The Life and Times of The Boyd Tavern

(excerpt)

 

     The history of the Boyd Tavern and the County of Mecklenburg go hand-in-hand.  It was actually during the foundation of the county that the tavern was established.  Due to population growth and by decree from King George III, in 1764, Mecklenburg County was formed from Lunenburg County.  During the Colonial Period, the practice was to divide larger counties into smaller counties, making it more convenient for the citizens to reach the county seat.  The county seat would usually be located in the geographic center of a county to make it equally accessible for all.  In Mecklenburg County, this county seat is the town of Boydton.

 

     The government of Mecklenburg County was established at the home of Richard Swepson on March 11, 1765.  Those in attendance were Robert Munford, John Camp, Thomas Erksine, John Potter, John Cox, Thomas Anderson, John Speed the Senior, and Thomas Hopkins.  They became the first justices of the county.  During this meeting, the founding fathers discussed the various steps required to create a new county, including the location of the courthouse, jail, and stocks.  It was decided the county seat would be located near the site of Richard Swepson's home.  Swepson was given the responsibility for building the courthouse and jail, and in 1765 was also granted a license to keep an ordinary or tavern.

 

     The courthouse was built between 1768 and 1770.  Edmond Taylor, Robert Munford, and John Potter were to let a contract for the courthouse construction to the lowest bidder and have the courthouse built to the specifics of "forty feet long, and twenty feet wide, fourteen feet pitch between the floors, twelve feet to be taken off at the end of the house for jury rooms, the courthouse room to be wainscoted  chair board high, (that is five feet), the jury room to be planks from the floor to the ceiling and the ceiling to be well plastered�"  John Chiles and Mathew Mills were the builders. 

 

     There is strong speculation that the Boyd Tavern served as Swepson's home, tavern and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.  This speculation is based on the fact that:  1) the ballroom/courtroom of the tavern is very similar to the description of the courthouse built by John Chiles and Mathew Mills during the late 1760's, 2) speculation that an area basement is built similar to a jail, 3) a quote from Susan L. Bracey's book, Life by the Roaring Roanoke, in which she writes about a potential duel.  It reads "�in the summer of 1832�Dr. James F. Maclin challenged Alexander G. Knox to a duel.  Knox, though annoyed and angered by it all, seemingly did not accept the challenge.  Indeed, on July 17, the second and final day of July Court, at Alexander Boyd's tavern in Boydton, Knox struck Dr. Maclin with a stick (probably his walking cane)."  However, current and prior research does not prove or disprove this speculation, and the authors of this history feel the evidence is too great to be ignored.  Assuming this is true, then the Tavern did serve as the courthouse of Mecklenburg County from the county's formation to the early 1830's. 

 

     Alexander Boyd, the Elder, a Scotsman, immigrated to the Colony of Virginia in 1764.  He married the daughter of Richard Swepson, Senior, Anne Swepson.  They had eleven children.

 

     Boyd opened a mercantile business across the street from the tavern after he was granted a merchant's license in March of 1787.

 

     The land on which the courthouse, prison, and stocks were built belonged to Richard Swepson, Senior.  He deeded this parcel to his son, Richard Swepson, Junior, who in turn conveyed it to his brother-in-law Alexander Boyd, the Elder, in April of 1794, for 1,000 pounds.  This land consisted of 480 acres and included the courthouse and tavern.  Alexander Boyd, the Elder was appointed by Virginia Governor Henry Lee to serve as the "Commissioner of the Peace."  Four months later, in July, he was again appointed by Governor Henry Lee to be "Commissioner and Justice of the Courts for Mecklenburg County."  In light of these additional responsibilities, Alexander Boyd, the Elder, turned the entire management of the tavern over to his sons Richard and Alexander, the Younger.  Richard was granted a license to keep an ordinary in 1796 and the years thereafter.  From 1787 to 1801, Alexander Boyd, the Elder, was a leading citizen of Mecklenburg County.

 

     On August 11, 1801, tragedy struck when, at the age of fifty four, Alexander Boyd, the Elder, died unexpectedly in the courtroom.  He was buried across the street from the tavern.  His tombstone reads, "Sacred to the memory of Alexander Boyd, a native of Scotland, who departed this life in the courthouse of this county while on the seat of justice in discharge of his duty as magistrate, August 11, 1801, in the 54th year of his age.  Twas on the bench 'pon a court day, no doubt you will read with sorrow, for I was dead before the night, prepare my friends to follow.  Farewell my children and my wife, content you may be, may you obtain eternal life, and safe be lodged with me.  God send his soul to endless rest, they loved him most who knew him best."

 

     When Alexander Boyd, the Elder, died in 1801, he owned 5,000 acres of land which was left to his widow and children.  By 1805, they were operating a fourteen room tavern.

 

     In the division of his father's property in 1803, Alexander Boyd, the Younger, received the courthouse tract of 480 acres containing the tavern in which he and Richard continued to operate.  The townspeople believed Alexander Boyd, the Younger, had a monopoly over the town and "all competition in entertaining" because of his ownership of the courthouse tract.

 

     Boyd's main opponent was William Baskerville, the county clerk.  Baskerville kept the courthouse records at his residence in five large presses because there was no room at the courthouse to keep them.

 

     In 1809, Baskerville, along with other residents, petitioned the General Assembly so "the said courtroom may be removed and the town may be established" on the Boyd's land.  This was done to break the Boyd's monopoly on business.

 

     In 1811, Alexander Boyd, the Younger, deeded the courthouse tract to the county.  He petitioned the legislature saying the removal of the courthouse was "wanton confiscation" of his property and consequently incurred a great loss of the money already spent on public accommodations.

 

     Alexander Boyd, the Younger, said, "As our opponents have not condescended to my mention what particular comforts and convenience they have found it impracticable to obtain at the courthouse, it only remains for your petitioners in this respect to show they might have had and can still have upon as reasonable as any Court House in Virginia a table amply supplied with all the meats raised in this part of the Country and a cellar furnished with the liquors of Europe, Africa, and America, and a tavern of nearly 150 feet in length with fourteen rooms and twelve fire places for their accommodations, with stables as good as any in the state, and your petitioners firmly believe that the most of those who complain of the fare at the Court House find as good there in all respects as they leave at home."

 

     Alexander Boyd, the Younger, also pointed out that the location was "a place admitted to be convenient and central, where the chief of the public expenses are already incurred and paid for, where the necessary bridges are in use, and where the public occassions are amply provided for as at any Court House in the Commonwealth"  At this time, Boyd offered to divide his property and lay out the town, an idea suggested by Baskerville two years before.

 

     "Boyd Town" was established in 1812, after the General Assembly passed an act making it the county seat.  Fifty acres "lying immediately around the Courthouse" was to be the town site.  Boyd laid out forty acres in lots, which included the streets, and ten acres for himself.  At this time, the county was at war with Great Britain, thus the streets were named for American patriots.  Some examples are Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Decatur, and Hull.