J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Real Green Dragon Tavern

We’ll close “Mapping Revolutionary Boston” Week with a visit to the Green Dragon Tavern. That was an important site in pre-Revolutionary political organizing, and it gets its own pin in the website/app.

That building contained a “public house” or tavern by 1714. There are period references to a Green Dragon Tavern in Boston before that date, but it’s not clear they refer to an enterprise at this location.

In 1764 the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons bought this building to use as their lodge. That was the organization of Dr. Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, and other strivers, as opposed to the more establishment St. John’s Lodge. Naturally, the Freemasons kept the Green Dragon running as a bar, too. Benjamin Burdick, who was also captain of the watch for the middle part of town, managed the establishment in the early 1770s under a short-lived new name, the Mason’s Arms. Lots of unofficial political meetings took place there.

Unfortunately, the blue pin for the Green Dragon Tavern on the “Mapping Revolutionary Boston” map is not in the right place. It should be up higher, on the part of Union Street that leads from Hanover to the Mill Pond. The pin shows the location of the modern business that uses the Green Dragon Tavern name.

That’s a common confusion because the modern Green Dragon Tavern desperately wants people to think it’s the historic site. I took the liberty of correcting the opening paragraph on its website, historically and grammatically:
The Green Dragon Tavern [that stood in another spot until nearly 200 years ago] has a long and rich history, playing an important part in the freedom of Boston during the War of Independence. Established in 1654 [actually, that’s four decades before the earliest reference][add comma] The the Green Dragon was a favorite haunt of Paul Revere (Wwhom [but points for using the objective pronoun] we consider a close Nneighbor [even though he lived on the other side of the North End]) and John Hancock [he attended very few lodge meetings after accepting membership] (who’s whose brother lived next door! [if you have to treat Ebenezer Hancock as a celebrity, you’re stretching]). Indeed, as has been ratified [I do not think this word means what you think it means] by Daniel Webster – the famous historian [he was famous as an attorney, senator, and secretary of state], [choose either em-dashes or commas for apposite phrases, not one of each] that it was in the Green Dragon that the plans for the invasion [pretty strong word for the British government sending British soldiers to part of the British Empire] of Lexington and Concorde Concord were overheard [so British officials and military commanders were hanging out with the radical activists in this tavern? I don’t think so. And that’s not even what the myth says.] [add comma] thus starting the famous ride of Paul Revere.
In fact, Revere said he had his committee of observers stop meeting at the Green Dragon in late 1774 after hearing from someone—quite possibly Henry Knox—that their activities were known to the royal authorities. That doesn’t make the original Green Dragon Tavern any less historic, of course. And it doesn’t make the current one any more so.


Anonymous said...

What a great correction! I hope they get wind of it and correct themselves.

Thanks so much for the Mapping Revolutionary Boston site! It is a real joy to read.

Derek "A Staunch Whig" Beck said...

I knew it wasn't original, but is there anything authentic about the present Green Dragon, besides the name?

Charles Bahne said...

The present Green Dragon tavern opened in my memory, I think in the 1980s. From the beginning its owners have made a conscious effort to play up the history angle; but they started from scratch. The sign outside their establishment bears a picture of the original tavern. Personally, I'd appreciate it more if the sign showed a picture of a real green dragon (as did the original sign in the 1700s).

Across the street, the Bell in Hand tavern actually has a stronger claim to a connection with Revolutionary days; I believe they say they are descended in management from the Bell in Hand of the early 1800s, although the location has moved.

The nearby Boston Stone also got its start as a tavern sign in 1737; until about 10 or 15 years ago there was still a Boston Stone tavern on that street. It's now called the Point.

The site of the original Green Dragon is extremely difficult to pin down. It didn't really face the street, but was in the middle of the block, on an alley, with other buildings between it and the street. And the nearby streets were significantly altered in 1872, then completely obliterated in the urban renewal of the 1960s. I've found some old maps and have been able to confirm with some confidence that it was on the site now occupied by the entrance to the Orange Line, on [New] Congress St., just north of Hanover St.

rfuller said...

Oh, fie, JL, fie! How can you cast aspersions on those who would twist history to their own ends to make a few bucks off it? What's a few minor historical points (such as the origins of the American Revolution) to quibble about when commerce calls? Don't fire until you see the whites- or greens- of their dollar bills, as it were.

J.J. said...

While living in Boston I visited the Green Dragon once. It is quite obvious from the interior that either a) this was not the original Green Dragon or b) if this was the site of the Green Dragon, this was not the original building. Back then I checked Wikipedia which claimed that the present institution's relationship with the historic establishment "is not immediately apparent."

