Bidwell Lore – Widow Bingham’s Tavern, Part VI

Welcome to week 95 of Bidwell Lore! In this, our final article in the series about Anna Bingham, we begin by sharing an excerpt from a Lion G. Miles article about Anna’s experience with a case that was taken all the way to the Supreme Court.

   “Following Shay’s Rebellion, Anna Bingham persevered in running her tavern and, in addition, began to diversify her business and community interests. In 1786 she joined other Berkshire investors as the only woman to buy a share of the so-called Boston Ten Townships, land owned by Massachusetts in Tioga and Broome Counties, New York, and for a time she ran a store in her home. In 1793, she hosted the first annual meeting of the Stockbridge Library Society, one of the first libraries in western Massachusetts. Anna’s wide range of interests naturally brought her into conflict with equally ambitious men. In 1788, Thomas Jenkins, a Quaker entrepreneur from Hudson, in Columbia County, New York, loaned a number of depreciated securities to Ebenezer Kingsley of Becket, Silas Pepoon of Stockbridge, and Anna Bingham. Kingsley seems to have been the speculator, while Pepoon and Bigham merely acted as sureties. When the securities were to be returned in 1790, Jenkins was surprised to find that Kingsley and his partner, Joseph Chaplin, were insolvent. Confronting the principals at a meeting in Bingham’s Tavern, Jenkins declared, according to a report by Anna, that ‘he would not take lands – he wanted his property in money – and had got lands enough.’ Doubtful of success in a Massachusetts court since he was a New Yorker, Jenkins decided to initiate a $15,000 suit against Kingsley, Pepoon, and Bingham in the federal circuit court at Boston. In 1792 he won a judgement of $5,000, which was upheld on appeal to the Supreme Court in Kingsley v. Jenkins.

            Kingsley died in late 1792, and neither Pepoon nor Bingham had any intention of assuming his debt to Jenkins. Executions were returned unsatisfied in 1794. Claiming that the 1792 award was excessive, Pepooon and Bingham sued Jenkins in the circuit court, but they lost their case a second time. Jenkins remained persistent in his demand for payment, so Pepoon and Bingham obtained a writ of error in1797 and went back to the Supreme Court. Again, in Pepoon v. Jenkins, the court upheld the lower court’s ruling. At one point in 1790, early on in the dispute, the federal marshal had arrested Pepoon and Bingham; they were released after posting bail. There is no record of subsequent arrest, confiscation of property, settlement, or payment, and the outcome of the situation remains a mystery.” [1]
As stipulated by the Judiciary Act of 1789, there was one Chief Justice, John Jay (1789-1795), and five Associate Justices: James Wilson (1789-1798); William Cushing (1790-1810); John Blair (1790-1796); John Rutledge (1789-91 and 1795); and James Iredell (1790-1799). Only Jay, Wilson, Cushing, and Blair were present at the Court’s first sitting. William Cushing and his wife were friendly with Barnabas Bidwell and he would visit them in Washington City during his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives. Judge Cushing sat on the Anna Bingham case.

Black and white image in the Red Lion inn from the late 19th or early 20th century
An historic photo of The Red Lion Inn

“Widow Bingham continued to live in her house for fourteen years after it ceased functioning as a tavern, though she did lease a house across from hers in 1800-1801, possibly as a source of rental income. In 1804 she received seven dollars from the selectmen for ‘nursing Mrs. Kingsley’, probably the widow of her former co-litigant. So in 1807 Anna decided to leave her home of thirty-two years for the city of Northampton….Anna Bingham lived a singular life in the male-dominated society of a developing Berkshire County. As sole proprietor of one of the more important public business establishments in the county, she acted as professionally as any man, buying and selling goods, signing notes, suing and being sued in the courts, posting bond, and complaining out loud when she felt wronged.”  [2]
After Anna, the hotel had a series of owners, beginning with Silas Papoon, until it was purchased in 1862 by Charles and Mert Plumb. The Plumb family owned the Red Lion Inn (briefly renamed Plumb’s Hotel) for the next 90 years. It was during their tenure that tragedy struck.
Red Lion Inn Burned.
Famous Old Stockbridge Hostelry Destroyed – Guests escape unhurt.

At 4:30 a.m. on  August 31, 1896, a fire broke out in the pastry kitchen chimney of the Red Lion Inn and made such quick progress that it could not be controlled with local appliances. It was an hour before water could be obtained with enough force to be effective. The supply for Stockbridge was from Lake Averic, two miles away, where a pump had to be used to force pressure. Help from the Lee and Great Barrington fire departments prevented the destruction of the National Bank, a few feet distant, the town offices, and the large business blocks further on. The 4-story Inn was made of wood, had 116 feet fronting Main Street, with an annex running back 100 feet. There were nearly one hundred guest rooms in the hotel at the time. The loss was estimated at $50,000; insurance, $20,000 on the house and $5,000 on the furniture.
In the local publicity around the fire, it was noted that the house was built originally in 1773, had been known as the Red Lion Inn, [3] and remained almost intact up until 1896. For many years it had been a famous stage house between Boston and Albany. It was enlarged in 1846 and the name changed to the Stockbridge House before being purchased by the Plumbs. Again in 1885 and in 1893 material enlargement was made and the name changed back to Red Lion Inn. Charles Plumb had run it for twenty-four years before the 1896 fire. For those interested in a good summary of the Inn ownership, click HERE.
The history of Window Bingham’s Tavern is a complicated one and tracing that history was made much more difficult by subsequent owners. One example would be the authoring of The Tale of the Lion, by Heaton Treadway. I always refer to it as “The Tall Tale of the Lion,” as it is filled with numerous factual errors.

Bidwell Lore readers have, I am sure, taken notice of the scarcity of Bidwell “cousins” in this article. I confess that my interest in Anna Bingham’s story caused me to make use of the thin family connection using Dr. Erastus Sergeant and Dr. Oliver Partridge. But, it should be noted that Barnabas Bidwell lived at the northwest corner of the same intersection from 1792 until after Anna’s departure from Stockbridge, so it seems very likely he might have graced her tavern doors during that time.

Next week, Bidwell Lore will share a story about the founding of the town of Monterey, which this month celebrates its 175th anniversary.

[1] Miles, Lion G. “Anna Bingham: From the Red Lion Inn to the Supreme Court.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 2 (1996): 294, 295.
[2] Miles, Lion G. “Anna Bingham: From the Red Lion Inn to the Supreme Court.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 2 (1996): 299.
[3] Built not earlier than 1775 and called Bingham’s Tavern. For most years, the name of the Inn was the current owner’s last name. Hick’s Inn, Galpin’s Inn, etc.