Whispering Pines: Selective Vision

Whispering Pines

An oil painting by John G. Brown of the Bowdoin campus in the early 1820s hangs in the President’s Office. There are four main buildings in the view. Massachusetts Hall, with its pre-1830 cupola, faces a wooden chapel. Maine Hall (1808) and Winthrop Hall (1822), known as New College or North College before 1847, define the east side of the College yard. In the foreground is a man pushing a wheelbarrow – Frederick Trench (“Old Trench”), a baker who had come to Brunswick from Boston in 1792, and made money by selling gingerbread and root beer to students. A cow squares off against a barking dog, while a fashionably-dressed couple strolls outside the white fence that surrounded the campus.

What does not show in the painting – or in other contemporary views of the campus – is a tavern that occupied the northwest corner of the College yard (where Maine Street and Bath Road meet) from 1802 until 1842. In fact, the only image of the tavern that I know of is a sketch made in 1826 by Luther D. Sawyer of the Class of 1828, which is reproduced in Charles Calhoun’s 1993 book, A Small College in Maine. An 1820 advertisement described the tavern as having “…six rooms on the lower floor, some large and well furnished; a spacious and convenient hall, a good cellar and never-failing well. The appurtenances are a large, well-finished stable, with other out-buildings; a good garden of more than an acre.” Located at the intersection of roads that led to Bath, Harpswell, Maquoit, Portland, and Augusta, the tavern was the main stagecoach stop in Brunswick. In 1836 there were seven regular coaches arriving in Brunswick daily, with three or four special coaches that could be added to the schedule to keep up with demand – a number that compares favorably with the combined bus and train traffic that reaches the town today.

While there were many public houses in Brunswick, the tavern at the top of the hill had a special connection to the College. It was built by Ebenezer Nichols in 1802, the same year that Bowdoin opened its doors to the first class of students. It served as a public meeting place, an inn and restaurant, a place where students could pick up packages and mail, and a store where candles, glassware, pots and pans, coffee, tea, and other items were sold. The College recently acquired a ledger that recorded the day-to-day business of the tavern from 1815 to 1817, when it was owned by Col. Thomas Estabrook, a War of 1812 veteran who for 30 years was the marshal at Bowdoin Commencements. The ledger shows that President Jesse Appleton and Professor Parker Cleaveland were among Estabrook’s best customers for candles. The tavern was owned for a year by a man named Coffin, and was then sold to Isaac Dowe, an Irish-born innkeeper from Boston. When Dowe died from an overdose of laudanum (tincture of opium) in 1820, the tavern was managed by his niece, Evis Ward.

I recite these historical details here because they clarify some omissions in local histories and set the stage for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s experiences at the tavern during his student days. According to Hawthorne’s close friend and 1825 classmate Horatio Bridge:

“In the corner of the present campus stood ‘Ward’s tavern’ when I first went to Brunswick. Its owner had recently died, and was succeeded in his vocation by his [niece], a maiden of perhaps thirty years – affable, good-looking, and always ready to give moderate credit for the little suppers and other comforts that students might desire…There, oftener than elsewhere, Hawthorne indulged in the usual convivialities of the period…the customary pastimes included card-playing and wine-drinking… he rarely exceeded the bounds of moderation – never losing more money than he could readily pay, and never imbibing enough to expose himself to remark. He could drink a great deal of wine without, apparently, being affected by it.”

The reference to Ward’s Tavern had always puzzled local historians, who knew the establishment by the names of other owners listed in an 1878 town history – Nichols, Estabrook, Dowe, Moorhead, Seavey, or Elliott – but not Ward. Evis Ward married innkeeper Alexander Moorhead in 1825, and he is listed as the owner of the establishment for 1825-31 and 1839-42. It would not be the first instance in which Wheeler and Wheeler’s History of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell had passed over the accomplishments of a woman; there is no mention in the 959-page history of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who more than a quarter of a century earlier had written Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Brunswick, a book that was second only to the Bible in nineteenth-century sales.

Hawthorne’s copy of the Laws of Bowdoin College (Bowdoin Spec. Coll. & Archives).

Hawthorne’s copy of the Laws of Bowdoin College (Bowdoin Spec. Coll. & Archives).

Hawthorne may have used the tavern as a model for the Hand and Bottle Tavern in his first novel, Fanshawe, a fictional account set in a town with a college that was similar to Bowdoin in many ways. For Hawthorne, Bridge, future president Franklin Pierce [1824], future senators William Pitt Fessenden [1823] and Jonathan Cilley [1825], and others who faced disciplinary action from the faculty for frequenting the public house next to the campus, it was always “Ward’s Tavern.” Term bills for these illustrious alumni include fines for various infractions, although none of them were subjected to the more severe punishments, such as suspension (six months), dismissal (nine months), or “rustication” (twelve months).

The cover of Hawthorne’s copy of the twenty-eight-page Laws of Bowdoin College is covered with the doodles of an aspiring writer who was experimenting with different cursive styles for his signature and with alternative forms for his last name. Although the college catalogue for his senior year used the old spelling, in his own mind Nathaniel Hathorne became Nathaniel Hawthorne at Bowdoin. With three full pages of the Laws devoted to “Misdemeanors and Criminal Offences,” it’s easy to see why Hawthorne and others chafed under President William Allen’s rules. On one hand, the list of proscribed behaviors give the sense of a buttoned-down and orderly campus; alternatively, it may also be read as a catalogue of acts of rebellion that grew longer each year as laws tried to keep pace with the creative energies of students.

