Marker Text: Danville's first tavern, operated in this building before 1800 by Benjamin Grayson. Often within these walls the burning political issues of the day were discussed. The Danville Political Society, organized in 1786 and the first of its kind in the West, met and dined here at Grayson's Tavern to "plan the course of the empire" before blazing log fires.
Location: In Constitution Square in Danville, KY at 1st & Walnut Streets, Danville, which is U.S. Routes 127 & 150. Erected by the Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Department of Highways in 1964.
In March 1783, Kentucky County of Virginia was made into one judicial district. This proved to be a watershed event for Samuel McDowell's political career.
When Samuel McDowell moved his family from Rockbridge County, VA, he had already established himself an individual who cared a great deal for this new nation. Like many of the Scotch-Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Samuel promoted religion and education. He was a founder of Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church and was also a trustee of Liberty Hall Academy, the precursor to Washington and Lee University. As one early Kentucky historian remarked, "The most valuable lessons taught him were those of self-reliance, love of liberty, and fear of God; that these were sown on good and fruitful soil, the record of his whole life attests." He was an elder and trustee in Danville's first Presbyterian Church, led by the Rev. David Rice.
Southern end of Grayson’s Tavern is behind the marker. (Click any photo to enlarge)
Samuel McDowell, like many settlers, saw military service on the Virginia frontier. He was a captain in Lord Dunmore's campaign against the Shawnee Indians and served with the Virginia militia in the French and Indian War.
When Rockbridge County was formally established, Samuel was active in politics and government. He represented the new county in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Later, when conflict with Great Britain loomed, he represented his county in several conventions that urged colonial independence. In March 1775, he attended a conference in Richmond, VA, and the next year went to Williamsburg to urge the Virginia colony to secede from Britain. Samuel was one of the first Shenandoah residents to call for Virginia's independence. Historian Taylor Sanders wrote, "McDowell had erected the first Liberty Pole in the Valley." The call for liberty again led McDowell to war.
Sign in front of the tavern, descriptive sign are placed in front of each building within Constitution Square.
During the American Revolution, Samuel served as a colonel in the Virginia militia. He fought in Virginia and in North Carolina, where his men proved themselves against British regulars at Guilford Court House. When the war ended and independence was secured, Samuel was awarded a Kentucky land grant for his service. To read more about Samuel McDowell and his family, go to prior posts, “Site of Log Courthouse,” “McDowell's Grave,” and “Red House and the McDowell Family.”
When Kentucky citizens started to discuss forming their own state apart from Virginia, Samuel McDowell was a leader of this effort. Grayson Tavern, the subject of today's marker, served as the place where these discussions took place. Samuel McDowell was a member of several social and debating societies, all comprised of local gentlemen. He was a member of the "Kentucky Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge," and, on Dec. 27, 1786, he helped organize the "Danville Political Club."
Front view of Grayson’s Tavern.
Danville Political Club was a debating society composed of about thirty of the "Brightest Spirits of the Times," in which the questions of the day, especially those relating to the development of Kentucky, were threshed out. This was three years after the arrival of the McDowell's. The club continued in existence until 1790. The meetings and debates could be heated and boisterous. In 1787, an army officer who stayed at the tavern complained that he was "very much disturbed by a political club which met in the next room where we slept and kept us awake until 12 or 1 o'clock." Although the officer tossed and turned, he believed that "This club is very commendable in a new country. It is composed of members of the most respectable people in and near Danville, who meet every Saturday night to discuss politics."
Photo taken looking east on Walnut Street, tavern to the left.
Samuel McDowell acted as president of nearly every state constitutional convention, and his name was intertwined with the state conventions of 1784-1792, where he represented Mercer County. His legal knowledge and political skills are certainly reflected in the Commonwealth's earliest constitution. In 1792, after the document was hammered out in Danville, Samuel informed a friend, "I think we will have a tolerable good Constitution."
Samuel died near Danville on Sept. 25, 1817, at the home of his son, Joseph. He was 82 years old. He had served his nation well and became a founding father of Kentucky. His legacy continued to live on with his descendants, who made history in their own right, like his son, Dr. Ephraim McDowell, the "Father of Modern Surgery," whose name is well known in Danville. To see higher resolution photos of the tavern, I contributed photos for Grayson Tavern on the Historical Markers Database as well as other photos of markers in Danville, KY. They also have a link to find the markers exact location on Google Maps.