Decatur House is one of the oldest surviving homes in Washington DC., and one of only three remaining houses in the country designed by neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Completed in 1818 for naval hero Stephen Decatur and his wife, Susan, the Federal Style house is prominently located across Lafayette Square from the White House. It was successively home to Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, Judan P. Benjamin, who collectively made Decatur House the unofficial residence of the Secretary of State from 1827 to 1833, each renting the house while they served in that post. In 1836, John Gadsby and his wife Providence moved into the house and brought their house slaves. They built a two-story structure at the back which became the slave quarters for those workers, who previously lived in the main house. This structure remains as one of the few examples of slave quarters in urban areas. It is physical evidence of African Americans having been held “in bondage in sight of the White House.”
Decatur House as purchased in 1872 by Edward Fitzerald Beale, a frontiersman and explorer who later became a rancher and a diplomat. Beale’s daughter-in-law, Marie, bequeathed Decatur House to the National Historic Landmark in 1976.
The lower floor is kept in the style of the early 19th-century while the upper floor shows more modern renovations of the early 20th century.
Because of the centrality of its location, the status of its residents, and the fact that urban slaves worked there across from the White House, the house now contains more material interpreting African American history. Among the compelling stories is that if Charlotte Dupuy, who in 1829 sued her master Henry Clay, then Secretary of State, for her freedom and that of her two children. While she lost her court case, Clay finally freed Dupuy and her daughter in 1840, and her son in 1844. A special exhibit on African American history through 1965 has recently been added to the museum and its website.