Little is known of Henry Wetherburn's background. He makes his first appearance in the local records in 1731. In the spring of that year he applied for a license to marry Mary Bowcock, widow of the keeper of the Raleigh Tavern. When Henry married Mary, they served as executors of the Bowcock estate. In August 1731, Henry applied for a license to operate a tavern, in this case the Raleigh Tavern. He began to develop his reputation for keeping a good tavern. His reputation was such that by 1736, William Randolph and Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson) sealed a land deal with Wetherburn's "biggest bowl of arrack punch."
In 1738, Wetherbum purchased two lots across the street from the Raleigh Tavern. He began to build a house on the lots, a typical center-passage house with two rooms on either side. In 1742, a group of men purchased the Raleigh Tavern, where Wetherburn had been working as the tavern keeper. Wetherburn decided to move across the street and open his own tavern in his house.
In the 1760s, 1770s and 1780s the property was rented out to several tavern keepers. Since taverns were usually referred to by the name of the tavern keeper, the tavern was called Southall's when James Southall operated the tavern in the late 1760s. In 1764 and 1769, George Washington noted in his ledger that he "dined at Southall's." In 1771, Southall became keeper and eventually owner of the Raleigh Tavern. When Southall left, Robert Anderson rented the property from the Nicholson estate and continued to operate a tavern until 1779, when Ambrose Davenport took over the site.
In the 1780s, the capitol moved to Richmond, and Williamsburg's tavern business declined. Mrs. Ann Pasteur Craig, sister of Dr. William Pasteur, rented the property in the early 1780s. By 1785, William Rowsay had purchased the property. At this time, the property began to be used as a store instead of a tavern.
From 1966 to 1968, Colonial Williamsburg worked on restoring the building. The work included extensive archaeological research which uncovered nearly 200,000 artifacts connected with the property. One of the more interesting finds was the discovery of about fifty wine bottles filled with cherries that had been buried at various location on the site. This could have been done to preserve the cherries for use later in the year or to make brandied cherries. Archaeologists also uncovered the foundations of the outhouses such as the kitchen, dairy and smokehouse that were part of the property in the 18th century. Architects worked on restoring the building to its 18th century appearance. The building had undergone major changes in the 19th century, including the addition of a front and rear porch and the rearranging of the rooms inside the tavern. All the later changes had to be removed to put the building back to its 18th century arrangement.
Today Wetherburn's Tavern is one of Colonial Williamsburg's most thoroughly and carefully restored buildings.
Visit Henry Wetherburn's Tavern and learn how he, his family and slaves made this tavern one of the most successful in the 1750s. This original building, furnished with 18th-century collections, gives you the feeling you've just missed the 1760 staff and guests of the tavern. Discover how the activities in the outbuildings were all an integral part of making a good reputation and a successful business of a busy colonial tavern.