the morris-jumel mansion, the oldest house in manhattan

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Where in Manhattan can you visit the borough’s oldest house, a place used as a headquarters for both the British and the Americans in the American Revolution, a place where later as President George Washington met with his cabinet including two future presidents, where duel enthusiast and former Vice President Aaron Burr was married, and where Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her husband Prince Philip visited during their 1976 Bicentennial trip to the United States?

The answer is New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Specifically, make your way to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, located at 65 Jumel Terrace, a short block which extends from West 160th & West 162nd Streets.  You will forget for a moment that you have just taken the subway in the heart of the largest city in the U.S.

According to the official Morris-Jumel Mansion website, “the Morris-Jumel Mansion was built by British Colonel Roger Morris in 1765. He and his wealthy American wife, Mary Philipse Morris, used it as a summer [country] house. Morris was the son of a successful English architect. The Palladian style, featuring a front portico and columns, of the house reflects the influence of famed Italian architect Palladio and his influence on English architecture.

General George Washington used the mansion as his headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights in the fall of 1776. It was the first Revolutionary War battle during which the Continental Army was able to force a British retreat. Shortly thereafter Washington and his army had to flee further north, leaving the mansion in the hands of the British Army and Hessian mercenaries hired by the British.

President Washington returned to the Morris-Jumel Mansion on July 10, 1790 and dined with members of his cabinet. Guests at the table included two future presidents of the United States: Vice-President John Adams and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of War Henry Knox also attended the dinner. Click here to learn more about the guests at the dinner table.

Stephen Jumel and his wife, Eliza Jumel purchased the house in 1810. He was a prominent French wine merchant from Haiti. He came to New York shortly after the Slave Revolt broke out in the late 1790s. They both traveled back and forth from France where they were admirers of Napoleon Bonaparte. Stephen Jumel died in 1832 leaving Mme Jumel with his fortune.

Fourteen months after the death of Stephen Jumel, Eliza Jumel married the controversial former vice president, Aaron Burr. They were married in the front parlor located on the first floor in 1833. She filed for divorce after she realized her fortune was dwindling due to Burr’s land speculation losses. The divorce was finalized on September 14, 1836, the day Burr died. After the death of Aaron Burr, she adopted her sister’s daughter and traveled throughout Europe with the daughter’s children.

In 1904 the Washington’s Headquarters Association, formed by four chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, took on the task of operating the museum. Today, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, Inc., an independent not-for-profit corporation assumes that responsibility.
Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom and her husband Prince Philip visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion as part of their tour of the United States during the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution in 1976. The tour included stops in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. While in New York the Queen and the Prince visited Morris-Jumel Mansion because of its historical significance and connection to the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods.”

While Fraunces Tavern on Broad Street in lower Manhattan, built in 1719, is often deemed Manhattan’s oldest building, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is widely regarded as Manhattan’s oldest house. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961, the museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10:00am to 4:00pm.

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