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Historical Correspondence

The First Coffee House in Colonia North America

From Eric Marr (

I thought I'd take a moment to write to you about write you about the first coffee house in Colonial North America. Current historical and archaeological evidence suggests that it was in St. Mary's City, Maryland. I'm not sure of the exact date but I believe it to have been established in the 1680's or '90's.

The founder was Garrit Van Swearingen, a Netherlander who came to Maryland in 1664 from New Netherland at the time of the Duke of York's seizure of Dutch Colonies in North America. Garrit had been a Supercargo for the West India Company, and then held several important positions in a Patroonship owned by the City of Amsterdam on the Delaware River.

After several years in Maryland he moved to St. Mary's where he eventually ran a boarding house. In the parlance of the period a boarding house was a high class establishment with nicer accomodations and better food, and it required reservations.

The assembly of the colony held sessions in his grape arbor when the afternoon heat grew to be too much in the State House. His cider was declared to be the very best in the Colony. In time he established a coffee house on his property.

Fragments of Coffee services have been found on the site but they may date from the 18th Century. Records refer to a coffee house on the site which is supposed to be a small detached building. The site is run by the State of Maryland today. It is part of a larger living history museum, historic St. Mary's City. The Buildings have been "ghosted in" to give visitors an inkling of their size and placement.

With Coffee establishments comming on so strong in America today it is a wonder that some company like Starbuck's has not heard of it and offered to fund reconstruction of Garret Van Swearingen's House, Coffee House, and Detached Kitchen.


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