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“Mr. President”: The Historic Address at Wise’s Tavern and Its Role in Shaping American Etiquette

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.

Contemporary view of the iconic Wise Tavern, situated at 201 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia.

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.

1933 photograph of the Dalton-Herbert Houses – also known as Wise’s Tavern – at 201 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Independent City, VA, as documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey. Image sourced from the Library of Congress:

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].)

Bronze plaque at the former Wise’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, commemorating the event of April 16, 1789.

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.

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By David

As a public historian, I am dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich history of Alexandria, Virginia, and the surrounding region. With a deep passion for bringing the past to life, I serve my community in this meaningful role.

Before this, I enjoyed a fulfilling career as a businessman and entrepreneur. Now retired, I have found a new sense of purpose in my work as a public historian.

Since 2015, I have had the privilege of serving as the Superintendent of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery and Columbarium, located within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex in Alexandria. This cemetery holds a special place in my family's history, as it was started in the early 1800s by the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, a historic congregation dating back to 1772 that is situated one mile east in the heart of Old Town. The cemetery is the final resting place of my parents, and the Meeting House is where I have worshipped for over 60 years.

As a public historian, I am thrilled to lead tours of the Wilkes Street Cemetery, which has thirteen cemeteries in a complex with over 35,000 interments. It is considered the most historic cluster of cemeteries in the United States. These sacred grounds offer a fascinating glimpse into the story of Alexandria and its people. I also enjoy guiding tours of nearby Civil War battlefields, combining my passion for history with the compelling narratives of those who fought and fell on these hallowed grounds, bringing their stories to life. I primarily lead tours of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and the Antietam Battlefields, along with tracing the footsteps of those involved in the Assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in April 1865. I am also a licensed tour guide in Washington, D.C.

To further engage the community, I manage a blog focused on Alexandria's cemeteries, where the many souls buried across the city are memorialized. I am also an active Board Member of the Alexandria Historical Society and the Lee-Fendall House Museum.

Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the area, I invite you to explore Alexandria's rich history by joining one of my cemetery or battlefield tours, reading my blog, or connecting with me on social media. It is my sincere pleasure to bring the city's captivating past to life and serve my community meaningfully.

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