Three Hearts Tavern: Entertainment for Man and Horse
On December 2, 1739 the eminent Methodist preacher George Whitefield recorded in his journal, “About Ten we came to Christian-Bridg again, where we had left some of our Friends last Night. Here we took a little Refreshment, and by Twelve reach’d Whitely Creek, the Place appointed for my preaching.” Preaching near the first White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, referred to as William Tennent’s Meeting-House in his journals, Rev. Whitefield reported that he preached to approximately ten thousand people (The Pennsylvania Gazette reported eight thousand attendees). After delivering two sermons to the people of White Clay Creek, Rev. Whitefield “rode Three Miles, and was kindly and hospitably entertain’d at the House of one Mr. Howell, who came with his Family some Years ago from Cardiff in Wales. One in the House had heard me preach in Kingswood, and every Thing was carried on with so much Freedom and Love, that I rejoiced much that GOD had sent me thither.” Whitefield then wrote that upon leaving White Clay Creek he made his way toward Maryland. Riding three miles southwest of the old White Clay Creek Presbyterian Church would have placed Whitefield almost directly on the main road in New Ark and very near Ebenezer Howell’s house according to the earliest known map of the village, dated 1736. As the only Howell identified as living on the main road in 1736, and considering his family emigrated from Wales, it is likely that the “Mr. Howell” in Rev. Whitefield’s account is Ebenezer. Besides evidence from the map, it is unknown whether Howell was yet operating the Three Hearts Tavern out of his home at that time. It is possible that Rev. Whitefield was one of Howell’s first patrons, and, in feeling the same “Freedom and Love” as the Reverend, he was encouraged to maintain a place of rest and entertainment.
The 1758 “charter” map of New Ark is the first reference to Howell opening the Three Hearts Tavern. A sign near the sketch of Howell’s house states: “Entertainment for man & horse.” This saying was often painted on colonial tavern signs and has a long history of association with drinking establishments. The condition of the Three Hearts Tavern under the proprietorship of Howell is unknown. Howell did, however, maintain a sizeable property in New Ark that ultimately sold for an admirable price. When an advertisement in The Pennsylvania Gazette announced the sale of the tavern on January 12, 1774, the building was described as “a large two-story brick house.” This is the only known description of the physical characteristics of the Three Hearts Tavern. The advertisement states that the property also came with twenty acres of meadow, thirty-seven acres of woodland, stables, a garden, and an orchard. Having already lived in Shiloh, New Jersey since 1769, Howell sold the tavern on September 19, 1774 for five hundred and thirty-five pounds. According to a document believed to have been drafted by Declaration of Independence signer George Read, Ebenezer Howell sold the Three Hearts Tavern to Henry Darbywith John Evans Jr., Esquire as his securer. Darby paid Howell sixty-five pounds while the Honorable John Evans, who was likely Howell’s second cousin, paid the remaining four hundred and seventy pounds.
By 1790 Henry Darby was an innkeeper in the town of New Castle and was highly active in city affairs. He likely sold the Three Hearts Tavern sometime between 1774 and 1790 in order to move his business interests to New Castle. Today, no public records seem to exist that can identify who owned the Three Hearts Tavern directly after Henry Darby. In his book History of Delaware: 1609-1880 VOL II, historian J. Thomas Scharf states that in May of 1797 respected townsman Joseph Hossinger obtained a license to a run the tavern. Once again, it is not clear who owned the tavern directly after Hossinger, but it eventually came under the ownership of another prominent townsman, Alexander McBeath, Esquire. The length of McBeath’s proprietorship is unknown, but on May 2, 1807, he sold the Three Hearts Tavern for one thousand and twenty-five pounds to thirty-six year old John David Herdman, Jr. The deed between McBeath and Herdman is the last document to identify the name of the establishment as the Three Hearts Tavern. Herdman successfully ran the tavern from the date of the deed until his death on January 24, 1832. Herdman’s left behind a daybook that details the business’s financial transactions from January 2, 1816 to June 30, 1818. Such transactions include the names of patrons and their purchases of alcoholic spirits, food, lodging, loaned money, and payments for turnpike bills. The daybook, with its over three thousand transactions, is the only known remaining object from the Three Hearts Tavern.
