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    Federal Lodge on Monday held an event toasting the wives and significant others of famous masons.  As I wrote in a previous post, my husband went in character as James Hoban, architect of the White House and supervisor of the U.S. Capitol.  Hoban also founded Federal Lodge #1.  I played Hoban's wife, Susanna Sewell.  We both attended in circa-1800 costume.  About three hours before the event, Sweetie called me, rather irritated - it seems the event organizer hadn't found enough background information on her life to properly toast her.  Well we weren't getting all dressed up for nothing!  So I jumped headfirst into teh interwebz and dug up enough info to justify our outfits.  I discovered they had used a different spelling for her first and last names, so I did find information on Susanna and her family.   So here's a short biography of Susanna Sewall, aka Susannah or Susana Sewall, aka Mrs. James Hoban. 

    Susanna Sewall was born in Prince George's county Maryland, the daughter of Clement Sewell and Eleanor Carberry.  Susana's childhood friends included her sister Mary and her father's slave, Bett.  In May of 1797, Susana and her sister Mary witnessed Bett's wedding to Edward Butler, a free man from a notable Black family.  Trinity Church performed a Catholic marriage at her father's special request.  [Warner]

    When James proposed marriage to Susanna, she demanded a house where she could provide hospitality.  Just a few months before, James Hoban had just been made superintendent of the President's House and the Capitol building.  The Federal City commissioners had provided him with the former superintendent's house, that of George Hadfield, which was located close to the Capitol. But it was a  modest house not made for entertaining.  "In the summer of 1798, James informed the commissioners he planned to marry and therefore wanted a good kitchen added to the house they promised him."  The pinch-penny commissioners did not want to agree, but so forceful were his demands that on August 21, they agreed to provide a kitchen.  "It would have to be built of the commonest materials and in the cheapest manner." [Warner 143]

    Six months later, on January 13, 1799, James and Susanna married.  It was a family affair.  Susanna's cousins officially witnessed the wedding.  They had a loving marriage with ten children including a son, James.  [Baker?]

    The Irish immigrant, James Hoban, had married into a wealthy family.  Her family had been Catholics in Maryland for over 100 years, having been invited to settle there by Lord Baltimore himself.  [Warner 143?]

    Susanna's father, Clement Sewell, was a hero from the Revolutionary War.  He had served alongside George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington.  Clement was one of two Roman Catholic men mentioned in Custis's records. Custis called him "my neighbor and my firm friend. He was a brave soldier, a good citizen, and an honest man.  A fine youth, he joined the famed Maryland line, a volunteer; was promoted for his gallant conduct on the field of battle; and, after hard service, returned to his home with a shattered limb and the consciousness of having done his duty."

    James Hoban used his wife's family connections to his advantage, in particular her father's business.  Clement had previously operated Suter's Tavern, where he had hosted George Washington numerous times.  In 1796, Clement built the three-story City Tavern in Georgetown at what is now 3206 M Street NW.  In 1798 the "Centinel of Liberty" newspaper advertised the new tavern as "a well built three story Brick house" with "a roomy and convenient Store House, now used for a stable, but originally built for and well-calculated for above-mentioned purpose, also a Granary,  Kitchen, meat House & all of brick."  The building still stands today.  [City Tavern website]

    The tavern soon became a major meeting house.  It was next door to the Bank of Columbia, which had George Washington on its board of directors. When John Adams visited Washington in 1800 to inspect the new buildings, he used Susanna's father's tavern as his base of operations. On June 6, 1800, Adams was honored at a banquet in the Long Room of the Tavern where he gave the toast: "Georgetown - May its prosperity equal the ardent enterprise of its inhabitants, and the felicity of their situation." [City Tavern club?]

Disclaimer: This was compiled in less than two hours.  I have not cleaned this up much or added in all the citations yet.  There may be factual errors, which I freely claim are all mine. 

  • American Mason. Bro. James Hoban, The Irish-Catholic Mason Who Built - then Rebuilt - The White House. http://www.americanmason.com/didntARC.ihtml
  • Archiseek.  (1996-2007).  Archiseek / Ireland / Architects of Ireland / James Hoban.  Architects of Ireland - James Hoban (1762-1831).  http://www.irish-architecture.com/architects_ireland/hoban.html
  • Baker, Pete.  (2006, September 04.)  James Hoban - an architect to remember.  http://www.sluggerotoole.com/index.php/weblog/comments/james_hoban_an_architect_to_remember/
  • Home Page.  James Hoban Society.  Via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, Feb 8 2007.   http://web.archive.org/web/20070208110556/http://jameshoban.org/
  • Warner, William W. (1994).  At Peace With All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital.  Georgetown University Press, found on Google Books.  Page 141 and several others; this was a treasure trove of information on Hoban, the  Sewall family, and many other Revolutionary-era Roman Catholics.
  • Livingston, Mike. (2001).  Georgetown tavern serving history since John Adams.  Washington Business Journal 13 July 2001. Article available online.
  • City Tavern Club: History of the Club. http://www.hometoday.com/city_tavern_club/History.cfm
  • Pop-up Pedigree (Clement Sewall).  http://bellsouthpwp.net/j/a/jamison_clan/p5.htm
  • Griffin, Martin I.J. (2006).  Catholics and the American Revolution V3.  Kessinger Publishing, page 347.
  • Trinity Church-Georgetown DAR - vol.. 47 Trinity Church Marriage & Baptism Records 1795-1805.  http://ftp.rootsweb.com/pub/usgenweb/dc/vitals/trintych.txt
  • The White House.  http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/white_house.htm
  • [Some UFO conspiracy Web site, I kid you not, that had Hoban's wife's name with the wrong spelling]
  • [The George Washington Custis memoir book that was found on Google books]

Demanding a proper kitchen before she'd marry? Susanna was a lady after my own heart.  :-)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2008 01:04 pm (UTC)
Spiff! I'm glad you were able to be introduced. Looks like the dress worked ok? I think you look great in the pics!
Feb. 15th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Y'know, I was walking around Dupont Circle at lunchtime, and I noticed that the One Dupont Circle building hosts an establishment called "James Hoban's Irish Restaurant and Bar." I've never been in there, but now I realize why all this time that you've been writing about this event that I've been thinking, "Hmm, that name 'James Hoban' sounds awfully familiar...."
Feb. 15th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)
James Hoban's Irish pub
Yes. A group of us went there after the officer installation a couple months ago. One of the members wrote about it at http://unbleachedbrun.livejournal.com/420768.html
I only had the fries, but they were pretty good.
Feb. 15th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC)
Re: James Hoban's Irish pub
Oh, yes, I see you and your husband in the last photo in that entry -- very cool!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )