It was in this American public house, in the heart of downtown Haddonfield, where New Jersey officially became a state in 1777.
It is in this early American public house and tavern that the newly formed New Jersey Legislature met during the first nine months of 1777 to discuss and vote upon issues of war, and where New Jersey’s official designation was changed from colony to state. Today, the first and second floors of the site are open to the public.
By January 3, 1777, the colonies had been at war with Britain for over a year. The Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, had recently defeated the British Forces at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. These military engagements had forced the colony’s legislators to move the seat of government to a safer haven. They decided upon the Indian King Tavern as a place to conduct the affairs of State.
From January 29 to March 18, 1777, and again in May and September, the General Assembly met here.
It was at the Indian King that the Declaration of Independence was officially read into the minutes of the New Jersey Assembly. And it was here that the Assembly adopted the Great Seal of the State of New Jersey.
On August 27, 1776, the Legislature of the State of New Jersey met in Princeton for the purpose of creating a symbol for the new state. Two months later, the Legislature selected one of its delegates to the Continental Congress, Francis Hopkinson, to facilitate the design of New Jersey’s state seal. Hopkinson subsequently hired Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, a Swiss-born artist, to design the seal.
The Legislature specified that the Seal be made of silver and that it be “…round, of two and a half inches diameter, and three-eighths of an inch thick, and that the Arms shall be three Ploughs in an Escutcheon; the Supporters, Liberty and Ceres, and the Crest, a Horse’s Head; these words to be engraved in large Letters around the Arms…’THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY.’”
Du Simitiere completed his design in October 1776, deviating slightly from what the Legislature ordered. He added a helmet beneath the horse’s head and put New Jersey’s date of statehood in Roman numerals at the shield’s center bottom.
Yet another significant act was the amendment to the State Constitution which provided for the insurance of all official acts of the Governor and Courts under the authority of the State of New Jersey, rather than the Colony. The Indian King was also the place where the Council of Safety, formed to examine those suspected of loyalist activities, was organized. The Council held its first meeting at the tavern in March 1777.
Hugh Creighton sold the Indian King Tavern in 1790. For the next 113 years the Indian King continued to operate as a tavern and inn, being known successively as the Old Tavern, American House and Roberts Hotel. In 1874, it was turned into the American Temperance Hotel- a change prompted by the passage of an 1873 law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in Haddonfield.
Ownership of the ark, which had become a general store in 1842, was subdivided from that of the Tavern at this time. It continued to operate as a general store until 1908.
The State of New Jersey acquired the Indian King Tavern on June 15, 1903. In an attempt to return the tavern to its original appearance, several major architectural changes were made over the ensuing years. Among them were the removal of the “ark”; the return of the west section to 2 ½ stories and the addition of a pent roof across the front of the building. The Indian King Tavern is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
Taverns have always been a place for people to congregate, share ideas and enjoy food and drink. They were an integral part of a community’s social fabric, providing respite for the townspeople as well as the weary traveler. During the Revolutionary War period in America, many taverns became centers for discourse on issues such as taxation, business constraints and an increasing military presence by Great Britain. The Indian King Tavern was no exception.
Located in the prosperous market town of Haddonfield and across the river from Philadelphia, the tavern was visited by both commoners and the well-to-do. During the Revolutionary War, it was alternately occupied by both American and British forces. The Generals Marquis de Lafayette and “Mad” Anthony Wayne are said to have stopped here. After the war, the Indian King continued to serve the local citizenry and travelers.
The tavern’s first floor bar and public dining rooms, combined with a large assembly room on the second floor and numerous bedrooms, made it a popular destination. Patrons were assured of a set rate for food, drink and lodging since the Courts regulated prices. Tavern keepers were required to post a list of rates for not only their patrons, but for their patrons’ horses as well.
While the Indian King Tavern no longer serves the thirsty or the weary, it remains a destination point for those interested in learning about tavern life and how the Indian King impacted the town of Haddonfield and the history of New Jersey.
Grades: 2 through 12 (and adult ESL); year-round
Topics: 18th Century children’s lives and activities, Camden County history, George Washington’s visit, colonial life; requests for other topics considered
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233 Kings Highway, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
Grounds Hours Wednesday- Saturday 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. and 1-4 p.m.
Sunday 1-4 p.m.
Tour Hours Please call the site for hours of operation.
Entrance Fee None