New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

The Exchange Coffee House and St. John’s First Club

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From the blog at http://JohnWood1946.wordpress,com

This is the story of the Exchange Coffee House in Saint John, and of the Club that later met there. The Exchange was first mentioned in a newspaper in August in 1784, and it and the Club became a social hub. The story is by John Russell Armstrong and was published in the Collections of the New Brunswick Historical Society, Volume 7, 1907.

The Exchange Coffee House and St. John’s First Club

Coffee House 1840

The Coffee House in 1840

Facing up King Street at Prince William, the Coffee House is on the Right

The first social Club in St. John, of which any record has been preserved, was established in 1803, just twenty years after the landing of the Loyalists, in a building on the lot where now stands the splendid edifice occupied by the Royal Bank of Montreal.

This lot, number 402, fronting fifty feet on the east side of Prince William ‘Street, and eighty on the south side of King Street, was drawn in 1783 by Charles McPherson, a Loyalist, who held a commission in General Oliver deLancy’s Brigade during the American Revolution. It is said that McPherson shortly after drawing the lot offered it for sale at £15, but the price was thought so unreasonable that a purchaser could not be found.

The Exchange Coffee House, an illustration of which appears with this article, was a low two story building and basement with shingle roof. It was probably one of the first considerable structures erected in Parr Town, and was completed within fifteen months after the landing of the Loyalists. It was designed and built for a place of refreshment, for the “Coffee House” is mentioned in a newspaper as early as August 5th, 1784, Charles McPherson being the proprietor and owner. The drawing, of which the illustration is a copy, was made in 1840 by Mr. George N. Smith, a local artist, and is said by those who recollect the building to be a faithful representation of the Coffee House. One of its rooms was known as the Assembly Room; it was 50×25 feet, and was on the second floor. One of the first entertainments on an elaborate scale given in this room is thus described by Benjamin Marston in his diary, under date Tuesday, 18th January, 1785: “Queen’s birthnight, Governor Carleton gave a ball and supper at the Assembly Room. Between 30 and 40 ladies were present, and near 100 gentlemen. The ladies were of the best families only, but the gentlemen were of all sorts. The business was as well conducted as such an entertainment could be where so large a company were to be entertained in so small a room.” Later, in the election for that year, the poll was held for the first two days at “McPherson’s Coffee House.” That the property was then considered of considerable value is shown by the fact that in the next year, 1786, McPherson gave a mortgage of the Coffee House to William Thomson and Alexander Reid for £1,200. In 1789 the following appeared in the St. John Gazette and Weekly Advertiser:

“Sale of the Exchange Coffee House.

“Fronting the Publick Market Place 50 feet on Prince William Street, 80 feet on King Street. On the First Floor is one room, 25 feet square, compleatly fitted up for a Coffee-room; one parlour, 24 x 15 feet, to which joins a complete bar-room; one ditto, 26 by 15 feet, which has been ever since the settlement of the City employed as a store, and is allowed to be equal to the best stand in the Province. On the Second Floor is an elegant Assembly Room, 50 by 25 feet, one large Parlour, and a Bedroom. On the Third Floor is eight well finished Bedrooms. Under the First Floor is a well frequented Store, fronting the street, at the back of which is a large convenient Kitchen; also a very fine cellar, 36 by 24 feet, built with stone. For further particulars apply to the proprietor,

Chas. McPherson, St. John, May 1, 1789”

The above gives us an idea of the internal arrangement of the house. It is possible that the eight well finished bedrooms on the third floor were in the adjoining building. Mr. McPherson apparently did not succeed in finding a purchaser for his property, for in the meantime he leased it to one William Rogers, and again advertised the property for sale, as we find in the following advertisement which gives the exterior dimensions of the building:


For Sale.

“That large and commodious House, and eligible stand for business, situate at the corner of King and Prince William Streets, now in the occupation of Mr. Wm. Rogers.

