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The old Fountain Tavern.

IN Vol. VIII of the Register is an interesting account of the old Medford taverns. One of these long remained, used as a dwelling in its later years, and is remembered by many Medford people. The author, Mr. Hooper, has since discovered some additional matter relative to one of them and sends us the following item, quoted from Waters' Newhall Family of Lynn, which shows its antiquity, and also something of conditions when Medford was wet:—
Samuel Wade of Medford, married Lydia, daughter of Lieutenant Thomas Newhall of Malden. He was an innholder in whose tavern, at the sign of the Fountain in Mistick, on Monday the 27th December 1714, arose a brawl between Captain Edward Sprague and Thomas Newhall Jr. of Malden, resulting in the Captain being badly bruised about the head, thrown to the floor and barely escaped being thrown out of the window. As usual both parties seem to have been at fault.

Mr. Brooks, in his history, devotes some space to the Fountain tavern and its signs, saying it was built as early as 1725. He tells of platforms built in the spreading branches of the big trees, and their connecting bridges that reached also to the house, and that these were much used in summer as places of resort for drinking punch and cordials. ‘Tea-parties were sometimes gathered [p. 69] there,’ as though tea was of secondary importance, as it probably was. It would appear that the modern roof-garden isn't anything new after all.

In his account, which may be somewhat mythical, he tells of an earlier sign that gave the house the name of Palaver Tavern, but no evidence of this has been elsewhere found. Now this appellation is quite interesting in its derivation from the Portuguese palavra = a word. It was used to designate the parleys or conferences held by Portuguese traders with the native chiefs on the African coast, and very likely introduced here by sea-faring men, a relic of the slave trade. It degenerated from its original significance to that of idle chatter, gabble, and wily flattery (modern softsoap), by which some advantage is likely to be taken by shrewd calculators. The alleged earlier sign is said to have had painted upon it figures of two men shaking hands and evidently engaged in conversation, and that they were styled palaverers.

On the great thoroughfare from Salem to Boston, this house had extensive patronage. It would be interesting to know why the sign was changed within one year. Probably the liquid cheer there dispensed had an exhilarating effect, and stimulated the palaver in its later meanings and caused the selection of ‘sign of the Fountain.’ Just how this fountain was depicted we do not know, other than ‘pouring punch into a huge bowl.’ It is very evident that the liquid was not water, or represented in white paint. As the Fountain ‘aimed to be superior to other houses,’ it had decoctions other than punch to pour from smaller mugs and glasses down the throats of its thirsty patrons.

Probably this was not the only ‘brawl’ within its hospitable walls that proved true the proverb, ‘. . . strong drink is raging,’ and in which ‘both parties were at fault.’ The innholder was the sixth of the eight children of Major Nathaniel Wade, and the Wades were the solid men of Medford of that day, as witness the ‘town rate,’ or tax list, in the ancient record book. After sixteen years [p. 70] in the business, Samuel Wade was the third in the highest tax payers. Captain Sprague's name does not appear among the sixty-seven ‘rated’ that year, so we conclude he was a guest from elsewhere, and the other brawler was a brother-in-law of the innholder. We may wonder a little if the author of Newhall Family (while admitting the fault of Thomas, Jr.,) chronicled the rough handling of Captain Sprague as an example of the Newhall prowess, or creditable to the family. Such scenes were all too common in the old days, and Medford is better dry.

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