RVA Legends — Bell Tavern

RVA Legends — Bell Tavern

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

October 2015

Fifteenth & Main Streets, NE
Built, 1802
Demolished, 1846
VDHR 127-6196

Not hard to guess for whom the bell tolled.

October 2015

To mark the site of Bell Tavern
Used as a
Recruiting Station
During the War of 1812
Erected by the Dorothy Payne Madison Chapter
N.S.U.S. Daughters 1812, VA

Just a theory on the name – Hector Davis’s slave market was a block away at Fifteenth and Franklin Streets, replete with auction bell tower, a structure still visible as late as 1937.

(Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)
Map of Richmond (Micah Bates 1835)
Showing Bell Tavern (5) and the Farmer’s Market (a)

Many of the early public auctions of slaves in Richmond took place on the streets. As the industry developed further, the auctions moved to the taverns frequented by the traders. Bell Tavern was the center of the slave trade during the first part of the 1800s. Located at the corner of Franklin and Fifteenth streets, the tavern was the site of many slave auctions and housed the offices of at least two slave trading firms. R. H. Dickinson and Thomas Taliaferro had offices at Bell Tavern. The following advertisement appeared in the Whig on January 1, 1841:

BY R.H. DICKINSON: ADMINISTRATOR’S SALE OF Twenty-Seven VALUABLE NEGROES. Will be sold on SATURDAY, the 2nd of January, 1841 at 1 o’clock in front of Bell Tavern, twenty-seven valuable NEGROES – consisting of BOX-MAKERS, PRIZEMEN, TWISTERS, STEMERS, COOKS, FEMALE HOUSE SERVANTS, and some FIRST RATE FIELD HANDS. D.M. BRANCH Adm’r of Sam’l Cosby, dec’d. Sale conducted by R.H.D., Auctr.

October 2015

The tavern was replaced in 1846, by the City Hotel, also known as the St. Charles, located on the northeast corner of 15th and Main streets. Thomas Taliaferro moved his offices to the City Hotel. Benjamin Davis, Churchill Hodges, the Hill brothers, David Pulliam, and later the partnership of Pulliam and Davis, all well known traders, had offices in the City Hotel. Auctions were held in the basement. The Exchange Hotel, one of the city’s finest, at the southeast corner of Main and 14th Streets, housed the offices of at least five agents including George Jones, Pulliam and Slade and P. M. Tabb and Sons. The offices of other traders were located in the warehouses and shops within a two block radius of the hotels. (VDHR)

October 2015

Then, as now, it was a busy corner, with Bell Tavern being one of many taverns sprouting up along the Main Street Corridor and around Shockoe Creek – a list including Eagle Tavern, Galt’s City Tavern, Abraham Cowley’s, Richard Hoggs, Rising Sun, Bird in the Hand, and Trower’s.


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