The Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation.
Want to visit the oldest house in Manhattan? The Morris-Jumel Mansion was built in 1765 by Roger Morris, who along with his wife, Mary Philipse were the first residents. Morris was a British soldier who served in the Revolutionary War. He married an American woman, Mary Phillipse, but his past would come back to haunt them.
Mary Philipse was born to prominent politician Hon. Frederick Philipse who served as Speaker of the Assembly. Philipse was said to be a very beautiful and accomplished woman. Though it is said she made quite the impression on 24-year-old George Washington, nothing came of the attraction, and she married Roger Morris in 1758. The two lived together in the house from 1765 to 1775 when the property was confiscated and used as Patriot, then British army headquarters during the war.
After the war started, Philipse was accused of high treason (one of only three women so charged during the war) upon accusations of being a loyalist to the King of England. Her marriage to a British soldier may have had something to do with the accusation.
After the war, the mansion served as a popular tavern, "Calumet Hall." In 1810 it was bought by Stephen Jumel, a French merchant, and was occupied by him, his wife, Eliza Bowen Jumel, and their adopted daughter. The Jumels (especially Mrs. Jumel) longed to be accepted by the social elite of New York and remodeled and decorated the house to help boost their social status. Their efforts to be part of high society failed, possibly because they could not erase Eliza's humble beginnings.
As a result of their failure to elevate themselves socially, they moved to France in 1815. Mrs. Jumel moved between France and America until Stephen Jumel's death. In 1832, she married 77-year-old Aaron Burr, who had been the vice president under Thomas Jefferson and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. By that time Jumel had become one of the wealthiest women in New York, and it was rumored that Burr was after her fortune. She was granted a divorce from Burr in 1836 but continued to care for the house.
New York City bought the house in 1903, and it opened as a museum on 1904. It is currently owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
The estate included a significant amount of land surrounding the mansion. In 1882, the Jumel heirs divided the large property into more than 1,000 lots, and numerous row houses were constructed. Today some of these make up the Jumel Terrace Historic District. Protected by the New York Landmarks Commission, the homes must be maintained by their currents owners to preserve the way they looked in the 1800s when new.
Jazz great Duke Ellington, baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson, actor Paul Robeson and US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall are among the famous African Americans who resided in the district during the 20th century.
[Cover Photo from gigi_nyc via Flickr]