Monday, July 27, 2009

Through the years: The Sewall-Belmont House

Tucked away near the Hart Senate Office Building lies a DC gem with significance to both the 19th and 20th centuries. Built by the Sewalls, a prominent Maryland family, in 1799 the Sewall-Belmont house is one of the earliest buildings in the capital. The home’s first resident was Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin. Secretary Gallatin was the chief negotiator for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812. In fact, it was during the War of 1812 that the house was set afire by British troops as they invaded the Capital City in 1814. Story has it that Americans from inside the house shot British General Ross’s horse out from under him as he passed by. The British set fire to the house in retaliation; it was the only private residence burnt in Washington during the invasion. While the Sewall family sought reimbursement from Congress for damages during the battle, no payment was ever granted.

The house, eventually repaired, passed through the rest of the 19th century as a popular residence for Congressman and cabinet members. In 1929 the house came under the ownership of the National Women’s Party, the militant suffragist group. The house now serves as a museum dedicated to the suffrage movement, and features artifacts from NWP’s campaign for the passage of the 19th Amendment and NWP’s feminist founder Alice Paul. More on the suffragists later...

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