“The house is two and half stories high, in good repair, and replete with accommodations and conveniences for business, as well as for family purposes. It fronts on Market Square 50 feet, and on King Street 36 feet, exclusive of additional rooms annexed to it on the same street, and a complete Cellar under the whole House. It has rented for the last 7 years at £100 per annum, and the proprietor is offered £150 for the ensuing year. The situation of the premises and the advantages attached to it are so well known as to render any encomiums or further description unnecessary. The Lot is 50 by 80 feet, and having the benefit of both fronts makes it an object to those inclined to purchase. For further particulars apply to the proprietor.

Chas. McPherson. St. John, 5th January, 1798.”

Mr. Rogers, desiring to sub-let a portion of the premises, inserted the following advertisement in the “Gazette” in the same year. Even at this early period in the history of the City yearly tenancies began from the first day of May:


“Par One Year from the first day of May next, the corner Store of the Exchange Coffee House, now occupied by the subscriber; as also the Store underneath the said House, at present in the tenure of Alderman Reid. These two stores may, with great propriety, be called the First stands for business in this City. For terms enquire of

William Rogers. St. John, February 2, 1798.”

Two years later the occupant of the Coffee House was White Raymond, of whom we have a record as early as 1784. In that year on the 17th of June at the Sessions of the Peace for the old County of Sunbury, in the Province of Nova Scotia, held at Maugerville, in what is now New Brunswick, White Raymond (formerly of Darien, Connecticut), of the Township of Parr, petitioned for leave to keep a house of Public Entertainment in Parr Town, and for a license to retail spirituous liquors, by the small measure. His application was endorsed as follows by the Secretary of the Board of Directors for the laying out and settlement of Parr Town:

“This may certify that the within mentioned White Raymond is an honest, good man, and is in a situation to accommodate the Public.

(Signed) Oliver Arnold

White Raymond was a .brother of Stent Raymond, the ancestor of Wm. E. Raymond of the Royal Hotel. His lot near the corner of Sydney and Brittain Streets was a very central one for the “Lower Cove” district, where the disbanded soldiers of the Loyalist regiments were principally settled. This district at that time was a strong rival of the “Upper Cove.” However, White Raymond decided after a while to try his fortunes at the Upper Cove, as we learn from the following advertisement in the columns of “The Royal Gazette and New Brunswick Advertiser,” of the 3rd of June, 1800:

“Exchange Coffee House

“The Subscriber will open the Coffee-Room in the Exchange Coffee House for the reception of the Gentlemen Merchants and others, and will engage to furnish, by every Packet, the London Newspapers, as also the New York and Boston Papers by every opportunity, for their perusal, as soon as a sufficient number of subscribers shall appear to defray the expense of the room, fire, and, candle light, &c.

White Raymond. June 3rd, 1800.”

Mr. Raymond remained the tenant until ‘the property passed into Mr. Cody’s hands, and there can be little doubt that it was he who, some nine months later, inserted in the columns of the same paper the following admonition:

“A Hint.

“The Occupier of the Exchange Coffee House is under the disagreeable necessity of reminding those Gentlemen who are in the habit of taking away News-Papers belonging to the Subscription Room, that they must desist from the like practices in future, as they are intended for the benefit of all the Gentlemen Subscribers, and such intrusions will not be allowed.

St. John, March 17th, 1801.”

In 1803 William George Cody—originally spelled “Cowdy”—leased the Coffee House. He was born in 1771 at St. George’s, Grenada, W.I, a son of Oliver Cody, born at Drumanore, County Down, Ireland, in 1744. He married, in 1798 at Halifax, N.S., Susannah, born 1779 in London, England, daughter of Osmond Button of Devonshire. After a Year’ residence in Halifax, where their eldest child, Susannah Jane was born, the married couple moved to Annapolis Royal, where their first son, William Oliver, was born in 1800, and a second son, James Osmond, in January, 1803. Shortly afterwards they moved to St. John, where eight more were added to their children. Jane, a sister of William George Cody, not a daughter, as stated in Lawrence’s usually accurate “Foot Prints,” born in London, 1779, married 21st October, 1803, Richard Whiteside, and a second sister married Michael Hennigar, names well known in this city.

Under date May 11th, 1803, William George Cody advertises that having taken the Exchange Coffee House he is prepared to furnish entertainment, liquors, good board and good stabling for horses.

