Newport Rhode Island
White Horse Tavern
Every Innkeeper’s nightmare happened here in 1720.
Spirits of owners who die prematurely may be working in their after-life.
What an impressive, “massively framed” 3 storied building that features well-done architecture from the colonial era. It is one of the oldest tavern buildings in the United States. The former owners, over 300 years ago didn’t fool around, and built a solid secure building, both inside and outside. The owners that followed changed the insides a bit when they transformed this once private residence into a commercial building in 1673, and modern improvements were added throughout the years to modernize the building a bit to meet the needs of the tavern business, that has long been located here. Sometime in its history, the inn part of the tavern, located upstairs, was discontinued, and the second floor became more tavern/dining space. However, the original colonial aura of this property has never been tampered with, and it looks much like it did so long ago.
As we stood across the street, Tom and I saw the “clapboard walls, gambrel roof (added just after the Revolutionary War), and plain pediment doors bordering the sidewalk.” Stepping into this upscale tavern, was like stepping back into the 1600s and 1700s, with “its’ giant beams, small stairway hard against chimney, tiny front hall, cavernous fireplaces, dark interior illuminated by candlelight, high ceilings, and wooden floor,” the decor is well-done colonial, and sparks the imagination of what it was like in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The White Horse Tavern is a flexible venue, and has a variety of sized rooms to meet the needs of their community, and outside groups. The first floor has a regular dining room, with individual tables, and one or two smaller rooms off the main dining room for larger families or small business groups. Other rooms throughout the first and second floor can accommodate 20 to 70 guests. Even during the winter months, The White Horse Tavern is a comfortable place to go to dinner, or an event, because each room has its own wood-burning fireplace.
Tom and I decided to have dinner here, after tromping around Newport all day, getting pictures for our website. Though the dress code is business casual, they are kind and understanding with visitors who don’t know any better! Although Tom and I were under-dressed in jeans; (oops), they were very cordial, and greeted us warmly, showing us to a real table cloth-covered table in the first floor dining room. The waiters are dressed in period clothing. Service was great, and the food truly upscale delicious. They take great pride in having a trained chef who can really cook! Their cuisine staff work with event planners to provide just the right fare for the occasion.
Throughout its long history, The White Horse Tavern building has only had 6 owners, 4 of which have passed the property down through their descendants from the early years, up until 1954: Brinleys, Mayes, Nichols, and Preece. While O.L. Pitts bought The White Horse Tavern as a partnership endeavor in the 1980s, Paul Hogan is a long time resident of Newport, and may pass the property down his own line of family descendants!
The original 1652, built to last structure, began its existence as the family home of Francis Brinley, for twenty years. In 1673, William Mayes Sr. saw the commercial possibilities of this structure, and bought it. He turned it into a comfortable classy tavern and inn. For the next 100 years, this structure was big enough and comfortable enough to host meetings of the Colony’s General Assembly, Criminal Court and City Council.
In 1702, William Mayes Sr must have died, and his black sheep son, William Mayes Jr. took over the tavern’s business. Before becoming the tavern and inn’s new owner, William Mayes Jr. had been a notorious pirate. The people of Newport forgave him, and protected him from the law enforcement authorities for a little while. When he was able to get a license to sell “…all sorts of Strong Drink,” he added more of a variety of alcohol to the tavern, boosting liquor sales.
However, the British authorities were really embarrassed about a notorious pirate, who deserved legal punishment himself, being allowed to run a popular, upscale business that hosted government functions, and they weren’t so forgiving. So, William Mayes Jr.’s career as a tavern keeper didn’t last very long. His sister, Mary Mayes Nichols and her husband, Richard, who were respectable people, became the new tavern keepers. Travelers could also spend the night, but they didn’t get their own room, but a place to sleep. If you didn’t get one of the few rooms, that you shared it with a stranger, the floor was offered for bedrolls, or a pile a straw.
In 1708, Mary and Richard started offering lunch to city councilmen, who billed the city treasury as a business expense. It is claimed that this tavern became the first establishment to be the birth place of the idea of “the businessman’s lunch.”
In the 1720s, every innkeeper’s /hotel manager’s biggest nightmare of any era happened. One of the Nichols’ overnight guests died in his sleep. Fearing that he had died from a communicable disease, Mary Nichols and the Indian girl were sent by the authorities to the quarantine island, Coaster’s Harbor Island. While they didn’t catch anything from their dead guest, both of them caught smallpox while in quarantine. Mary survived and came home. Perhaps they stopped offering sleeping accommodations after this incident.
