The Old Leavitt Tavern

The Old Leavitt Tavern,  part Yankee yarn and part personal recollection, was written in the late 1940s by Anna May Cole, the great-granddaughter of James Leavitt. The yarn part is based on the stories of her grandmother Susan Leavitt Page (Page-Cole Family Papers, Hampton Historical Society Archives).

 This is better known as the Moulton House or the Haunted House but for forty nine years [37 years], it was the Leavitt Tavern.  When my grandmother Susan Leavitt Page was an old lady she would sit in the west room toward the close of the autumn day with her big print New Testament before her; after reading a chapter, she would sing old fashioned hymns from memory. As the time neared sunset she would say, “The days are getting shorter; the sun will soon set behind father’s house. ”

“Father’s house” was diagonally across Ring Swamp on Rand’s Hill, where she grew up. It had been bought in 1790 [1802] with 138 A. of land by her father James Leavitt, Esq. from wealthy Oliver Whipple who had bought it from the heirs of Gen. Jonathan Moulton.

As it grew dark I would say, “Tell me a story, grandma, about that house.”

She would begin. “I was seven years old when we moved there from Bride Hill. The furniture was loaded on an ox cart, but we children walked except the little ones Miriam, Matilda and Lavina; it was only 2 ½ miles. I carried in my hand a little basket I especially liked. There were but eleven of us children then; three of the 14 had died young.

“The new house was fine with its carved stairway and high paneled walls, very different from the low posted farmhouse from which we had moved. It replaced a still grander one burned in 1769, most of the materials of which had been brought from England. The fire did not destroy the fine garden and orchard set with trees imported from England – delicious apples, apple-pears, English walnuts, and big English gooseberries. The house was set high and had pink cinnamon roses about it on the bank and a tulip tree stood near the front door.”

“Grandma, how did you like living there?”

“Well, we were proud of the big high posted rooms. Father was a justice of the peace; that was why he was called James Leavitt Esq. He kept the P.O. and the tavern there. We enjoyed seeing the big four horse stage coach with mail and passengers sweep up to the door. And, do you know Gen. George Washington once sat in the garden while waiting for the driver to change horses on the way to Portsmouth?”

“Were you never afraid of ghosts?“

“When we were little we were scared at night, because the house was said to be haunted. The previous owner the Whipples had Tory relatives and the story was that when they fled to Halifax in Revolutionary times they had left some of their valuables with the Whipples who had buried it in the cellar. When we were seated by the fire telling stories of ghosts and witches, we sometimes thought we heard foot-falls on the stairs with the rustle of silk dresses and doors slammed when there was no wind. Perhaps the Tories had come back to get their property.

“There was one walled off part of the cellar into which we dared not go at night. It had something to do with Gen. Moulton’s death. We told over what we had heard of him, how he had grown rich in strange ways, even selling his soul to the devil for a boot full of gold to be poured down the chimney and he had cheated even Satan himself by cutting the sole from the boot so that much gold fell through down into the room.

“They told how when word went around that Gen. Moulton was dying a group of boys, among whom was your great grandfather Abner Page looked through the window and saw a pretty little boy sitting in a corner; after a glimpse the boys ran away. When they learned the next day of the General’s death, they asked about the pretty little boy but no one had seen him. The conclusion was that the little boy had been sent by Satan to take away the soul that belonged to him. There was some talk too about Satan’s having taken the body and that the coffin was filled with rocks for the bearers could hardly lift it when they took it to the grave in the field east of where the R. R. tracks now run.”

“Did you get over being afraid?”

“Yes, for when H.A. was opened in 1811, students came from distant towns and many boarded at the Leavitt Tavern with so many gay young folks, ghosts were forgotten. That cherry wood gate legged table over there used to stand in the meal room.

“Some of the boys later became nationally known, one of them was Rufus Choate the great lawyer who was a rival of Daniel Webster. He and my younger sister Miriam were very good friends. In after years when he was a noted man he came to Hampton and called on Miriam at the home of her husband Dea. Jesse Knowles.

“Our minister Josiah Webster was a great fighter against intoxicating liquor every one used then; it was common courtesy to offer the minister wine when he called; when the parsonage was rebuilt, the laborers were given as wages 40 shillings and a gill of rum per day. It was whispered about that sometimes the wife of a certain minister could not see callers because she was drunk.

“What decided Mr. Webster against it was what Mrs. Webster told him after he came home from a Sunday exchange with a brother minister. Mrs. Webster said the minister could barely preach he was so drunk!

“Parson Webster joined with Parson French of North Hampton and others in neighboring towns on a temperance crusade. It was slow work but interest grew and many took the total abstinence pledge. And in 1838 no licenses to sell liquor were granted.

“Squire Leavitt not only emptied out his barrel of rum but became one of a committee to enforce laws against the sale of liquor.”

“How many brothers did you have?”

“Only one who lived to grow up. He was 23 years old when he went to Portsmouth in the War of 1812. One dark night he fell from his boat and was drowned in the harbor. His death was a terrible grief to us all but especially so to Father who expected Shubael to inherit his estate as it was the custom to pass the home place to the son.”

When James Leavitt died in 1839 the Leavitt Tavern passed from history and grandmother’s story ends. In 1843 it was bought by Jabez Towle who gave it to his daughter Elizabeth who married Josiah Mace.

