Built in the 1730s, Elizabeth Battell’s Golden Fleece Tavern hosted all manner of revolutionary activities in the early days of the American union. When Dover became the seat of Delaware’s state government in 1777, the tavern emerged as a frequent meeting place for the Legislative Council. It was also at the Golden Fleece that, in September 1787, a document arrived from Philadelphia containing the basic framework for the government of a new nation, the United States of America.
On December 3, 1787, a group of 30 elected delegates of a ratifying convention met at the Golden Fleece to review the document. Five days later, on December 7, the Constitution of the United States was unanimously approved, making Delaware the first state in the young nation, and the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
It would be some years later until a document of comparable national significance found its way into the tavern, but such a document surely did. In January 1790, the Legislative Council met once again, this time to ratify the Bill of Rights.
Most of the original structure of the Golden Fleece Tavern no longer stands, having been torn down in the 1830s and replaced by the Capitol Hotel. The hotel has since closed and the building has been renovated, and it now hosts a local retail store. A marker on the side of the building commemorates the original tavern site, and a Golden Fleece sign hangs from a corner near the door. Visitors to the site can see a small garden space behind the current building where there is a freestanding wall that’s believed to be the only section of the historic tavern still standing.
Know Before You Go
The Golden Fleece site is only a few steps from the Green, an open space from which officers and soldiers in the American Revolution were mustered and reviewed prior to departing for the southern campaign. Also surrounding the Green are the First State’s current and historic legislative buildings, several of which offer excellent tours. As of 2019, a new “Golden Fleece Tavern” operates in Dover, several blocks from the original site. That establishment does not appear to have any relation to the historical site, apart from the name.