Finding sparks of historical inspiration in the modern world is a historical romance writer’s most treasured thrill. It’s easier than it may appear at first. Even though I can’t catch a plane and jettison myself to London for inspiration, there is plenty right here in New York City to tickle my imagination.
Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary by having lunch at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan. Though the original building was constructed in 1671, it didn’t begin it’s climb to historical infamy until 1762, when it was purchased by Samuel Fraunces. Fraunces converted the building into a tavern, calling his establishment the Queen’s head after Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.
Despite it’s namesake, it quickly became home to “radical” politics, when the Sons of Liberty choose it as their meeting place. By the end of the revolution, the tavern was commonly referred to as Fraunces Tavern. On December 4, 1784 the Tavern hosted it’s most famous event: a victorious farewell banquet given in honor of General Washington by his Officers. He toasted his officers amid tears saying (as recorded by Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge) “I most devotedly wish that your latter days be as prosperous and happy as your former days have been glorious and honorable.” At the close of the banquet, one by one, each officer took Washington’s hand to bid him farewell.
The building still houses a dining establishment on the first floor, however the Sons of the American Revolution has preserved the upstairs private dining rooms as a museum. There by husband and I looked over clothing, papers and paintings that date back to Georgian times. I found inspiration everywhere: in the blown-glass windows, the painted wall paper, the pewter candlesticks and the hastily written notes preserved through the centuries. When standing in front of a tavern’s fireplace, for instance (and next to the china cupboard), one can easily imagine the comings and goings of young colonists as they argued the merits of revolution.
My stories are set in England, but in the tavern I could easily imagine a similar public house in London full of raucous conversation and seeds of social discontent. A tavern on a dark alley where Ladies were banned, but which had several private upstairs dining areas where a desperate lady might hold an illicit assignation…