As a teacher I tell my students to always view Wikipedia with skepticism. Thanks to your article I can now confirm my original suspicions (and Wikipedia's claims)!



John L. Smith said...

JL - I love your side lesson on proper grammar, such as "whose" vs. "who's". Argh! Drives me crazy!

Robert S. Paul said...

Now now, some of the capitalizations are 18th Century proper!

Don Carleton (Jr.) said...

Even Jill LePore appears to fall for this one. In her "Tea and Sympathy" New Yorker essay of 5/3/2010, she gives the strong impression that the Green Dragon Tavern she visits to sit in on a Tea Party political meeting is the actual 18th-c. establishment.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, I was a little dismayed by that paragraph. The magazine’s fact-checkers contacted me about some other odd details, but not that one.

I get the impression that Lepore tried hard not to pile on the Tea Partiers by pointing out historical mistakes, just omissions from their world-view.

Of course, that didn’t stop adherents from hating her book. They seem to really dislike any analysis of the movement that doesn’t reflect back only its own understanding of itself.

Anonymous said...

The blue pin for John Hancock's House and John Singleton Copley's Farm on the “Mapping Revolutionary Boston” map are not in the right place as well.

J. L. Bell said...

I would place the Copley farm pin further west, in the center of his holdings. But without checking real-estate maps I can’t be sure it’s not on a corner of his land.

The John Hancock pin should indeed be one block to the left, at the house marked with a U. That building is actually labeled on the 1769 map because it was so prominent. I think William Molineux lived in the house nearest the blue pin now.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that the current green dragon does not claim to be the original. They opened in 1993 and are very open and honest that there was no gren dragon tavern in bostn for a century and a half. They are. Somers pub, and opened it in homage to the original. They have never claimed to be connected to the original. There may be pleanty of grammatical errors, but correcting that would be a difficult job through out the city. I think they have done a good job giving a nod to the original and their signage reflects that...

J. L. Bell said...

As the posting and comments show, as of the summer of 2011 there was some obvious confusion between the original Green Dragon Tavern and the modern pub. On my visit back then I didn't see any signage or copy in the menu or on place mats to clearly dispel that confusion. If things have changed, I'm pleased.

Anonymous said...

There is a wooden plaque in the front door that has clearly stated since they opened that this location is paying homage to the real one, which i beleive was located about 100 yards away where haymarket train station orange line entrance is.

Anonymous said...

You didn't include "King" Hancock among the "Strivers" in the Lodge of St. Andrew! Actually "mechanics" like Revere were the exception rather than the rule.
The Lodge owned the tavern, and its sale funded the original endowment.
It's remained a tiny, very sociable and animated Lodge from the mid 18th century to the present day.

Charles Thorland
Master, Lodge of St. Andrew

J. L. Bell said...

I didn’t list Hancock because he wasn’t that active. After his induction, how many meetings did he attend before the Revolution?

If we compare Boston’s St. Andrew Lodge to its St. John Lodge, I think a clear class distinction appears. The latter included more merchants and professionals, the former more luxury craftsmen (like Revere). Warren and Hancock strike me as exceptions to that pattern.

Unknown said...

Re Hancock -- not a bad question. I'd have to pour over old minutes to answer. He became a member in 1762. The records then were not the best. I expect he was fairly busy, given his various responsibilities.

On reflection, the mix of mechanics and others in the Lodge is something of a vexed question, confused a bit by the 1762 list of members and their occupations, which I think is rather unique. With 50 odd members, many are indeed craftsmen (chairmaker, carver, gun smith, etc.) but seven are listed as "merchant" and a full eighteen as ship captains (which seems surprising). An eclectic bunch.

Later, by the 1770s, our view may be clouded by the preponderance of celebrated Brahmin names (Lowell, Putnam, Adams, Gardner, Loring, Gray, Goodwin, Coolidge, etc.), but that raises more complex questions regarding social class in the period in any case. After the Revolution, the star of the Lodge rose far above that of the Loyalist (and for a time extinct) St. John's, and the Lodge of St. Andrew became a haven for men of prominence and former Continental officers.

In the decade prior to Warren's death, it's not surprising that mechanics were strongly represented. Warren was the idol, and a guiding light, of the North End Caucus, and I expect research would show considerable overlap in various political clubs to which the good Doctor.

Possibly worth further consideration! This is, alas, well after my period, as by training I am an Assyriologist (and now, by trade, a lawyer).

By the way, I read out one of your "King Hancock" posts tonight at our Table Lodge, for the edification and amusement of the members and some distinguished visitors. The article entitled "I mean King Hancock." Very well received, and I thank you for it!


J. L. Bell said...

I'm glad the "King Hancock" anecdote was useful!