In President Allen’s ideal world, each student observed the Sabbath by “abstaining from diversions of every kind” on Saturday and Sunday evenings, and retired to his chamber on Saturday evening and did not “unnecessarily leave it.” There were punishments for singing indecent songs or being indecent in conversation, hunting or fishing without permission, smoking tobacco, building a bonfire, setting off fireworks, associating “with any person of known dissolute character,” attending “any theatrical entertainment or idle show in Brunswick or Topsham,” or interrupting the studies of others by singing, playing a musical instrument, clapping hands, or calling out a window. Hawthorne and his circle of friends had the greatest difficulty with elements of Rule # 34: “No student shall eat or drink in any tavern, store, shop, or victualling house, unless in company with his parent or guardian…nor play at cards, billiards or any game of hazard, nor at any game whatever for money or other things of value; nor shall purchase or bring into college spirituous liquors…”

Bowdoin College in 1830.

Bowdoin College in 1830.

In the spring of his freshman year, Hawthorne and other students were brought up on charges of playing cards (probably at Ward’s Tavern). He wrote to his mother “I have nothing in particular to inform you of, except that all of the Card Players in College have been found out, and my unfortunate self among the number. One has been dismissed from College, two suspended, and the rest, with myself, have been fined 50 cts. each. The President intends to write to the friends of all the delinquents…If I am again detected, I shall have the honour of being suspended. When the President asked what we played for, I thought it proper to inform him it was for 50 cts. although it happened to be a quart of wine, but if I had told him of that he would probably have fined me for having a blow. There was no untruth, as the wine cost 50 cts.”

Throughout their college days, Hawthorne and his friends continued to rack up fines for “walking abroad on the Sabbath,” being absent from prayers and recitations, and continuing to frequent the tavern on Saturday nights.

In the 1830s the tavern had several owners, although Alexander Moorhead’s name is the one most often associated with it. Moorhead sold the tavern, associated buildings and land to Bowdoin in 1842. For several years it was known as “College House,” and was used to house from six to eight students per year. In 1847 the house was moved to Noble Street, where it became the home of Laurens Joyce, an alumnus of the Medical School of Maine and a captain in the 15th Maine volunteer regiment during the Civil War. The house still stands at 23 Noble Street as a visible reminder that there may be more to Bowdoin’s history than meets the eye.


With best wishes,

John R. Cross

John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations


  1. Ken Briggs says:

    I am curious about Hawthorne’s use of the term “having a blow.” These days, as I recall, there are at least two applications of the phrase: one, to describe an athlete’s temporary break from action in order to catch his or her breath; two, with reference to drugs, perhaps cocaine. What did it mean then?

  2. Elizabeth Aaroe says:

    My dear John, you have done it again!
    I was so excited to read this with the premonition that it was coming. It is wonderful. I think the Pub should consider naming drinks and dishes in honor of the many people and their stories you conveyed about the history of Wards Tavern. And to think we had to fight so hard to get a pub approved when Hawthorne so easily enjoyed his pleasure for wine…without excess. Cheers!

  3. Frank Farrington '53 says:

    While I enjoy everything John writes, this is one of the “particularly’s”

  4. Howard Levin (1954) says:

    Apparently ” rustication “was not only practiced at Bowdoin. I recall reading the biography of a Harvard educated surgeon who misbehaved in some fashion there. The Harvard administration punished him with one or two years spent elsewhere . In the biography he indicated that he “rusticated” at Bowdoin. I think it’s a wonderfully descriptive term, and for those or us living in more urban environments , to think that we had the privilege of rusticating in Brunswick for four years.

  5. Barbara Kaster says:

    Dear John, Another wonderful article. I knew some of this and some I had never known! What a glorious and fascinating history our college has! Thank you!!!

  6. Jay Robbins '73 says:

    As a Bowdoin undergrad, I was the only three year regular at Will’s Rustic Tavern that was still not of legal age. Taverns in days of old were a necessary evil: essential for travelers (and every community was required by law to have one) and the public interface of all efforts to control certain types of behavior (cards, billiards, shooting games, dance, theatrics, etc.). Alcohol, in Colonial days, was a huge source of government income, so it has always been a love/hate relationship between the community and the tavern. Glad to know that Bowdoin has always been a part of that world.
    Taverns and Retailers (for takeaway, no on-premises consumption) needed approval from the Town Selectmen, and also were licensed annually by the County Court of General Sessions of the Peace (equivalent to today’s County Commissioners here in Maine). Cumberland County Court records at ME Archives may reveal more info. on Ward’s tavernkeepers. Massachusetts and Maine Acts and Resolves state the things one could do, or not do, at a tavern. As always, everyone did everything that they were forbidden from doing. To be brought before the law you needed a complantant. Only the tythingman dared tattle on a friend or neighbor. Taverns were a safe neighborhood place.

  7. John Ottaviani says:

    I am constantly amazed how you can create such compelling and fascinating stories out of obscure, little-known facts. Well done, again!

  8. Dave Doughty (1968) says:

    Howdy John,

    This one really put a huge smile on my face as I eagerly read through it. I can only begin to imagine how much effort you expended to put the story together.

    Extremely well done my man … thank you very much for continuing to produce the highlight section of this regular communication from the College.

  9. Leo Guen '76 says:

    John, a delightful jaunt painting Bowdoin’s history, including leading speculation as to how Hawthorne’s spirit was nurtured by seemingly ‘idle time’ in Ward’s Tavern.

  10. Al DeMoya '72 says:

    I must echo Frank Farrington ’53. This is brilliant.

  11. Louis Briasco says:

    As I read, I thought the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! Thank you, John.

  12. I am so happy to have found this. I’ve been searching for information about Ward’s Tavern (researching Nathaniel Hawthorne’s college days), and Evis Ward was my missing link! Absolutely loved this post so much. Thank you!

Leave a Comment