Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Alexander Boyd and the Boyd Tavern

Alexander Boyd is my relation by marriage.  His great- great grandson, Alfred Waller Boyd,  married my great grandfather’s sister, Annie Preston Clarkson.  Alfred Boyd and my great grandfather, Samuel Edwin Clarkson were joint founders of Oklahoma Hardware Company and worked many years together.

Boyd Tavern, Boydton Virginia
Between 1766 – 1770 Alexander Boyd purchased hundreds of acres in Mecklenburg county Virginia, where he established his home and store.  During this same time he married the daughter of his adjoining neighbor, Richard Swepson.  Over an extended period of time, Alexander Boyd, along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, Richard Swepson junior, established the “Village of Mecklenburg Court” that included the courthouse, prison, tavern, mercantile business and their home plantations.

The original tavern building was constructed around 1790, a small single-story structure. It first belonged to the Swepson family, but in 1794 it came into the hands of Alexander Boyd.  He turned the operation over to his sons, Richard and Alexander Boyd.  In 1796 Richard Boyd was granted a tavern license. 

When Alexander Boyd (senior) died in 1801 he left to his son, Alexander Boyd (junior), the portion of his property that housed the courthouse and tavern.  Twelve years later, in 1812, a portion of this property became Boydton, county seat for Mecklenburg county Virginia.  Alexander Boyd (junior) laid out fifty-eight lots, streets and a public square on forty acres.  Shortly after, the Boyd Tavern was expanded, probably to support the needs of a growing community.   

During the reign of the Swepson and Boyd families, the tavern likely served a variety of purposes.  Traditionally taverns provided food, drink, and sometimes lodging for both townfolk and travelers.  Taverns usually had a “taproom” where men could gather for food and drink.  There they, “learned current crop prices, arranged trades, heard newspapers read aloud, and discovered business opportunities and the latest betting odds on the upcoming horse races.” (wikipedia)  A variety of alcoholic drinks were served, from imported rum to locally produced hard cider.   In larger taverns there might also have been a second room, of a slightly more gentile design, where women could be included for a meal. 

Tavern keeping was a closely regulated business, requiring a license.  Local governments worked hard to insure that their taverns were safe places for people to gather.  They limited what would be served, and who could be served.  They even set prices to avoid gouging. 

Boyd Tavern, being located at the county seat, would have provided for the many visitors who would come for county business, or to attend the county court.  Recent historians assert that Boyd Tavern, in its early days, may actually have been the courthouse for Mecklenburg county Virginia. 

Answering a dispute related to the tavern, Alexander Boyd claimed he provided, “ . . a table amply supplied with all the meats raised in this part of the Country and a cellar furnished with the liquors of Europe, Africa, and America, and a tavern of nearly 150 feet in length with fourteen rooms and twelve fire places for their accommodations, with stables as good as any in the state . . “ 

After the “panic of 1819” and the ensuing financial depression, the Boyd family sold off the tavern and surrounding property.  But, the Boyd Tavern story carries forward to this day.  The building has changed dramatically, and it has had a variety of owners, operators and uses.  In the early 1990s the Boyd Tavern Foundation, along with community leaders in Boydton accomplished the task of restoring the tavern.  It now serves as a social and cultural gathering place for the Boydton community and town visitors.   

If you would enjoy reading more about Boydton, Boyd Tavern, or tavern keeping in Colonial America, I suggest:
History Down Every Road, see Mecklenburg County; Boyd Tavern.

Photo:  Boyd Tavern (circa 1900) from a postcard.  This image of Boyd Tavern, along with a number of more recent photos, appears on the History Down Every Road website.  Be sure to visit!


  1. I believe this is my great great grandfather.

  2. Great info and write-up! Thank you for sharing!


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