Mason's Arms Tavern


Mason's Arms Tavern was established in 1756 by Samuel Fraunces. It was located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street. There was a Dancing Room of 45 feet long adjoining the tavern. The site was part of the Church Farm (Trinity Church) granted by Queen Anne in 1705. It was renamed Free-Mason's Arms, in 1768, and Hamden Hall, in 1770.

Samuel Fraunces was registered as a freeman and designated himself as an innholder on the City’s register of freemen, in 1755. In February 27, 1756, he and James Taggert dissolved partnership as retailers of strong liquors. Taggert continued the business alone. Sam Fraunces was granted a tavern license, in 1756, and, in the same year, he opened Mason's Arms "in the Fields", near the Barracks, operated as a mead and tea garden.

According to Stokes (Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1922), Fraunces had acquired a lease of two lots of ground, 322 and 323, of the Church Farm in the West Ward, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street. These lots were originally leased by Trinity Church on February 28, 1752 to John Dunscomb and Peter Rushton for 21 years at £4 annually, and by them transferred to James Mills. He assigned the lots to Mary Alexander and John Provoost and they in turn to Samuel Fraunces. Note: Trinity Church did not sell this property before 1827.

Before 1750, Broadway did not extend to the north beyond present-day Vesey Street. After that, there were the Common (now City Hall Park) and the road to Anthony Rutger’s property, where Ranelagh Gardens was established in 1765. After 1750, Trinity Church laid out streets through a portion of the old Church Farm, located from the west side of Broadway to Hudson River, until about Chambers Street. Then the Church leased lots on this area and houses were built.

Mason's Arms was the first of a few taverns owned by Samuel Fraunces in New York. His membership in the old Holland Masonic Lodge No. 8 probably inspired the name of this tavern. That was a fraternal organization and George Washington had a Master Mason degree in the Virginia Masonic Lodge. Some other U.S. presidents were members of the Masons. Franklin Roosevelt was initiated in the Holland Lodge No. 8, New York, in 1911.

We get to know these two illustrations above, left, with title "Fraunces' Tavern", drawn by authors who were born decades later. Both were published or created in 1905, the same year the architect Mersereau was hired to lead the restoration of Fraunces Tavern building. Coincidence? They seem to represent a different Fraunces' Tavern, not the one on Pearl Street. If they were artistic rendering, based on an older drawing or drawings depicted from nature (which was common at the time), they probably represent the Mason's Arms Tavern. But if those drawings ever existed, they were not referred to by researchers in the field as far as the author of this text is aware.

The drawing by Samuel Hollyer (1826-1919) is referred to the year of 1777, but it was published in 1905, in the Old New York, Views by S. Hollyer. However, the City of New York had been occupied by the British since September, 1776, and Fraunces is believed not to be in New York in 1777. This year Fraunces was the proprietor of the Queen’s Head and he had acquired again the former Mason's Arms, in 1775 (see below). Maybe Hollyer could have based his drawing on an older illustration, the same way he did with the View of the Bowling-Green, originally published in 1830. Many illustrations Hollyer engraved for his three volumes of Old New York were dated before his birth. Maybe this was also the case with the undated illustration by Robert Shaw (1859-1912), which seems to represent the tavern in an earlier time than that represented by Hollyer.

According to Stokes, on November 6, 1759, the meeting of the Common Council was held "at the Dwelling House of Samuel Francis in the West Ward.". This was at the Mason's Arms Tavern.

On February 5, 1761, Fraunces posted an ad in the Parker's N.Y. Post-Boy:

"To be sold at a very reasonable rate, by Samuel Francis, at the sign of the Masons' Arms near the Green, New York, a small quantity of portable soup, catchup, bottled gooseberries, pickled walnuts, pickled or fryed oisters fit to go to the West Indies, pickled mushrooms, a large assortment of sweetmeats, such as currant jelly, marmalade quinces, grapes, strawberries and sundry other sorts."

On January 13, 1762, Fraunces and his wife mortgaged to Walter Rutherford for £400 and interest, payable in one year, the lots (leased by Trinity Church) on which Mason's Arms Tavern stood. On January 15, 1762, Fraunces bought the de Lancey's mansion, on the corner of Dock and Broad streets, and established a tavern in the building, the same year.