John Herdman’s daybook shines a bit of light on life in early nineteenth century Newark. One example is a transaction between Herdman and Sarah Massey. An entry in the daybook on May 11, 1817 reads, "Sarah Massey debtor to twelve dollars, it being a balance of twenty dollars which I paid her in part for a Black Boy which Boy I returned to her." Herdman was not only purchasing the labor of enslaved people from other slaveowners such as Massey, but he also owned enslaved people himself. In 1810, three years after purchasing the tavern, the Federal Census of Newark listed Herdman as owning one enslaved person and employing or housing one free African-American. Ten years later, at the time of the 1820 Federal Census of White Clay Creek Hundred, John Herdman owned two enslaved men. One was between the age of twenty-six and forty-five and the other was over the age of forty-five. The younger man may have been owned by Herdman until the latter’s death, and it is possible that the enslaved man was Caleb Cox, who was referred to in a 1832 bill of sale between the Herdman family and John Thompson. Upon the death of John Herdman, his wife, Mary and son, William, became the administrators of Herdman's estate. Two months after the elder Herdman had passed, Mary and William sold John's enslaved person, Caleb Cox, to John Thompson for the sizeable amount of two hundred dollars. As the administrators of the estate, the Herdman family had the legal right to free, keep, or sell Mr. Cox. The family chose the latter. The fate of Caleb Cox is unknown after the transaction, however, it should be noted that in the 1830 Federal Census of White Clay Creek Hundred, two years before the sale, there was a thirty-six to fifty-five year old Caleb Cox listed as a free African-American. It is possible that Cox was one of the roughly fifteen hundred enslaved people to be freed in Delaware between 1820 and 1860.
After John Herdman’s death in 1832, the Herdman family continued to own the Three Hearts Tavern for almost fifty years. During that time, the tavern was leased by a handful of local townsmen and changed names at least twice. It appears that by 1850 John Herdman’s twenty-eight year old son, Benjamin Herdman, had taken over his late father’s business. Eight years later, on an 1858 map of Newark, the tavern was now known as the Sawdon Hotel, and was likely being leased by local butcher, Francis Sawdon. The hospitality business would not have been foreign to Sawdon. According to the Biographical and Genealogical History of the State of Delaware, Volume 1, for twenty-five years Sawdon’s father owned a hotel two miles west of the town of New Castle called Hare’s Corner Hotel. Between 1860 and 1862, Benjamin Herdman was once again the proprietor of the inn in Newark. Benjamin's proprietorship does not seem to continue in 1863, and by 1864 it is believed that retail dealer John W. Choate was leasing the inn from the Herdman family. An 1868 map of Newark officailly ties Choate's name to the inn, and the map also identifies the establishment by a new name, Newark Hotel. Choate would continue to lease the inn until John Herdman’s two sons, William and Benjamin, and the widow of his son, John, agreed upon a quitclaim deed with Choate for the business on November 7, 1879. It seems that by the time of the transfer, the business had fallen on tough times. In the 1882 book Newark, Delaware: Past and Present, local historians Egbert G. Handy and Jas L. Vallandigham Jr. described the inn as “The rough looking, long, low porched Newark Hotel.” In this condition, Herdman children released all interest in the original Three Hearts Tavern property to Choate for the small sum of one dollar. Choate sadly demolished the original tavern building in 1880 and constructed a three-story structure called the Exchange Building. In the shadow of the Three Hearts Tavern, the Exchange Building still stands on the corner of Main Street and Choate Street.
1736 Map of New Ark (Image by the author with the permission of Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.)
A section of the 1758 "Charter" Map of New Ark (James B. Owen, The New Ark Charter Map, 1758 [Publisher not identified, 2001], 5.)
- 1821 Map of New Ark (Image by the author with the permission of Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.)
1858 Map of Newark (Image by the author with the permission of Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.)
1868 Map of Newark (Image by the author with the permission of Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.)
1881 Map of Newark (Image by the author with the permission of Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.)