John Wise Sr., often called the “Tavern King of Alexandria,” was pivotal in shaping Alexandria’s social and cultural landscape during the late 18th century. His establishment, Wise’s Tavern, also known as the Globe Tavern, Bunch of Grapes, and Abert’s Tavern, located at 201 North Fairfax Street, was central to a significant moment in American history.
Wise’s Tavern and Its Significance
Wise’s Tavern was just one of several establishments under John Wise Sr.’s ownership. His portfolio also included the Indian Queen, City Hotel, Fountain Tavern, and the renowned Gadsby’s Tavern at certain times. These establishments were more than mere drinking places; they were integral to Alexandria’s social fabric.
On April 16, 1789, Wise’s Tavern was the setting for an event of national importance. George Washington, recently elected as the first President of the United States, was preparing to depart Alexandria for New York City for his inauguration. The citizens of Alexandria convened at Wise’s Tavern to bid their farewell.
During this reception, Mayor Dennis Ramsay addressed Washington as “Mr. President.” This was the first recorded instance of the title being used in this manner, establishing a precedent that continues today. Notably, Dennis Ramsay, who had the honor of addressing Washington in this historic manner, is buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery in the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex. (To read more about Dennis Ramsay, including a transcript of the actual speech, click on this blog [Colonel Dennis Ramsay: Mayor and Confidant of George Washington | A Life Rooted in History and Community].)
Personal Life of John Wise Sr.
Beyond his business ventures and contributions to the community, John Wise Sr. played a significant role in Alexandria’s architectural heritage. In 1797, he built Alexandria’s historic Lloyd House, located at 220 North Washington Street, a residence that boasts a rich history of its own. John Wise Sr. married Elizabeth Jennings Wise in 1796, and together, they had five children:
– John Wise Jr., who met a tragic end, drowning in the Potomac River at 13. He is buried in the 18th century burial ground at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House
– Nathaniel Seton Wise (1789-1830) left an indelible mark in the legal world and was distinguished as the inaugural president of the Periclean Society in 1821. He also served as a private during the War of 1812.In 1824, Wise took on the role of secretary for a group that opposed the attempted retrocession of the Virginia portion of the District of Columbia. Recognized as a prominent and successful lawyer, he also signed a 1828 petition urging Congress to abolish slavery in DC. Tragically, he passed away in 1830, and the location of his burial remains unknown. Following his death, his family relocated to Newport, Kentucky.
– Francis Wise was recognized for his service during the War of 1812.
– Caroline Wise married James McCrea, a merchant on Royal Street, whose residence was nestled between Cameron and Queen on the same street. James served as the Clerk of Council in 1804 and again in 1809. Additionally, he was appointed as the postmaster of Alexandria in 1796.
– Anne Wise, who wed John Seton and returned to Alexandria after a period in Baltimore.
John Wise Sr. passed away in 1815. Despite his significant contributions to Alexandria and prominent status, his final resting place remains unknown.
John Wise Sr.’s contributions to Alexandria extend beyond his business endeavors. His legacy, particularly Wise’s Tavern’s role in George Washington’s farewell, remains integral to Alexandria’s rich history. The stories of Wise and his establishments serve as reminders of the city’s vibrant past and its connection to the broader tapestry of American history.
Sources of Information
Dahmann, D. C. (2022). The Roster of Historic Congregational Members of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House. Unpublished manuscript.
Smith, W. F., & Miller, T. M. (1989). A Seaport Saga, Portrait of Old Alexandria, Virginia. The Downing Company Printers.
The Alexandria Association. (1956). Our Town 1749-1865 at Gadsby’s Tavern Alexandria, Virginia. The Dietz Printing Company.
Powell, M. G. (2000). The History of Old Alexandria, VA, from July 13, 1749 – May 24, 1861. Index by Pippenger, W. E. Westminster, MD: Willow Bend Books.
Madison, R. L. (2005). Walking with Washington: Walking tours of Alexandria, Virginia featuring over 100 sites associated with George Washington. Gateway Press.
Salinas, B. (n.d.). Descendants of John (Col.)(1st) Wise. GHOTES. http://www.ghotes.net/descendants/descendants_of_john_wise.htm