What follows is within my own recollections for Elizabeth Mace’s daughters, Loanah and Nellie, were in the grammar school with me. Theirs was not a tidy home and children did not like to sit near them in school.

After the parent’s death the Mace girls went Newburyport to work. The house was rented to a variety of tenants among whom were the Italian laborers building the Hampton and Amesbury Electric Road. The house was badly out of repair and some of the tenants were the down and out variety who did not pay their rent and used some of the floor and posts of the stairway for firewood.

Finally the Maces came back. They had become suspicious and even surly. The town wished to straighten the road to Newburyport and to run the new road back of the Mace house. The Maces refused and built a shed on the spot where they thought the road would run. The Town took the land by right of eminent domain and ran the road between the house and shed.

The land damage was appraised and the money offered the sisters. They refused to receive it so the selectmen put the money in the savings bank in their name.

While they were in Newburyport Nellie married Robert Batchelder. A son was born who was named Jabez for his great grandfather. Finally Loanah died, and in the flu epidemic of 1918, Nellie Batchelder died and then Jabez. From Jabez, Robert Batchelder inherited the property. He tried to live in the house and rent parts of it with little success.

The family of Mr. Harlan Little of Salem, Ma., one of whose ancestors was a Moulton, saw possibility of restoration in the shabby old house, bought it and moved it across the road several rods to the west. Much study and months perhaps years of patient work has restored it to its former glory.

Marjorie Mills of the Boston Herald, after a visit to it last month gave two mornings of enthusiastic description of it on her radio broadcast.

The old house is once more a beautiful mansion.

***

Editor’s Notes:

The General Moulton/Leavitt Tavern house is now located at 212 Lafayette Road. Hampton Map 189, Lots 14, 17 and 18.

 1802: Oliver Whipple sold the mansion to James Leavitt (1760-1839).

 1843: James Leavitt’s estate is sold to Jabez Towle (Elizabeth D. Towle, his wife), formerly of Newburyport. (Jabez died June 6, 1847).

 Dec. 5, 1854: Elizabeth Frances Towle Mace, d. of Jabez Towle, buys for $200 her brother Samuel’s interest in their father’s estate. RC RegDeeds Bk 358 Pg 210

 May 11, 1872: Widow Elizabeth Dow Towle and her daughter, Elizabeth F. Mace, sell for $150 to the Town of Hampton ½ acre on the “westerly side of the homestead at the road leading to Hampton Falls…” RC RegDeeds Bk 439 Pg 442

 July 2, 1888: Olive Towle Currier, d. of Samuel Towle, quitclaims to her aunt Elizabeth Towle Mace her interest in the estate. RC RegDeeds Bk 510 Pg 268

 July 21, 1888: Anthony Towle, son of Jabez Towle, quitclaims to his sister Elizabeth Towle Mace his interest in the estate.

 Dec 8, 1914: Robert T. Batchelder quitclaims to Nellie Mace his interest in his deceased wife Loanah’s share of the Mace property. RC RegDeeds Bk 676 Pg 452. Nellie and Loanah are the daughters of Elizabeth F. Towle Mace.

 1918: Nellie dies.

 1919: Loanah’s son Jabez R. Batchelder dies intestate and Robert T. Batchelder inherits the estate. RC Probate No. 19148.

 May 3, 1921: John J. Mace (Loanna and Nellie’s brother) contests the probate without success. NHSC No. 1695. RC RegDeeds Bk 747 Pg 433.

 May 13, 1922: Robert T. Batchelder sells the mansion and grounds to Catherine Little. RC Registry of Deeds, Bk 747 Pg 433.

 1922: The house is moved several hundred feet west of its original location to allow Lafayette road to be straightened in that area.

 August 12, 1975: It was the intention of the Littles (Catherine, her sister, Sarah, and her brother, Harland) that the mansion would become an SPNEA museum. The Society, however, “felt it necessary to refuse the request,” and it fell to the contingent beneficiary, Bates College of Lewiston, Maine, to remove the antiques and sell the house. Catherine G. Little, RC Probate No. 49985; Sarah E. Little, RC Probate No. 46237; Harland G. Little, RC Probate No. 43568

 August 12, 1975: SPNEA releases to Bates College, RC Registry of Deeds, Bk 2243, Pg 1832. The mansion carries with it restrictions intended to preserve its architectural integrity.

 Nov 5, 1976: Bates College sells to Merle D. Straw & Stephen Straw of Seabrook. RC Registry of Deeds, Bk 2273 Pg 777.

 Nov 4, 1977: The Straws sell the mansion to Anthony and Shirley Olbres, 354 High Street, Hampton, RC RegDeeds, Bk 2297, Pg 1528.

 March 18, 2002: The Olbres sell the mansion to their son, Tyler M. Olbres, for $400,000. RC RegDeeds, Bk 3741 Pg 960.

December 7, 2005: Tyler Olbres, 2839 Queen’s Courtyard Drive, Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada, creates the Yankee Faust Trust, of the same address.

 February 23, 2006: Tyler Olbres quitclaims the property to the Yankee Faust Trust. RC RegDeeds, Bk 4630 Pg 2294, recorded March 20, 2006.

Uploaded Nov. 2011

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