Soon after opening his place of entertainment, Mr. Cody laid his plans to add to the already well merited popularity of the Coffee House by establishing a Club, which he designated “Subscription Room.” The original Subscription List is in the possession of the writer. Accompanying this sketch is a. reduced facsimile, with the signatures, and appended is a brief description of each of the subscribers, of whom there were forty-four, mostly Loyalists, and comprising many of the leading citizens of the time. This paper, which may be designated the Constitution and By-Laws, sets forth the terms and conditions of membership in brief form. None but subscribers, with their non-resident friends, were to be admitted. The subscription was twenty shillings a year, and for this fee the room was to be furnished with Lloyds’s List, a tri-weekly London paper, a New York daily and Boston daily, and a Halifax weekly and St. John weekly paper. The proprietor was to provide fewill (sic), candle light. a blank book for insertion of news, and pen, ink and paper. No fateful ballot was employed to keep out the undesirable applicant for admission, at least there seems to have been no provision for such, and Mr. Cody probably remained the sole arbiter of the fitness of the candidate.

The prestige given to the Coffee House by the influential membership of the Subscription Room added greatly to its popularity. Here the leading professional and business men of the place held not only their informal but their pre-arranged meetings and here they met to initiate and complete transactions of greater or less importance. It was a rendezvous for seekers after entertainment, primarily of a material and secondarily, of an intellectual nature. Its liquid refreshments, judging by its name, were not confined to the Jamaica Rum then so freely used. A direct trade, large for this port at that time, was carried on with the West Indie. The duty on this spirit was six pence per gallon, while the cost to the consumer, two and six pence per gallon, brought the favourite beverage within the reach of all desiring this class of stimulant. Here subscription papers, petitions and other documents to which signatures were desired were usually left. It was a little “hub of creation.” The Court House, City Hall and Market were close at hand on the Market Square, and for some years the Post Office was only a little further south on Prince William ‘Street, while a printing office (Henry Chubb’s) was just alongside. It was the meeting place of the citizens for a great variety of purposes, social, political and otherwise. Here were held many of the annual anniversaries of the national societies of Saint George and Saint Andrew. Civic, political and military dinners were given under its roof. Even balls were held at Cody’s, notably that in honour of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. This was the regular meeting place of St. John’s Masonic Lodge from May, 1803, to March, 1813. It was in the Old Coffee House, on the 20th. of May, 1819, that the St. John Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society was founded, and many other gatherings for the promotion of the moral well-being of the community were held. Here on l2th June, 1820 was held the first meeting of the stockholders of the Bank of New Brunswick, at which Directors were elected and subsequently its officers appointed. Here in 1822 they considered the practicability of building a canal from the head of the Bay of Fundy to Bay Verte, which proposal was a live topic for half a century and more. At this meeting Ward Chipman, Sr., Judge of the Supreme Court, afterwards Chief Justice, was in the chair, and such well-known citizens as Hugh Johnston, Thomas Millidge, Charles Simonds and Lauchlan Donaldson were appointed a Committee to raise the sum of £250 for the purpose of having a survey made. Surely it may well be said that the Coffee House was a useful as well as popular institution of its times.

In October, 1817, Mr. Cody purchased the property from Mr. MePherson for the sum of £1,500, it being described in the deed as “the premises being generally known and distinguished by the appellation of the Coffee House.” In 1824, Mr. Cody moved to Loch Lomond, where he established the “Ben Lomond House.” In August, 1836, he advertised his old premises for sale, as follows:


“That very valuable freehold property known by the name of the Exchange Coffee House, owned by the subscriber, in the Market Square of this city, being 50 feet on said square, and extending upwards of 80 feel on King Street, together with the buildings thereon. The whole is offered for the sum of £7,000 currency of which £3,000 is required to be paid when a sufficient deed is furnished, and possession given, the remaining £4,000 may continue unpaid for seven years, provided the interest at six per cent, is duly settled up once every year. The property now rents for upwards of £400 per annum, and properly improved may be made to yield upwards of £1,000. If not sold prior to Monday, 31st October, ensuing the same will be put up at auction on that day.

