“Shall I Not Take Mine Ease In Mine Inn?”

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During the turnpike era, roadside inns were in their heyday. Some—Princeton’s Nassau Inn, for instance—had been well known in the eighteenth century; now they enjoyed a renascence, and were to remain famous long after coaching days were done. The original building of the Nassau Inn was erected in 1756—57 as a fine private residence for Judge Thomas Leonard, but it was an inn continuously from 1769 to 1937, when it was clearly the oldest one in Princeton still in use. Here the trustees of the college held their moistly generous commencement dinners, until the Revolution and rising prices broke up the custom. Committees of the New Jersey legislature often met here. Its “Long Room” seems to have been the largest in the village and was used for concerts and entertainments.

Host to all these gatherings was the inn’s landlord. Few more prosperous callings existed in the coaching days; no greater symbol of good cheer could be found. He may not have been the greatest man in a town, but he was certainly the best-known, often the most popular, and always the most picturesque and cheerful.

But he had one failing—an overweening curiosity—so common among those of his profession that it was a standing jest. Benjamin Franklin, a constant traveler, said that in his younger days the first step he took “for his tranquillity and to obtain immediate attention at the inns” was to anticipate all unwelcome inquiry by telling the innkeeper: “My name is Benjamin Franklin. I was born in Boston. I am a printer by profession, and am traveling to Philadelphia. I shall have to return at such a time, and I have no news. Now, what can you give me for dinner?”

It was the perfect squelch.