John Jones took over Mason's Arms before April 10, 1762. Jones gave Fraunces a mortgage on the Mason's Arms on February 3, 1762, and paid it off on January 14, 1765. On April 10, 1762, he announced in the New York Mercury: John Jones "Begs Leave to inform the Publick that he is removed to the House which formerly has been kept by Mr. Samuel Francis, at the Sign of the Mason's Arms next Door to Mr. De Grushe's in the Fields, where he intends to give the same Entertainment as formerly has been done by Mr. Francis..."

By December 1764, Sam Fraunces opened its Vauxhall Garden also in Warren Street, but fronting Greenwich Street. The site was also leased from Trinity Church, for a period of more than 60 years. Fraunces operated his Vauxhall Garden until late 1773.

According to Stokes, on February 28, 1765, Jones acquired from Trinity Church a 63-year lease on the two lots of Mason's Arms, which was a part of the Church Farm. On May 13, the same year, Jones offered the tavern for sale. He described it as "The House, at the Sign of the Mason's-Arms, near the College, ... a very convenient House for a Tavern, and has always been occupied as such, where the best Company in Town resorted; there is a very commodious Dancing Room of 45 feet long adjoining the same. There is yet 63 Years of the Lease to come..." (from New York Mercury), but he failed to sale it. Jones opened Ranelagh Gardens to the north of Broadway and Thomas St., soon after June 3, and, on June 12, he mortgaged Mason's Arms to Roger Morris, a retired British soldier and a member of the Council since December 1764. By November 14, 1765, Jones leased Queen's Head Tavern, renamed it "Free-Mason's Arms". By January 1768, Mason's Arms, on Broadway, was also called "Free-Mason's Arms" (see below).

By February 1766, Richard Howard became the new proprietor of the Mason's Arms (New York Mercury, February, 18, 1766). The same year, the Liberty Pole was installed in the Fields, near the tavern, to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.

Alexander Smith succeeded Howard  in October, 1766. On February 26, 1767, Murray and Smith announced that they had entered into partnership for carrying on the business of Vintners, and Victuallers, at the tavern. Jones tried to sell the house again in December 1767. On January, 11, 1768, a sale at public vendue was announced, in the New-York Mercury, to be held on January, 25 at the Merchants Coffee House of “the noted Tavern, bearing the Sign of the Free-Mason’s-Arms, on the West Side of the Broad-Way, fronting the Great Square. The House has 12 Fire-places, two Dancing Rooms, and eight other good Rooms, with every Conveniency for the Reception of Company. It was formerly kept by Samuel Francis, and since by the Subscriber, and has rented for Eighty Pounds per Annum, besides Taxes. Any Person inclining to purchase at private Sale, may, in the mean Time, enquire of John Jones."

On March 21, 1768, it was announced in the N.Y. Mercury: "The noted Tavern, at the Sign of the Freemason’s-Arms, on the West Side of the Broadway, fronting the great Square late the Property of John Jones, but now belongs to the Hon. Roger Morris,” is to be let.

According to Stokes: «Shortly thereafter, Edward Smith appears to have become proprietor. Under Smith, the house became one of the most popular meeting-places for the Sons of Liberty». Then, the tavern became known as "House of Edward Smith".

On March 16, 1769, it was announced in the New York Journal: "The Friends of Liberty and Trade, who are inclined to celebrate the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp Act, on Saturday the 18th Inst. at the House of Edward Smith, In-keeper, in the Fields; are requested to give in their Names to Mr. Hugh Gaine, or the said Smith, in order that suitable Provision may be made for their Accomodation. N. B. Dinner to be served precisely at two o’Clock, and the Bill called at six". On March 23, the editor of the journal wrote: “considerable number of the Genuine Sons of Liberty” met at Smith’s, “where an elegant Entertainment was prepared for them; after the Company had dined, the remains of the Dinner, and a quantity of Strong Beer was sent to the New-Goal, and properly distributed among the Prisoners”.

According to Stokes: «when a disagreement occurred between the radical element of the party and Abraham de la Montagne [sometimes referred to as Montanye], whose tavern [a few doors south of Warren St. on Broadway (present 253-254)] had been engaged by the conservative faction of the Sons of Liberty for their annual celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act on March 19 [1770], the house of Edward Smith was taken over by the former as a "proper House for the Accomodation of all Lovers of freedom on that Day, and for their Use on future Occasion, in the Promotion of the Common Cause". ... Henry Bicker, who had recently been conducting a tavern in New Brunswick, at the "Sign of the Tree of Liberty," became the first proprietor, and the house was called "Hamden Hall." The liberty pole in the fields stood almost opposite the house in what is now City Hall Park, and a little to the north, in the fields, were the barracks of the British soldiers. Both Hamden Hall and Montagne's tavern, ..., were attacked by soldiers on several occasions preceding the outbreak of the Revolution.»