William G. Cody. Aug. 13, 1836”

But apparently he found no purchaser. On 25th August, 1840, Mr. Cody died at his home at Loch Lomond, aged seventy years. On 1st August, 1850, the Coffee House was sold at auction in the office of the Master of Chancery under an order for sale in that Court, and was bought by the late Mr. John Gillis for the large sum of £5,650. In the deed it is described as being “heretofore occupied by William George Cody, and known and distinguished by the name of the Exchange Coffee House.”

Some extracts relating to the Coffee House from writers of local history may be quoted—

Sabine in his “Loyalists of the American Revolution,” 2nd Vol. p. 76, refers to Cody as “the Prince of caterers and the most obliging of landlords,” and adds, “the Coffee House was a famous place of meeting for a long time. Within it the Loyalists gathered year after year to discuss their affairs both public and private, to tell of their losses, sufferings and expulsion from their native land, to hold high revelry, to read the news, to transact business, and to devise means to develop the resources of the Colony.”

Stewart in “The Story of the Great Fire in St. John, N.B. thus refers to the Coffee House. “Here of an evening for years and years, the old men of the place used to sit and gossip and smoke, and sip their toddy; here in 1815 they met to learn the news of the war between France and England, and read the story of Waterloo four or five months after it was fought and won. In this sort of Shakespeare tavern, the leading merchants of the day met and chatted over large sales, and compared notes. Here, a verbal commercial agency was established, and here delightful old gossips met and told each other all about everybody else’s affairs. There were Ben Jonsons in those days who wrote dramatic pieces and showed them to their friends over a cup of hot spiced rum. Poets, too, full of the tender passion, sighed out hexameters of love in that old Coffee House.”

Bunting, in his “Freemasonry in New Brunswick,” page 395, writes: “It was a noted place of resort to the early citizens of St. John, and was better known to them than any other place in the city under its several designations of MacPhersons Coffee House, Cody’s Coffee House, Exchange Coffee House, and above all as “The Coffee House.” The public room in the upper story, the scene of the many gay and festive gatherings, often resounded with the light-hearted laugh, the mirthful joke, the pleasant song, interspersed with toasts and sentiments. Wit, wisdom, gaiety and humour were there. The health of the king, attachment to the throne of Great Britain, and devotion to the fair sisterhood found hearty and outspoken expression around its festive board. The merchant, the lawyer, the politician, the scholar—all classes and professions—mingled here and talked of merchandise, briefs, public matters, Shakespeare, and the latest news from Europe.”

The Coffee House building had several narrow escapes from destruction by fire, which swept Prince William Street and Market Square, but it remained in continuous use until shortly after its purchase in 1850, when it was torn down to make room for the “Imperial Building” erected by Mr. Gillis, which was considered a wonderful advance in the style of business buildings hitherto erected in St. John. The “Imperial Building” was consumed in the great fire in 1877, after which the present handsome structure now owned by the Bank of Montreal was erected.

We have no record of the period during which the Subscription Room Club remained in existence. How different are the times now in everything relating to social and club life. The candle lit Subscription Room has given way to the brilliantly electric lighted modern Club building furnished with five St. John dailies in place of a single weekly paper, beautifully illustrated London papers instead of the small tri-weekly journal which was then issued, while huge New York and Boston papers have supplanted the single sheets of those days. Telegraphy has been perfected and telephones have come into common use. Modern hot water heating has taken the place of the old-fashioned wood burning open fire place, and instead of a single subscription club room, there are now in St. John the Union Club, with its membership of some three hundred, the Royal Kennebecasis Yacht Club, with its more than four hundred members, the Natural History ‘Society, the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Neptune Rowing Club, the Free Public Library, the Masonic and similar societies, and many other clubs and organizations, religious, intellectual and social, each with their separate rooms, some with their own well-appointed buildings and all in a prosperous and growing condition.

[The author then presents a membership list for the club, with biographical notes. Not reproduced here.]

John Russell Armstrong


Written by johnwood1946

April 22, 2015 at 10:11 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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