Rhode Island

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

mowry 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

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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. susan Luck

    January 16, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I thought that name looked familiar so I looked it up in my tree. He was my 8th great grandfather on my mom’s side. It was nice to see the home he lived in and what stories that came with it!

    • B. F. Sullivan

      February 6, 2018 at 7:40 pm

      I’ve been an amateur genealogist for a number of years and about 7 years ago I discovered that Roger Mowry was my 12th generation great-grandfather. I had located a drawing of his home but was not familiar with the stories surrounding his tavern until today. Fascinating!

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