Tavern Definition: A house that offered alcoholic drink, food, and overnight accommodation for a price.
Around 1763 a tavern was built on the north half of Lot 6 by Jacob Wirt and his wife Henrietta. Jacob was a Swiss immigrant and Henrietta emigrated from Germany. They raised their three sons and three daughters in this tavern. In 1774, Jacob Wirt died and left this property, including the brick store (George Washington House), tavern, stable, and counting house before the tavern door, to his heirs.
Although the tavern was still owned by the Wirt heirs, it was rented out. By 1798, the tavern was being operated by Richard Ross. The tax records described the tavern as a two story, framed dwelling house measuring 46 ft by 28 ft. The property also supported a 12 ft by 16ft framed kitchen, a 26 ft by 20 ft framed stable, and a 26ft by 9ft shed.
Perhaps the most significant mention of the tavern came in a letter dated March 26, 1797 from George Washington to Elizabeth Willing Powell. In the letter he noted that although Spurrier’s Tavern in Jessup was popular with travelers, “the lodging is bad-the eating tolerable…better for lodging than eating. At Bladensburg nine miles beyond a good house is kept by one Ross (sign of the Indian Queen). We believe that Washington was likely referring to Richard Ross’ tavern.*
The last known tavern keeper was Patrick Daugherty who took over the operation in 1802 and may have kept the Ross name for his business. Ross’ Tavern is not mentioned again until 1814. Joshua Barney’s daughter, Mary, reports that after the Battle of Bladensburg, Commodore Barney was taken to Ross’ Tavern at his request. Here he oversaw the capture and parole of 80 wounded American soldiers. Additionally, a letter written from Ross’ Tavern about the Battle of Bladensburg from Henry Thompson to Brig. Gen. Stricker also suggests the use of the tavern as a head quarters following the battle. This is the last known reference to the tavern. Based on the chain of titles, it appears that the property ceased to support a tavern by the 1830s.
By 1861, a German cabinet maker, Ernst Franz (Francis) Gasch, operated a cabinet shop on this property where he also made coffins and served as a local mortician. Although Francis and his wife, Sophia, moved across the street in 1895, they continued to operate the funeral home at this location until 1902. By 1939, the property is vacant.
The Indian Queen Tavern archaeological excavation will begin May 17th, 2010.
*A tavern believed to be the Rossborough Inn is noted on an 1802 map as the Indian Queen Tavern in College Park. It is believed Richard Ross built and operated this inn after leaving his Bladensburg establishment in 1802.