The Decatur House, Washington, DC

Posted on November 3, 2019

Making the list of haunted spaces in Washington, DC is the Decatur House. This house has an interesting and vibrant history. In order to appreciate the history of this house, we need to take a long look at its past.

In the beginning

It needs to be mentioned that the Decatur House is actually one of the oldest surviving homes in Washington, D.C. It is also one of only three remaining houses in the country that were designed by neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. The house was built and completed in 1818 for naval hero Stephen Decatur and his wife Susan. This Federal Style home is conveniently located across the street from Lafayette Square and from the White House. It also served as a home to Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren and Edward Livingston. These men collectively made Decatur House the unofficial residence of the Secretary of State from 1827 to 1833, because each one of them rented the house while they served in that official government post.

In 1836 John Gadsby and his wife Providence moved into the house along with their slaves. They added on a two-story structure at the back of the house, which became the slave quarters for the workers who previously had lived in the main house. This structure remains today and is one of the few examples of slave quarters in urban areas.

Following Gadsby’s death, the home was again rented out to a series of prominent tenants. Those notable tenants were Vice President George M Dallas, publisher and former Mayor of Washington Joseph Gales, Congressmen and brothers John and James King, Rep. William Appleton, Speaker of the House James Lawrence Orr and Sen. Judah Benjamin. During the Civil War the Decatur House was used as Army offices. After the war, the house was unoccupied for six years.

The Decatur House was finally purchased in 1872 by Edward Beale, a frontiersman and explorer from California who later became a rancher and diplomat.  Beale’s daughter-in-law, Marie, bequeathed Decatur House to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This not only saved the Decatur House, but other historic homes around it as well that were scheduled to be demolished. The Decatur House was finally designated a US National Historic Landmark in 1976.

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The Decatur House today

The Decatur House is now a museum. It is located at 748 Jackson Place, NW, on Lafayette Park. The lower floor of the home is kept in the style of the early 19th century while the upper floor shows some more modern renovations of the early 20th century.

Because of its ideal location, the importance of its residents, and the fact that urban slaves worked there across from the White House, the Decatur House now contains more material interpreting African American history. Among the many stories is that of Charlotte Dupuy. In 1829 she sued her master, Henry Clay then Secretary of State, for her freedom and the freedom of her two children. She would lose her court case, however, Clay finally freed Dupuy and her daughter in 1840, and then he freed her son in 1844. A special exhibit on African American history through 1965 has recently been added to the museum and its website.

How it is haunted?

The original owner of the Decatur House was Stephen Decatur. He was a naval officer. Decatur was challenged to a duel by a subordinate, named Barron. Barron was already under court martial. This was due to the fact that he had to surrender his ship, the USS Chesapeake to the British before the start of the War of 1812.

Barron was then suspended from the Navy for five years without pay.  Decatur enjoyed bad mouthing Barron to anyone who would listen. This caused a lot of bad blood between Decatur and Barron.

Barron eventually had enough of Decatur and, once he returned stateside and was reinstated, he challenged Decatur to a duel. The duel took place on March 22, 1820.Both men chose to use pistols and Decatur was mortally wounded in the fight. He died at home the following day.

People eventually started to notice the face of Decatur appearing in the second story window of the home. Others swear they have seen him walking down with a pistol in his hand.

Who else roams the Decatur House?

With such a long and colorful history, Decatur cannot possibly be the only poor soul that haunts the Decatur House. He isn’t. Charlotte Dupuy was a slave of Henry Clay, along with her two children. In 1829, Charlotte sued Henry Clay for her freedom. Sadly, she lost the case, and she and her family remained enslaved for another decade before finally gaining freedom.

Folks have reportedly heard Charlotte Dupuy crying and walking the halls, begging for freedom for herself and her children.

Any other spirits?

As one of the oldest homes in Washington, D.C. it is quite possible that there are more spirits that haunt the Decatur House. This home saw a multitude of politicians and their families. The home saw slaves. There were most likely countless births, and probably deaths, that happened in the Decatur House. It is very possible that Mr. Decatur and Charlotte Dupuy are not the only spirits at the house.

In addition, that area of Washington, D.C. is known for being plagued by scandals and intrigue. Countless duels and fights have taken place in the area over the years. If you walk the streets, you might encounter some of these other poor souls.

What else?

These days the Decatur House is a museum. In fact, museum employees have reported seeing a figure standing near the windows and also leaving through the building’s back door in the early morning. Some people believe that this figure is the ghost of Decatur running off to his duel.

Long-time staff members have also reported hearing voices and footsteps and seeing shadows.

Anytime of the year is a good time to visit the nation’s capital. If you want an extra spooky visit, be sure to go in October. You can take full advantage of all of the museum tours and haunted walking night tours that are offered. During the day you can easily get around town and see other historical places and enjoy all of the individual areas that make up Washington, D.C.

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What else goes on in that area?

Visiting Washington DC is a must-see area. There are dozens of museums and buildings to visit. These places are fascinating because they tell the story of American history. In fact, everyone should visit Washington DC. Today, DC is a busy city. It is home to the arts and entertainment, great shops and restaurants and many colleges.

And of course, Washington DC will always be the home of American politics. We all know that politics and politicians are scar in their own right! When you are in Washington, DC, do not forget to also visit the Lincoln Memorial and visit the Rotunda.

If you are really in the mood for being scared, you can also check out some of the other haunted walking trails throughout the city. Washington, DC is home to many different neighborhoods, which have been around for ages, and they all have their own ghost stories and hauntings.

There are also walking tours of the haunted areas of DC and the White House. You will start out in Lafayette Square, which is also called Tragedy Square. These walking tours are a great way for you to learn about the violent deaths over the years that have left spirits in their wake. These tours are also a great chance to learn about the many affairs, duels and scandals that have taken place in this historic city over the years.