On March 24, 1770, a number of soldiers attempt to take off and carry away the top-mast and vane of the liberty pole, but are frustrated in their design by a few young men. When the citizens heard of this, “14 or 15 Persons came up to the Green, and going to the Pole, were there surrounded by about 40 or 50 Soldiers, with their Cutlasses drawn; upon which 4 or 5 of them retreated to the House of Mr. Bicker [Hamden Hall], and were followed by Part of the Soldiers, who immediately called out for the Soldiers from the Barracks; upon which they were joined by a very considerable Body that came over the Barrack Fence.” While they were trying to force the doors and windows, some of the people who were in the house, got out by the back way and ran to alarm the citizens. “The Chapel Bell was immediately rung, upon the hearing of which, the Soldiers retreated precipitately.”’ Thereafter the pole was “nightly guarded” by the inhabitants until the transports sailed, so that the soldiers “were disappointed in effecting their Designs against it, altho’ they positively Swore they would carry off Some Part of it with them. (N. Y. Post-Boy, April 2, 1770).

In May, 1772, John Cox succeeded Bicker as proprietor of the tavern (N.Y. Post-Boy, May 12, 1772). About May 14, 1774, John Cox was succeeded by Edward Bardin (formerly at King’s Arms Tavern). In May 1775, Bardin left to open a house and large garden on Beekman Street.

On May 29, 1775, Samuel Fraunces and his son-in-law Charles Campbell announced in the N.Y. Mercury that they have "opened the large commodious house lately occupied by Edward Bardin, the corner of Warren-Street, in the road to the Water Works [the city's first water system]," where "coffee, hot rolls, mead, cakes, and every other genteel entertainment", will be provided. They also announce that they continue to keep the Queen's Head Tavern, near the Exchange. On July 3, a dinner of the Connecticut forces officers was announced (N.Y. Mercury) at "Mr. Samuel Fraunces's, in the Fields".

In 1776, Samuel Fraunces was in New Jersey. During the British occupation of the City, from 1776 to 1783, the tavern at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street, the former Mason's Arms, ceased to exist. In 1788, Trinity Church leased the premises to Cornelius Cregier for 40 years.

In 1827, the site of the tavern, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren St., was purchased from Trinity Church by Garrit Storm, a grocer in New York. In 1852, there were three row houses in the property and it passed to Storm’s daughter, Glorvina Russell Hoffman, whose husband Samuel Verplanck Hoffman hired architect John B. Snook to design and construct a building on the site. Snook designed a five-story neoclassic building, completed in 1854. In 1899-1900, the Rogers, Peet & Company building was erected on the site. It was designated a New York landmark in 2010.



Fraunces Tavern



NY 18th century


Free-Mason's Arms (1768)

House of Edward Smith (1768)

Hamden Hall (1770)

Fraunces / Campbell (1775)


Fraunces Tavern


These houses, above, are not the Queen’s Head Tavern on the corner of Dock (now Pearl) and Broad Street, in 18th century, today famously known as Fraunces Tavern. They probably represent the Mason's Arms Tavern.


Old Tavern New York NY


Mason's Arms

Mason's Arms and Vauxhall Garden indicated in a fragment of the Plan of the City of New York, in North America: surveyed in the years 1766 and 1767 (by Bernard Ratzer), with additional texts. We can see that Vauxhall Garden and Mason's Arms are only three blocks away. Both places were part of the Trinity Church farm and were leased by Samuel Frances. The "Reads Str." (now Reade St.), proposed later in 1771, was the boundary between the Rutgers property (Ranelagh Gardens) and Church Farm.


City Hall Park


Bowling Green Garden


New York 18th century


Bowling Green fountain


Broadway NY 19th Century


Liberty Pole Fields

The Liberty Pole was near Mason's Arms.


City Hall Park


Mason's Arms Tavern


54 Pearl Street

Copyright © Geographic Guide - Historic Taverns in NYC.


Fountain Central Park NY


Ranelagh Gardens NY


Park stairs


Robert Shaw


Historic Hotels


Vauxhall Garden


Old Farms


By Jonildo Bacelar, Geographic Guide editor, May 2023.