Social life in colonial times was much different than it is today. In most cities and towns, taverns became the hub of colonial social life. The inhabitants could meet with friends, imbibe the spirits and discuss the pressing issues of the day. One such tavern was the Earl of Halifax located in the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At that point in time, Portsmouth was a busy seaport and the capital of the colony of New Hampshire. John Stavers, the owner of the tavern, also offered overnight accommodations for his guests. These accommodations were much different than the ones we know today. The rooms were rather small and each room had one bed to be shared by up to four or five male guests. Women were treated to their own bed but not their own room. John and his brother also owned a stage coach line which ran from Boston to Portsmouth. This gave the visitors of Portsmouth transportation to John’s tavern. John had such great success with the Earl of Halifax, he decided to build a larger tavern to serve and lodge more guests.
He began construction of his new tavern in 1766. Just after construction began, the local Freemasons asked Stavers if he could include a room to house their Lodge for their meetings. After pondering their request, Stavers added a third story to his original plan for this purpose, with the stipulation that his tavern could use the space when the Freemasons were not meeting. Upon completion of the building, John Stavers decided to take the name of his old tavern and name his new tavern the Earl of Halifax.
During this period of time, the English were still trying to subjugate the colonists. The King of England as well as Parliament considered the colonists as their children, and ruled them accordingly. Many men distinguished themselves in defending the colonists as well as the freedoms sought by them. One of these men was William Pitt. Pitt argued before parliament, that England had no right to tax the colonists, although he did believe that England should maintain sovereignty over the colony, and the colonists should enjoy all the same freedoms that every Englishman enjoyed. The colonists he asserted are being taxed without representation, and that the King and Parliament did not represent the colonists. Many of the colonists became endeared with Pitt and his ideology. And so just prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution, John Stavers renamed his Earl of Halifax Tavern, the William Pitt Tavern.
The war took its toll on the Town of Portsmouth. The Royal Governor, John Wentworth left the colony. The provisional government moved the capital to Exeter, New Hampshire, and the economy suffered because trade with England ended. The taverns owned by John Stavers also began their decline. The Freemasons continued to meet at the William Pitt Tavern. In fact in 1789, five Masons met at the tavern and formed the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire. The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire as well as St. John’s Lodge continued meeting there until 1792, when both found new accommodations for their meetings.
After the death of John Stavers, his daughters kept the tavern operating for a time, and shortly thereafter it closed. In subsequent years the building became a boarding house and afterwards, apartments. By the 1950’s, the building was in a state of disrepair. It wasn’t until 1965, that Strawbery bank Museum was charged with preserving Portsmouth’s historic district. The William Pitt Tavern was one of the first structures on their list to be restored and preserved. When a Masonic affiliation was discovered, the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire was asked if they would be interested in taking part in the restoration. The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire enthusiastically agreed, and raised a large portion of the funds used to restore the tavern to its former beauty. To this day, the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire continues its support for the William Pitt Tavern.