Remington and Bank Streets, Warwick.

Gaspee
                  Building c1952Right:  The Gaspee Building c1952, courtesy Providence Journal. Click to see close-up of memorial plaques. 

The old Gaspee Building that had built over the Sabin Tavern site at South Main Street and Planet Streets was known for a time as simply "Gaspee", and dances (politely described in the 1890s as subscription socials) were held there sponsored by the Apollo Club. The building had two historical markers attached to south-facing outside wall.  The slate plaque was saved during demolition of the building, crated and stored in a warehouse, and was then kept in a Warwick location for a time, exposed to the elements in someone's backyard. According to our stone-cutting expert, someone ill-advisedly attempted to waterproof the gilded lettering and the natural weather-related diagonal splits in the stone, thus creating a black outlining of these areas.

Later, it was rescued by a WWII vet, Raymond McGeagan who proudly displayed the slate plaque affixed to his living room wall on Bridge Street in Pawtuxet Village. Fittingly, the plaque overlooked Pawtuxet Cover and, further down, Gaspee Point where the burning of the hated schooner took place. After he died, the new owners of the house were told that the 500+ pound slate was creating undue stress on the walls, and needed to be removed.  In 2018, the Pawtuxet Rangers undertook the task of having a professional hauling company remove the tablet into their Armory on Remington Street where it is now proudly displayed on the wall next to the Sabin Tavern door.

Below:  The Gaspee Building slate marker
for the Sabin Tavern

Original Sabin Tavern marker
SONS OF LIBERTY
------------------------
UPON THIS CORNER
STOOD THE SABIN TAVERN
IN WHICH ON THE EVENING OF
JUNE 9TH 1772
THE PARTY MET AND
ORGANIZED TO DESTROY
H.R.M SCHOONER GASPEE
IN THE DESTRUCTION OF
WHICH WAS SHED THE
FIRST BLOOD
IN THE
AMERICAN REVOLUTION





Sabin Tavern
                    Marker, 2004
Left: Present (2004) Sabin Tavern memorial granite marker in parking lot of the office building at 165-180 South Main Street. Wording is kept exactly as original.

Sometime coincident with the re-construction of the IBM Building in 1962 (now an office building) a large granite memorial stone containing an inset slate marker was erected.  The engraved slate section was pried out and stolen c1980, but the beautiful granite marker was restored, engraved, and re-dedicated in June 2004.
Sabin Tavern
                            Old Slate
Right:
Recovered Sabin Tavern Slate Marker

In 2010 the newer slate plaque was recovered from a home being renovated by the City of East Providence. The plaque is now kept securely in the Aspray Boat House, the headquarters of the Gaspee Days Committee.
Sabin Tavern Marker, 2004Left: Planet Street side of restored granite marker at the entrance to what is now the parking lot for the RI Attorney General's subdivision offices.

The Gaspee Days Committee extends its sincere appreciation to the following organizations that contributed to the completion of these projects:
The Champlin Foundations
Partridge, Snow, & Hahn, LLP
Rhode Island Supreme Court Historical Society Fund
Stanley Granite Company, Inc.
City of East Providence.
Pawtuxet Rangers, RIM

Originally uploaded in 1998 as SabinTavernDoor.htm    Last Revised 11/2018    SabinTavern.htm
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