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White Horse Tavern

Creepy shot of the White Horse Tavern in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island, is home to America’s oldest haunted bar, The White Horse Tavern. The old bar, built in 1652, has served adult beverages to the people of “America’s First Resort” since 1672. 


The White Horse Tavern is the 10th oldest bar in the world and has been run by pirates and patriots alike! Unsurprisingly, this has led to numerous ghost stories and reports of otherworldly activity in the old building. 


The tavern may uphold its traditions of “good fellowship, food, and cheers” as the oldest restaurant in America, but it also maintains its status as one of the most haunted in the area.


Take a journey with US Ghost Adventures as we explore The White Horse Tavern, America’s oldest haunted bar! And be sure to book a ghost tour with us on your next visit to Newport, Rhode Island. 


The White Horse Tavern


The brother-in-law of early Massachusetts settler and Newport Governor William Coddington, Francis Brinley, built the building that would become The White Horse Tavern in 1652. Little is known about this elder Brinley, grandfather of a more well-known English landowner, also named Francis Brinley. 


Brinley sold the original two-story home as his family returned to England. William Mayes, Sr. purchased it in 1672 and turned it into America’s first tavern! Mayes did more than serve cold drinks and good times. The tavern was used as a Criminal Court, colonial General Assembly, and City Council meeting spot. 


His son, William Mayes, Jr., inherited the tavern from his father and made it the center watering hole in town. Mayes, Jr., a notorious pirate who sailed to the Red Sea and back, was an enemy of the British, making him a favorite of the colonial town. 

William’s sister, Mary Nichols Mayes, and her husband, Robert Nichols, eventually took over as innkeepers, and the Tavern remained under the care of the Nichols family for the next two hundred years. They dubbed it the White Horse Tavern in 1730. 


The White Horse Tavern in Modern Times 


Walter Nichols added the now gabled roof and an extra addition shortly after the Revolutionary War. This would be one of the last bits of work done to the house, and despite general upkeep, the home fell into disrepair. 


The centuries took their toll, and the White Horse Tavern’s massive age was beginning to show. In 1954, The Preservation Society of Newport County stepped in and saved the tavern from demolition. In 1972, the National Register of Historic Places added the White Horse Tavern to their historic list. 


It is still operating, now owned by a Newport-based property group, and promotes “good fellowship, food, and cheers.”


America’s Oldest Haunted Bar


The spirits floating around the White Horse Tavern tell as many stories now as they did when they were alive. 


A man in shabby colonial garb is the most recognized spirit at the White Horse Tavern. He visited one evening in the 1720s when Mary and Robert Nicholes Welles operated the Inn. The traveling man was found dead in his bed by morning. The verdict was that he died of smallpox, a terrifying notion in the cramped space of a tavern. 


The man’s spirit has been seen near where he died, on the second floor near the bathrooms, and in the main dining room by the fireplace. He pesters female diners while they eat and appears behind them in the dining room mirror, prompting a quick exit! 


The Ghost of Rebecca Cornell


There are reports of two separate female entities haunting the colonial structure. One of them could very well be the infamous Rebecca Cornell, who convicted her murderer from beyond the grave. 


Cornell was burned in a fire and died in 1673, not far from the White Horse Tavern. At least, that’s what authorities initially believed. Most thought an ember had caught her dress, scorching her to a crisp. 


Three days later, her brother, John Briggs, came to the courthouse, which was still being operated out of the tavern, stating he knew who Rebecca’s murderer was. He claimed that she had come to him as a ghost and proclaimed:


“I am your sister Cornell. See how I was burnt with fire! See how I was burnt with fire!” 


He believed that she was murdered, so the police took a second look at her body. They discovered an odd wound in her stomach. Her son, Thomas Cornell, was accused of her murder a few days later, the first case in United States history with a phantom witness. 


Haunted Newport


The White Horse Tavern, the oldest haunted bar in America, is just the start of any otherworldly adventure in Newport, Rhode Island. Discover 400 years of haunted history, a much darker history than you might expect. Stories of pirates, mass executions, and shipwrecked sailors fill the colonial port city’s tattered pages. 


Explore the colonial world up close and personal with US Ghost Adventures on the #1-rate ghost tour in the city. 


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