America’s Only 18th-Century Coffeehouse
The exhibition site in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area was a leading center of political and social activity
Charlton’s Coffeehouse in Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Area, is the most significant historical reconstruction on Duke of Gloucester Street in more than 50 years. Opened in November of 2009, Charlton’s Coffeehouse is the only 18th-century coffeehouse in the country. Reconstruction of Charlton’s Coffeehouse was made possible through a generous $5 million gift from Forrest and Deborah Clark Mars and the Mars Foundation.
The newest exhibition site in the Historic Area will reflect its 18th-century role as a gathering place for the politically connected as well as for the socially ambitious, while simultaneously serving 21st-century visitors as the ultimate community gathering place. Guests entering Charlton’s Coffeehouse will tour in small groups and learn the significance of the establishment; explore the history based upon their own interests, from interior décor and cuisine to the history of chocolate and local politics; and enjoy a free tasting of period-style coffee, tea or chocolate.
In the 1760s, Richard Charlton followed the example of numerous London counterparts and opened his coffeehouse adjacent to the Capitol. There, he likely served China tea imported from England, West Indian coffee, chocolate from the Caribbean rim and high-style cuisine, placing his establishment a cut above the collection of gentry taverns in the immediate vicinity. His coffeehouse soon became a stylish retreat from the mundane governmental activities of the Capitol, a gathering place for the social elite, a hotbed of political discussion and debate, and a place to hear the latest news from England as well as local gossip.
“As the first reconstruction in 50 years of an 18th-century structure on Duke of Gloucester Street, the Charlton Coffeehouse brings together the expertise of our historians, archaeologists, curators and skilled tradesmen.
This project clearly demonstrates Colonial Williamsburg’s commitment to develop new programming in the Historic Area to further engage our guests,” said Colin Campbell, president and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “The Coffeehouse serves as an interpretive space allowing visitors to learn more about the role and importance of the site in Revolutionary era Williamsburg, and 18th-century coffeehouses in general. We are deeply grateful to Deborah and Forrest Mars, Jr. whose generous support is making this reconstruction a reality for future generations to enjoy.”
Today, the reconstruction also provides an exciting new venue for scenes from The Revolutionary City and other special event performances. One of the most dramatic encounters of the period leading up to the American Revolution took place on the porch of Charlton’s Coffeehouse in 1765, when an angry crowd protesting the Stamp Act demanded the appointed collector for Virginia, George Mercer, swear an oath that he would not distribute the official stamped paper. This scene will be the newest addition to The Revolutionary City.
The finished reconstruction appears as close to the original structure as historical, archaeological and architectural evidence permits. From a hot beverage list similar to what 18th-century patrons would have perused and carefully selected furniture, glassware, ceramics and hardware, to reproduction maps, prints, advertisements and broadsides adorning the walls, and a political debate on the front porch, Charlton’s Coffeehouse provides visitors with the ultimate opportunity to explore 18th-century politics, business and cuisine.
About The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the stories of our nation’s founders, located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C. For more information call 1-800-HISTORY or visit www.colonialwilliamsburg.com