Rodgers Tavern—a stopover point for our Founding FathersDec 07, 2022 10:54AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
The town of Perryville in Cecil County has a long history going all the way back to before the founding of the colony. Perryville was first settled by Europeans in 1622, when Edward Palmer was granted land on what is now Garrett Island. During the 17th century, Lord Baltimore granted George Talbot 31,000 acres of land, which included the Perryville area. The town has had many names, including Lower Ferry, Susquehanna and finally Perryville, after Mary Perry, named after the wife of John Bateman. One popular stop for travelers in Perryville was Rodgers Tavern which hosted numerous members of the Founding Fathers generation.
Rodgers Tavern, also known as Stevenson’s Tavern, is named after Colonel John Rodgers, who raised the 5th Company of the Maryland Militia during the Revolutionary War. This company ultimately became part of what was termed a “Flying Camp” and was instrumental during the early stages of the conflict. Faced with defending an enormous amount of territory from British forces, General George Washington recommended forming the unit, which would be a highly mobile reserve of troops, able to travel quickly to various points. On June 3, 1776, Congress passed a resolution "…that a flying camp be immediately established in the middle colonies and that it consist of 10,000 men ...." The men recruited for the Flying Camp were to be militia units from three colonies: Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Built in the 1740s, Rodgers Tavern on the East Bank of the Susquehanna River was located close to a ferry crossing. The tavern and nearby ferry were operated by Colonel Rodgers. Situated on the busy Post Road between Baltimore and Philadelphia, the tavern hosted many travelers over the years. It is a two-story stone structure of high-quality masonry. The main floor has two parlors, one for public use, the other used as an office. The front parlor contains original 18th century paneling. The second floor has five guest rooms, each one with a fireplace. Legend has it that George Washington often stayed in the northeast bedroom. Apparently, he liked the place. Washington is reported to have spent the night there dozens of times between 1775 and when he was commander of the Continental Army through 1798 during his time as President.
It wasn’t just Washington who slept there; numerous other Founding Fathers and supporters of the American cause, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, the Marquis de Lafayette and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the comte de Rochambeau, whose French troops were vital to Washington’s victory at the historic Battle of Yorktown also spent time at Rodgers Tavern. Before that historic battle, Washington brought his troops through Lower Ferry Crossing on his way to surrounding British General Cornwallis in 1781. In his diary, Washington noted that he often dined at the tavern when traveling between Virginia and Philadelphia. The tavern’s location on a popular route thus helped both civilian travelers and heroic soldiers who helped determine the final outcome of the Revolutionary War.
After the war, Rodgers Tavern remained a popular spot, providing excellent food and entertainment for its guests. However, by the mid-1800s, with the development of bridges over nearby bodies of water and also fast-traveling locomotives on regional railroads, the Lower Susquehanna Route on which the tavern stood became less traveled. The establishment experienced declining business, managing to remain open until 1886, but slowly deteriorated due to neglect over the subsequent decades.
In 1956, the Society for the Preservation of Maryland Antiquities (now Preservation Maryland) purchased the building and a revitalization effort was begun. Due to its historic significance, Rodgers Tavern was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The tavern at one point was converted into a small museum and also used for the offices of the Perryville Chamber of Commerce. The Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway (LSHG) is a non-profit organization dedicated to stimulating economic activity in the area by linking historic and cultural resources. The LSHG has received several grants to fund their restoration projects, which have been conducted in three phases: 1) facility stabilization and restoration, 2) pier and trail construction and 3) facility readiness.
Extensive work has been done and is planned on the roughly 280-year-old structure, including a new roof, gutters, interior plastering of walls, electrical, heating and air-conditioning work. Recent excavations have located historic artifacts, including furniture and period clothing. Several local civic organizations have been involved in the efforts over the years. The tavern is now open as a museum for visitors to explore.
Rodgers Tavern played an important part in the founding of our nation. It deserves ongoing attention and support. On the outside wall of the tavern is a plaque which reads: “In memory of Colonel John Rodgers (1726-1791) Patriot-Innkeeper and friend of Washington, Organized and Commanded 5th Co. MD. Militia, 1776.”
Rodgers wasn’t the only one in his family who helped our country. His son John was a senior officer in the young United States Navy, commanding a number of warships, including the USS President, from which he is attributed with firing the first shot of the War of 1812. He later helped recapture the city of Washington after its desolation by the British. The name Rodgers thus holds a special place in our heritage- and with continued efforts, Rodgers Tavern will remain a place where future generations can learn about—and cherish—our history. For more information, please visit their website at www.rodgerstavern.com.
Gene Pisasale is an historian, author and lecturer based in Kennett Square. His ten books focus on the Chester County/mid-Atlantic region. His latest book is “Forgotten Founding Fathers: Pennsylvania and Delaware in the American Revolution.” His books are available on his website at www.GenePisasale.com and on www.Amazon.com. Gene can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].