In 1730, other Nichols family relatives of Mary and Robert Nichols took over the tavern. Jonathan Nichols gave the tavern its name, that has stuck throughout the years; The White Horse Tavern. The Nichols family lived upstairs, and the tavern was downstairs. During the War of 1776, Walter Nichols moved his family out of the building and out of Newport to avoid having to serve and host the Hessian soldiers garrisoned there by the British. After the war was over, Walter Nichols came back, made improvements, like adding a new roof, and opened The White Horse Tavern once again for business. It was larger than before, to accommodate more people and events. Perhaps it needed some renovation, after the soldiers had lived there. Perhaps they got a little rowdy at times, as young men tend to do, and left some damage behind.
In 1895, the Nichols family sold the property to Thomas and Bridget Preece, who had new plans for the structure. It became a rooming house. Uh oh! Usually, the money made from a rooming house doesn’t bring in enough revenue to provide for the extended upkeep an old structure like this needs. By 1954, the building, while still standing, was in need of lots of TLC, and a boatload of money. The Van Buren family rescued the property, and gave it to The Preservation Society of Newport County. After 3 years of careful restoration, this building was again opened up as The White Horse Tavern.
In 1981, The White Horse Tavern again became privately owned, when a former Texan by the name of O.L. Pitts and his three partners bought The White Horse Tavern, and continued on the tradition of offering “good fellowship, good food and good cheer.”
Newport native, Paul Hogan bought the White Horse Tavern from O.L.Pitts, and continues on with the spirit and tradition so long established at this place of business. Along with a wonderful structure and upscale Tavern and dining business, he seems to have inherited some spiritual residents.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
Owners and managers of established businesses sometimes choose to stay in their buildings to supervise the living, not letting death get in the way of keeping an eye on what was their live-blood while alive.
People who die unexpectedly in a place, and not buried properly, or not given a name or proper respect, their spirits can hang around until it is done so; finding the missing remains, giving a proper epitaph on the stone, or solving the mystery as to identity of the deceased.
Mary and Robert Nichols’ guest who died in one of the upstairs rooms so long ago, was never identified. The stranger who had shared the bed with the deceased must have woke up and discovered that his bed partner had died. Not wanting to wind up in quarantine, he made a hasty departure. Any information he may have known about this fellow went with him. So, the dead man was quickly buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, fearing that he may have died of an illness that was deadly if caught. Despite making an effort to find out who he was, it remained a mystery.
Several spirits are thought to inhabit The White Horse Tavern.
Entity of the elderly male guest who died –
Dressed in common, shabby Colonial attire.
This entity’s apparition has been seen by staff and guests many times in the main dining room by one of the fireplaces.
This spirit has been known to pester female diners, who are sensitive to spirits. Perhaps this spirit thinks that they can help to identify him.
This spirit was also seen in the upstairs men’s bathroom.
An unseen entity; could be male or female:
Supervises the staff, and helps to keep an eye on guests; guardian of the building.
Keeps an eye on people who wander up to the second floor.
Taps the staff on their shoulders, and
Tells them to lock up when it isn’t time yet.
Patrols the building sometimes while staff is closing up the Tavern, and counting money to put in the safe.
The entity of a female
Her face was caught above one of the tables in a photo. Imagine their surprise when she shows up in the picture!
A Huge PROBABLY SO is in order.
Though investigators haven’t shared on line what they have captured, plenty of people know they are not alone in the tavern. They don’t need really hard evidence as they live with the spirits every day, and have seen plenty, making the spirits a reality.
Perhaps investigators haven’t used the right trigger to entice the spirits to come out and talk via EVPs.
Two photos by two different people have caught what looks like two of the entities seen and experienced. There are always some skeptics when it comes to believing that ghost photos are paranormal, but the photos are accepted by the folks who have to live with the spirits here.
It has been reported that all of the staff have had experiences with the spirits in The White Horse Tavern, as well as some patrons over the years. Many paranormal groups have done investigations in this tavern, but I couldn’t find any shared evidence on line. Two photos have been shared. A photograph of the old man who died there is framed and is on the wall of The White Horse Tavern, and An unintentional photo of a female face was caught on film by a professional photographer, taking a publicity photo for The White Horse Tavern. Imagine their surprise when she shows up in the picture!
26 Marlborough Street
Newport, Rhode Island 02840
- Haunted Rhode Island
by Thomas D’Agostino
- Ghosts of Newport: Spirits, Scoundrels, Legends, and Lore
by John T. Brennan
Published by Haunted America
- White Horse Tavern history
– Edited transcript of a talk given by Anita Rafael at the White Horse Tavern on December 16, 2000
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr