Revolutionary Real Estate

Statesmen, soldiers and spies who made America and the way they lived

(Cheryl Carlin)
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"We are all well at present, but the city is very sickly and numbers [are] dying daily," President George Washington wrote on August 25, 1793. As he put it, a "malignant fever" (actually yellow fever) was racing through Philadelphia, the young nation's capital.

A reluctant Washington sought refuge at his Mount Vernon plantation in Virginia, but by the end of October reports from Philadelphia suggested that new cases of the fever were diminishing. In November, the president returned to Pennsylvania, establishing a temporary seat for the executive branch in the village of Germantown, six miles north of the capital. He rented a house from Isaac Franks, a former colonel in the Continental Army who had bought the home after the original owner, David Deshler, died. By December 1, Washington was back in Philadelphia, but he returned to the house—the earliest surviving presidential residence—the following summer.

The Silas Deane and Joseph Webb House
Wethersfield, Connecticut

The two houses sit side by side in the port town of Wethersfield, overlooking a bend in the Connecticut River. Their tranquil setting belies an intriguing past.

Educated at Yale, Silas Deane opened a law office in Wethersfield in 1762. He served in the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775, and was appointed by Benjamin Franklin and Congress' Committee on Secret Correspondence to travel to France in 1776 "to transact such Business, commercial and political, as we have committed to his care." He was to pose as a merchant, but covertly solicit money and military assistance from France. Deane arranged for the export of eight shiploads of military supplies to America and commissioned the Marquis de Lafayette a major general. But Deane was later accused, falsely it seems, of misusing funds and spent a decade in exile in Europe. He died mysteriously in 1789 on board a ship headed home.

The house next door to "Brother Deane's" also had Revolutionary connections. Samuel B. Webb, son of its builder, fought at the battles of Bunker Hill and Trenton and became an aide-de-camp to General Washington, who by happenstance would spend time at the Webb House in the spring of 1781, meeting with French military officers to plan the final phase of the Revolutionary War.

John Adams' "Old House"
Quincy, Massachusetts

John and Abigail Adams bought the home they would call "Old House" in September 1787 while still in England, where John was serving as minister to the Court of Saint James's. When they moved into the house the following spring, they found it confining. To Abigail it resembled a "wren's nest" with all the comfort of a "barracks." The couple added a kitchen ell and inserted two windows to overlook the garden, but just as they settled in, John was elected vice president. He served eight years (1789-1797) in that office and four more as president (1797-1801). Before returning to Massachusetts, the Adamses enlarged Old House, almost doubling its size.

Adams died at age 90, on July 4, 1826—within hours of Thomas Jefferson and 50 years to the day after signing the Declaration of Independence—confident that the experiment the founding fathers had launched would succeed.

George Mason's Gunston Hall
Mason's Neck, Virginia


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