52 Ancestors: #33 Ezekiel Howe, Rum and Revolution

Ezekiel Howe (1720-1796)

Red Horse Inn

Propritors of the How family tavern–How’s Tavern, Red Horse .Inn, Wayside Inn. Photo shared on Ancestry.com

Proprietor of the Red Horse Tavern, which would become known as Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, elected leader in his community, father of ten, and military leader who was present for the “Shot heard round the world” at Concord.

When Ezekiel Howe/How took over his father, David How’s Sudbury Massachusetts “How’s Tavern” in 1744, he changed the name to “Red Horse Tavern.”  David had enlarged his two-room house to four rooms to accommodate his own large family plus guests in the tavern.

When Ezekiel, David’s youngest son, married Bathsheba Stone in January 1743 and they moved into the family home/business, they had sufficient space. But as their family grew to seven children between 1744 and 1759, the building had to grow also.

Besides the fact that the family obviously needed more space, Ezekiel and Bathsheba had more guests to feed and entertain. As colonials settled in the area and traveled west from Boston on the Boston Post Road, the Red Horse had to provide more sleeping space and drinking and eating space for visitors.

As I earlier mentioned, it was here in the Red Horse Tavern, according to family lore, that my 4 X great-grandmother, Elizabeth Howe (Stone) was born in 1744. Her father, Israel, was a brother to Ezekiel Howe. (Follow the link for her story)

Wayside Inn bedroom

Old style bedroom in museum of Wayside Inn from Ancestry.com user

In 1748, Ezekiel is listed on an application for a license as innkeeper. The application reveals his prices.

  • Lodging: 4 pence
  • Good Dinner: 20 pence
  • Common Dinner: 12 pence
  • Best Supper and Breakfast: 15 pence each

Best Supper costs less than Good Dinner presumably because dinner was a main meal, and supper a lighter meal. But what do those prices mean? Are the equivalent to what we would pay today at a Holiday Inn, for instance?

*WARNING: this little bit of information set me off on an interesting, but not essential side road. Feel free to skip if you are not interested in the price of things.

The bad news is that it is almost impossible to say how Tavern Keeper Howe’s prices compared to today’s. An excellent article from the history.org site run by Colonial Williamsburg fills you in on why it is so difficult to get equivalents. In that article, they give some prices from Virginia in 1755, which might have been different than Massachusetts in the same general time period, but probably are close.

  • Pound of butter: 4 pence (roughly $1.50 in today’s money)
  • Prayer Book: 35 shillings (roughly $13.40 today)
  • A Yard of flannel material: 1 shilling, 3 pence (roughly $5.60)
  • A saddle: 2 pounds (roughly $15)

Do the English shillings, pence, pounds confuse you as much as they do me? It really doesn’t help a lot to learn that 12 pence = a shilling and 20 shillings= a pound. Not to mention that various colonies valued money differently, and Massachusetts had started making their own paper money by this time.

However, if the assumptions above are accurate, we can conclude that the Red Horse Inn was a bargain compared to what we pay to have a meal or a night in a motel. If you compare to the price of butter, staying overnight would cost $4. If you use the calculator found at this page, you will get the same result. (That same web page contains pictures of the coins and a fairly clear explanation of the English monetary system in the 18th century.)

*End of digression.

Now, where was I?  Oh, yes, the need to expand the inn.  Between 1750 and 1760, Ezekiel plowed a lot of money and effort into growing the property.  He added what is known as the Back Parlor, which doubled the size of the inn, he added the “New Hall” used as a ballroom–a total of six rooms in all. These large public rooms may have been used by the disgruntled colonials to get organized in their rebellion against the British.

Old Red Horse Tavern

Old etching of Red Horse Tavern/ Wayside Inn, used with permission of Longfellow’s Wayside Inn archives.

I have learned through conversation with a historian from Longfellow’s Wayside Inn that tavern keepers in colonial days tended to be leaders in their communities. The townspeople not only had elected Ezekiel Howe (and four other tavern keepers) as a Selectmen for Sudbury (something like a town council member) but he also was chosen town moderator–the person who ran the meetings. And he was a member of the very important Committee of Correspondence, the groups used to tie together the colonies before independence. A short explanation of the Massachusetts Committees–the first formed in the colonies–can be found at this Massachusetts history site.

