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In December 2008 Urquhart-Gillette SCV Camp established a non-profit corporation, THE MAHONE’S TAVERN MUSEUM, INC., to purchase the childhood home of Major General William Mahone in Courtland, Virginia. The camp’s goal was to preserve this National Register of Historic Places property and transform it into a museum. Accordingly, a long range plan was required to guide the preservation and presentation of the tavern and its historical connections.


Mahone’s Tavern and Museum, Inc. exists to preserve Mahone’s Tavern as a National Register of Historic Places property, to interpret the building, promote knowledge about William Mahone’s multi-faceted career as an educator, civil engineer, major general, railroad magnate, statesman and philanthropist, to present Southampton County’s role in the War Between the States, to educate students and the general public about the War’s impact on Southampton County and to tell the story of the families who lived in the historic property for over 200 years.


Mahone’s Tavern was built in 1796 by Henry Adams and Thomas Hart. It was one of the first buildings constructed following the incorporation of the town of Jerusalem in 1792. Known at different times as Kello’s Tavern and Howard’s Hotel, this National Register of Historic Places property is located directly across the street from the Southampton County Courthouse. Furthermore, the tavern was sited near the Nottoway River Bridge on the Jerusalem Plank Road. This roadway connected the small river port of South Quay with Petersburg and Richmond. These judicial and transportation links made Mahone’s Tavern a social, political and commercial hub.

This historic structure is a Federal-style, three-bay, gabled-roofed, wood framed structure over a brick raised basement. The original double porch was very popular especially during major trials and executions. Patrons could pay a fee to sit and observe hangings. The building next door (east), known today as the Bell House, was a competing ordinary known as Hart’s Tavern. Fielding Mahone joined the two buildings together with a hyphen in the 1840’s. This relationship remained until 1901 when the buildings were sold as two separate properties.

In 1831 the building played an important role during and after the 1831 Southampton Insurrection. The tavern served as a refuge for the county’s frightened white families. During his two day insurrection, Nat Turner and his followers killed 57 whites which prompted a massive response from the Virginia Militia, US Army and US Navy. Militia units began arriving as the rebellion collapsed and sought revenge for the horrific killings. Over 200 African Americans were killed following the uprising. 

The tavern was acquired by Fielding Jordan Mahone in 1840. He was the father of Major General William Mahone. William lived in the tavern until he left to attend VMI in 1844. The young Mahone earned a reputation for gambling, drinking, profanity, mischief making and for the prolific use of tobacco. After graduation, William Mahone became involved in railroads and constructed the first railroad connecting Norfolk with Petersburg. His innovative log foundation laid in a corduroy design through the Dismal Swamp still supports coal train traffic in the 21st century. Mahone served in the Confederate army during the Civil War and was named brigadier general in October 1861. He did not distinguish himself until the siege of Petersburg. There he attained fame as the ‘Hero of the Crater’ and was promoted major general to date from 30 July 1864. When the war ended, Mahone returned to railroading and created the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad. He eventually lost control of the A, M & O during the Financial Panic of 1873. Despite this setback, Mahone was still among the wealthiest men in Virginia and with his money came tremendous political power. He helped to establish a school in Petersburg known as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (Virginia State University) to train teachers to help educate African American children throughout Virginia. When he was defeated in the 1877 governor’s race, Mahone organized the Readjustor Party, which was a union of Democrats, Republications and African Americans seeking a reduction in the Commonwealth’s pre-war debt. Mahone had one of his allies elected governor and he himself as U.S. Senator in 1881. Mahone was not re-elected; yet, stayed involved in politics until he died following a massive stroke in 1895.

The tavern was sold following Fielding Mahone’s death in 1859 to John Joseph Kindred. His stepson, Dr. John J. Kindred became a pioneer in mental health treatment and served five terms as a U.S. Senator from New York. In 1869, the building was sold to Josephine F. Howard who renamed it Howard’s Hotel. The hotel operated until 1901 when it was sold for use as a private residence. The tavern was eventually obtained by Mahone’s Tavern and Museum, Inc. to ensure the building’s preservation and interpretation.  For a chronology of ownership click here.  


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