I agree that there was a shift in the prestige of Boston's Freemasonry lodges during and after the war—further complicated by the split with the new lodge. That was a period of social mobility so families like the Lowells became very prominent for the first time in the years of the war and immediately afterward while upper-class families like the Deblois went away.

I find the "strivers" like Paul Revere, Thomas Crafts, Henry Knox, William Burbeck, and Samuel Gore to be some of the most interesting men in Revolutionary Boston. They started as skilled craftsmen and came out as gentlemen, manufacturers, officeholders, militia officers, &c. I don't think many of them could have gotten into the St. John's Lodge in the 1760s. John Hancock probably could have, but I suspect his underestimated political instincts and wish to be a big fish in the pond led him to St. Andrew's instead.

Brad Watson, Miami said...

GOD=7_4, 7/4=July 4th or 7 April 30 AD: Good Friday(74) when Jesus(74) the Jewish(74) Messiah(74) was on the Cross(74=C3+R18+O15+S19+S19).

Freemasonry recognizes 'sacred geometry' and gematria(74).

Continental Congress first met in 1774.

John(4 letters,=47=J10+O15+H8+N14) Hancock(7,40) was the only representative of Congress to actually sign the Declaration of Independence of 7/4/1776. Charles Thomson(74=T20+H8+O+M13+S19+O+N14) - Secretary of Congress - attested it. THese two signatures can be seen on the 'Dunlop Broadsides'.

Happy July 4th Holiday(74=H8+O15+L12+I9+D4+A1+Y25).

J. L. Bell said...

Shouldn’t GOD = 7,15.4?

Or are we manipulating the rules to produce a desired result?

Brad Watson, Miami said...


Simple(6,74) English(7,74) Gematria(8,74) uses 'the key'(74): A=1,B=2...O=15 or zerO...Z=26. The only irregularity is the circle: O can be either 15 or zer0. It's like an Ace in cards is 1 or 11.

704=GOD: 7 is G, 0 is... What letter is zero? There is none. A circle remains a circle. D is 4.

GOD=7_4: the use of the underscore shows that O can be either the 15th letter, hence GOD=7154 or O is a zero, hence GOD=704.

Freemasonry has always recognized a connect(74) between(74) 7 & 4. The ancients observed that there are 7 moving objects(74) in the heavens(74) and 4 of these don't cast shadows(74) on Earth (Venus does). The 4 phases of the lunar months(74) are 7 day (7.4 days) each. The lunar year + 7 day week + 4 days = 365 day solar year.

The ancient Egyptians (among others) practiced 'sacred geometry' with its precept of "As above, so below" ("On Earth is it is in the heavens.") They took the 7 & 4 from the heavens and altered the Standard/Biblical Cubits(74) of 6 palms x 4 fingers and added a palm to create Royal Cubits of 7 palms x 4 fingers. The architect of the Pyramids at Giza, the Sphinx, the Temples at Luxor, etc all began their design by using Royal Cubits.

It's a Freemasonry thing! The Bible uses the GOD=7_4 Code all over the place, i.e. King(4) Solomon(7) began building the Temple in the 4th year of his reign and it took 7 years to build, "Selah" is found 74x: 71 in Psalms & 3 in Habakkuk, "7 Seals & 4 Horsemen", etc.

George Washington had 74 generals in the Continental Army: 33 were Mason(47)s. There were 74 representatives to the Constitutional Convention (not at the same time[47]) and the Constitution's 7 Articles were written on 4 pages. The Southern Boundary Marker to Federal(7) City(4) was laid in a Masonic(74) ceremony on March 15, 1791: the 74th day of the year, etc.

J. L. Bell said...

As of tonight, Wikipedia counts 82 generals in the Continental Army.

So I think the answer to my question above is Yes.

Unknown said...

n k ?

Irishwarman said...

I feel a close relationship with the original tavern as I'm related to many of the original liberty boys who met there. Included are uncles and cousins, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Samuel Dexter, Joseph Warren, James Otis and the loyalist Peter Oliver and traitor Benjamin Church. It might explain my independent nature.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. OK buddy. Lmao!

Joseph Warren said...

Is The Tea party ship at the Museum the original? If the Green Dragon wants to help keep history alive sign me up.

J. L. Bell said...

As the posting documented, there’s confusion between the original Green Dragon Tavern and this one. As to whether the current one is “keeping history alive” with the claims on that placemat, that’s not actual history, just a sloppy approximation.

There are other choices. As a comment above notes, the nearby Bell in Hand Tavern has sturdier historical roots. The Warren Tavern of Charlestown operates in the same building as the original that opened in 1780. And the Green Dragon Tavern of Carlsbad, California, has a carefully reproduced façade and a museum of colonial documents and newspapers inside.