Before Raleigh was a city and even before Wake was a county, a popular tavern was located on the stage road between Cross Creek (now known as Fayetteville) and Petersburg, Virginia. The tavern, like most of its day, was also the home of the landowner, Isaac Hunter.
In the bigger cities of the northeastern and mid-Atlantic colonies, there were inns and taverns a-plenty. But in the Southeast, taverns popped up by necessity when plantations were located on a well-traveled road. This is where the notion of “Southern hospitality” came from; travelers found shelter and food at private homes since cities and towns were few and far between.
Eventually, plantation owners began to charge folks to stay at their establishments. Shelter, food, stabling for the horses, and of course spirits made great business for tavern-keepers.
Isaac Hunter came by his plantation on a stage road through his father, Theophilus Hunter. Isaac acted as chain-bearer for the surveyor who measured the tract for the land application to Lord Granville in 1761. Theophilus was granted the 584 acres in July of that year, and by March of he following year, it was deeded to Isaac, who was about 16 at the time.
For the next several years, Isaac Hunter established a working plantation at a site now located on Old Wake Forest Road and continued to acquire large tracts of land around Crabtree Creek. On February 28, 1762, Hunter received a license to open a tavern from the Johnston County Courthouse.
It was not until 1771 that the county of Wake was established, and not for twenty years after Isaac Hunter’s tavern was opened that the new city of Raleigh would be chartered, in 1792. But Hunter’s tavern played a key role in locating North Carolina’s new capital.
In what has to be one of the most humorous foundings of a state capital, a committee decided North Carolina’s capital should be located within ten miles of Isaac Hunter’s popular tavern. Hunter most likely wanted to sell some of his land to the state, but his ambition was usurped by Joel Lane and his hospitality.
Committee members stayed just one night at Isaac Hunter’s tavern and spent almost two weeks at Joel Lane’s tavern, then decided to buy 1000 acres from Lane. But if Isaac Hunter’s tavern was so popular with legislators that they mandated to locate the capital within ten miles, why did they purchase land from Joel Lane? Some theorize that Lane and his cronies were simply more persuasive, others say it was Lane’s cherry bounce, a popular liqueur both taverns would have served.
Joel Lane is better remembered historically, and his home stills stands today. The details of Isaac Hunter’s history, on the other hand, are pretty sketchy. He had two or maybe three wives, and may have outlived all but three of his thirteen children. Isaac Hunter was deep in debt and had sold off most of his land by the time of his death in 1823. The only building that remained on his former land was torn down in the 1970s, and it is unknown if that building ever served as the tavern.
These days, you can get still get a cherry bounce in Raleigh at the Deep South Bar. They also use the name for their alternative music fest that goes on during Raleigh Wide Open.
Make your own cherry bounce (recipes vary widely) something like this:
4 cups of fresh cherries
2 cups of sugar
4 cups of your favorite spirits (whiskey and brandy are traditional, vodka and bourbon work, too).
Optional additions: lemon peel, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, mace.
Put all the ingredients into an air-tight jar. Allow to steep for 6 weeks to 6 months. Stir or shake periodically until all the sugar dissolves.
Remove cherries and squeeze out excess liquid before serving. Capitalious!