Homes are more than part of the American dream. They are a part of the American story, too. And every story about every home is important because they are all stories about the people who lived in them.
With the 4th of July coming up, we’d like to celebrate the birth of our nation by bringing you six stories about American homes and the American families who lived in them during the 18th century.
How Isaac Potts’ house made history
When Isaac Potts began building his house along Valley Creek outside of Philadelphia in 1768, he thought he was building it for his family. When Isaac’s relative Deborah Hewes began renting the house about a decade later, she thought she was renting it for herself.
Neither knew that General George Washington would walk through the door on Christmas Eve 1777 and use the house as his headquarters during the long cold winter his army camped at Valley Forge. But that’s just what he did. Washington stayed until June 1778 and his wife Martha Washington joined him while he was there. Here’s how you can visit the house.
One parent, four children, and 600 square feet
Nathaniel Foote, who was among the settlers who founded Connecticut, and started working on this Colchester house in 1699. However, Nathaniel fell ill during construction and the house was completed shortly before Nathaniel died, by his son of the same name. We don’t know how many of Nathaniel’s nine children he intended to live here, but we do know his wife Margaret moved into the home with four of their children – and Margaret continued to live there until she was 95. Since then, the house has moved three times, and now serves as a museum and chapter house for the Daughters of the American Revolution. Learn more here.
The tavern where they waited for the “shot heard round the world”
Taverns can be homes away from home. That’s what Buckman’s Tavern has been ever since it was built by Benjamin Muzzey around 1709-1710 on the town green in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Sixty-five years later, the tavern was run by Muzzey’s granddaughter and her husband, John Buckman. The Lexington militia liked to gather in the tavern after they trained. But in the dark early morning hours of April 19, 1775, they didn’t gather at Buckman’s for a tankard of beer. They gathered because the British Army had left Boston and was on the march. At sunrise, the men of the Lexington militia confronted the English soldiers. Shots were fired. Eight militiamen died. And with those shots, the war for American Independence began. Here’s how you can visit the tavern.
He signed the Declaration of Independence. And his family came first.
You may not have heard of Thomas Stone, but he was an important member of the Maryland delegation to the Second Continental Congress. He hoped to avoid war with the British. But when Stone had to choose between freedom and surrender, he chose freedom and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas’ wife Margaret visited him in Philadelphia during 1776 and she fell ill from an inoculation against smallpox. Margaret’s health remained poor for the rest of her life and Thomas devoted himself to caring for her and their children at their now historic home. Maryland wanted to appoint Stone to Congress, but he declined the offer so he could stay with his family. Plan a visit.
The mansion of Eliza Bowen – Manhattan’s original real estate mogul
Considered Manhattan’s oldest home, Eliza and her husband Stephen Jumel bought the house in 1810. Though Eliza was born into poverty, that all changed when she moved to New York City. When Stephen’s business took a downturn, she got up and earned them money in real estate. A whole lot of money.
Stephen died in 1832 and Eliza married Aaron Burr (yes, the Aaron Burr who shot Alexander Hamilton). As it turns out, Eliza didn’t get along with Burr any better than Hamilton did. So she divorced Aaron in 1836 and continued to live in the mansion until she was 90 years old. Check out what the mansion offers today.
A home full of American literature
This is The Old Manse in Concord, Massachusetts. Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in this historic home which was built by his grandfather, William. Following Emerson’s stay, Nathaniel Hawthorne (author of The Scarlet Letter) and his wife, Sophia Peabody, moved in once they got married. As a wedding gift, Henry David Thoreau planted a vegetable garden at the Old Manse. Though Hawthorne and Peabody only lived in the house for three years, these romantic sentiments – etched into a window pane by the couple – remain to this day:
Man's accidents are God's purposes. Sophia A. Hawthorne 1843
Nath’l Hawthorne This is his study
The smallest twig leans clear against the sky
Composed by my wife and written with her diamond
Inscribed by my husband at sunset, April 3 1843. In the Gold light.
Learn more about The Old Manse here.
Thinking it’s time to begin writing your American story in your own house?