Tontine Coffee House

The old Tontine Coffee House was located at the northwest corner of Wall and Water Streets. The Tontine Coffee house is where the NY Stock Exchange was organized.  Duel author Thomas Fleming notes that Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist friends met there on January 2, 1804 to talk about dueling.  Ron Chernow reports that six months later, “When a handwritten notice of Hamilton’s death went up at the Tontine Coffee House, the city was transfixed with horror.” It was here that 335 merchants and stockbrokers met to second the New York City common council decision to close all businesses, and for all boats to lower their flags to half mast.  Everyone in the City was asked to wear a black armband for 30 days.

The City Museum tells us “Some historians date the birth of the New York Stock Exchange to the issuance of bonds by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in 1790; others claim that the exchange came into existence on May 17, 1792, at the Merchants' Coffee House at the southeast corner of Wall and Water Streets, when twenty-four stock brokers and merchants signed the "Buttonwood Agreement." This set of rules relating to securities transactions was named after the buttonwood, or sycamore tree under whose branch dealers and brokers had previously met. In 1793, the locus of business moved into the Tontine Coffee House, diagonally across from the Merchants' Coffee House.  Street trading also continued at this time.”

 Just as the City Tavern, or Merchants Coffee House in Philadelphia was a gathering place for political leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton, so was the Tontine Coffee House in New York.  Since it was already the accepted place for merchants and bankers to meet socially at around noontime, it became a regular meeting place for business and trading.


The Tontine Coffee House had similarities to our Starbucks coffee houses of today. Coffee houses originated in Turkey and then Europe. They served coffee and provided meeting areas for guests. They were like taverns with overnight rooms. The Tontine had a bell system, an inside bath and a spyglass to watch merchant ships arriving in the harbor.  The Merchants' Exchange was kept in this grand building in the large thirty-foot by thirty-foot room until 1825.


After that the Merchant’s Exchange found a more formal home.  In 1817, they had formed the New York Stock & Exchange Board with its own constitution and bylaws, and changed their name to the New York Stock Exchange in 1863. The Tontine Coffee House Building survived the great fire of December 16, 1835.


But Starbucks is a chain store, so does it differ from the Tontine Coffee House?

Not really.  We do know there was another Tontine Coffee House in Albany, New York.  Albany’s Tontine Coffee House at 2 State Street replaced Lewis’ City Tavern as the leading hotel in Albany. And it was there that William Van Ness and John Swartwout and 13 democratic republicans nominated Aaron Burr to be the governor of New York State on February Feb. 18, 1804.

A few weeks later, in March 1804 Alexander Hamilton dined at the nearby Albany home of Federalist Judge John Taylor, where Dr. Charles Cooper wrote that Hamilton “expressed a still more despicable opinion of Mr. Burr.” The rest as you know is history.

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