While all of these civil responsibilities sound fairly harmless, Ezekiel also was an early joiner of the American Political Society, founded in nearby Worchester. In 1776 he was elected chairman of this radical Whig debating society, a spinoff of the Committees of Correspondence who goaded the public to take action against Britain.

The drill field for the Militiamen was just down the road from the Inn, and some speculate that the Minutemen and other patriots held  meetings at the Red Horse Tavern.

In Public Houses

In Public Houses

A terrific book for history buffs called The Public Houses by David W. Conroy, describes Sudbury as a real hotbed of revolution.  And Ezekiel was right at the forefront of rebellion. Rather than get sidetracked with another diversion, I’ll write a separate post about the role of taverns and tavern keepers in the American Revolution, but I just can’t resist this quote about two British spies traveling through Sudbury.

They did not stop at any of the six Sudbury taverns, a wise decision since Sudbury companies had become very agitated in the spring of 1775.

Indeed! And just imagine what a busy life Ezekiel had as proprietor of a tavern that hosted meetings, himself running meetings and drilling soldiers, and still working to make a living to support his enormous family.

By the time the tenth child, Jenny (or Jane) was born in 1765, the oldest daughter Rebecca was twenty and might have been married, but it was quite a houseful of children, most not old enough to help with the guests.

Although we don’t have a concrete date for the death of Bathsheba, we know she died between 1765 and 1772 because in December 1772, Ezekiel Howe (then a Captain in the Militia) marries his second wife, widow Rebecca Ruggles (b. 1751).  Thus, Bathsheba missed most of the drama of Ezekiel’s career in the Minutemen and the American Revolution.

On April 19, 1775, Ezekiel was leader (Lt. Col.) of the Middlesex troops who ran (some quite literally*) to Concord, twelve miles away and fought the battle that began with “The shot heard ’round the world.”

*It is said that his son, Ezekiel, Jr., then nineteen, ran the distance in two hours, loaded down with musket and powder and balls and knapsack.

Luckily, both Ezekiels returned to Sudbury unscathed and in 1776, the father was called back as Colonel of a The 4th Massachusetts Foot Regiment, a position he held for the next three years. He would have been 55 years old when the war started and nearing 60 when he retired from the army, pleading ill health.

When peace returned to Sudbury, he once again expanded the inn.  1785 saw him building a new expanded kitchen with two sleeping rooms above it.

A great deal can be learned about the family from Ezekiel’s will. One of his daughters, Bathsheba Howe Loring, died in 1777, leaving three grandchildren. Two other daughters, Hepzibah Howe Brown and Anna Howe Brown died before their father made his will in 1795 or 1796. Like his father David, Ezekiel gave the Inn and its grounds to his youngest son. Adam Howe would carry on the family business.

On October 15, 1796, Ezekiel Howe, my 5th great grand uncle, died possibly of consumption. He is buried in the Revolutionary War Cemetery in Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Ezekiel strikes me as the kind of person who grasps life with both hands, never shying away from a challenge and slipping naturally into leadership roles. He lived in an exciting, but dangerous time. He took full advantage of the inherited family business to build a political platform and then took full advantage of that platform to fight (with words and bullets) for what he believed was right. Thank you, Uncle Ezekiel.

How I am Related

  • Vera Marie (Badertscher) is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson (Kaser), the daughter of
  • Vera Stout (Anderson), the daughter of
  • Hattie Morgan (Stout), the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett (Morgan), the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Stone (Basset), the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Howe (Stone), the daughter of
  • Israel How, the brother of
  • Ezekiel How

Notes on Research

  • In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts by David W. Conroy, (1995)
  • Howe Genealogies by Daniel Wait Howe (1929), Massachusetts Historical and Genealogical Society. This is said to be the best of the several genealogies of the family. Although I do not have a copy of the entire book, portions of it are available on the Internet.
  • A personal genealogy by Dee Derrico at Genealogy.com While I am cautious about using personal genealogies because they are generally crammed with errors, this one contains an extensive set of footnotes verifying primary and secondary sources.
  • Ezekiel Howe’s will, from the Howe Genealogies, found on Ancestry.com
  • Middlesex County records found on Ancestry.com. Birth, death and marriage.
  • The Battle Road by Charles H. Bradford (1988), quoted on personal page at Ancestry.com
  • Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts Vol. 1, ed by Ellery Bicknell Crane (1907) Available as a Google Books e-book.
  • FindaGrave.com
  • I also have had assistance from the archivist and a historian at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn.

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