When a Good Tavern also Makes a Good Courtroom

In our article from the Dublin Pub in Morristown, NJ we touch a bit on the part the town’s taverns played during the American Revolution.  One in particular was, according to records, located at the corner of Spring and Water streets.  It was called the Norris Tavern (though I have also seen it referred to as Dickerson’s Tavern) and it was the location of perhaps America’s most famous court-martial.

Benedict Arnold was a hero, a sort of rock star, during the America Revolution.  But despite his lofty status amongst the common patriot, he had many detractors in the Army and Congress.  It seemed Arnold could never keep his nose clean, despite the many amazing achievements and unparalleled acts of bravery he performed for the Continental Army.

Benedict Arnold from Library of Congres

Benedict Arnold from Library of Congres

 Arnold’s storied career began with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York, whose guns were used to break the British blockade in Boston.  But to Arnold’s chagrin, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys received most of the credit.  Arnold then led an expedition of men on an impossible trek up the Kennebec River through Maine’s unforgiving wilderness to invade Quebec.  The fact that he made it to the walled city was nothing short of miraculous, but Arnold was wounded seriously in the leg during the failed attempt to take the city.  In the aftermath of Arnold’s hard fought defeat, he was accused of financial improprieties. 

In October of 1776, Arnold pulled off perhaps his most incredible feat.  Knowing that the British were looking to sail down Lake Champlain and on to the Hudson River to cut off the northern colonies from the southern colonies, Benedict Arnold literally built a fleet of warships out of the woods.  He fought the British Navy at Valcour Island, and though his boats were literally smashed to pieces, he inflicted enough damage to send the British back up the lake and give the Americans another winter in control of the important Hudson River.  But despite this, he was passed over for promotion in 1777.  His anger got the best of him and he resigned from the Army, only to have an appreciative George Washington convince him to come back.

Saratoga, New York was probably Arnold’s most famous moment.  His inspirational leadership no doubt helped win the most important battle the Americans had won in the war up to that point, and he was shot again in the same leg wounded in Quebec.  But in order to commit these acts of heroism and sacrifice, Arnold had to defy the orders of his superior.  Soon after the battle he was promoted, but his defiance of orders and history of insubordination made many in the army and congress question the value of his promotion.

Soon Arnold was too injured to carry on in active combat duty.  He was then assigned to command troops within the recently reacquired city of Philadelphia.  It was a cushy job to say the least, and Arnold seemed to enjoy it.  He led a luxurious life filled with expensive belongings and lavish parties, which made many suspicious, especially those who already did not hold him in the same high regard Washington had.  To make matters worse, Arnold had a habit of being friendly with the city’s loyalist population.  He even married the daughter of one Philadelphia’s most prominent Tories.  So it should have come as no surprise when Arnold was brought up on charges of what we might call “war profiteering”.

Still a firm supporter of Benedict Arnold’s, General George Washington urged him to submit himself to a court-martial in order to properly clear his name, something it appears Washington was certain of.  After months of delays, which certainly did not help to improve Arnold’s mood, the trial began right before Christmas of 1779 at the Norris Tavern in Morristown, New Jersey. 

Colonial Tavern

Benedict Arnold, who labored to walk thanks to the wounds he suffered, no doubt painted a dashing portrait of a man who had given nearly everything he could for the cause of independence.  His impassioned defense made an impression on those who saw it, but the court still found him guilty on two of the charges.  Washington was instructed by the court to reprimand him, which he begrudgingly did.What Washington, and those who sat on the court, and everyone who was moved by his defense did not know was that while all this was happening Arnold was plotting to betray everyone in that room.  And that is exactly what he did.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I stumbled onto your page and absolutely loved this bit of early American history! More, more, please.

  2. Do you know who ran/owned this Pub at the time of this trial of Benedict Arnold? This person might be a relative. Many thanks in advance. dblack97355@gmail.com

  3. Is this building still in Morristown ?

  4. Unfortunately, this tavern is long gone. If you go to the website for the Morris county Historical Society you will find information about a current program that explores the history of taverns in that area of New Jersey.

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