13 Jan 2020

History:

Lost Capitol Hill: Aaron Burr

Arthurt Fremont Rider (LOC)

I mentioned last week that I had looked through the books at Hathitrust.org for those that had gone out of copyright at the beginning of the year. While the reminiscences of the Civil War on Capitol Hill was obviously the more striking, there was another book that caught my eye: Rider’s Washington: A Guide Book for Travelers. In particular, it made a claim that would have helped me in my as-of-yet pathetic attempt to put together a Hamilton-inspired tour of Washington.

In its section on the Marine Barracks, Arthur Fremont Rider (pictured) writes:

The chief object of interest here was, until its recent demolition, the Old Centre Building, erected in 1802 of bricks brought from England. Aaron Burr was for a time imprisoned here after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

A little research led me to a James Croggon article in the Evening Star of 1906, in which he writes that a “Sergeant Dunn” says that Burr was there “after his arrest for alleged treason.” Which makes much more sense than being incarcerated for the death of Hamilton. However, further research indicates that Burr surrendered near New Orleans, fled, and was recaptured in Alabama in 1807, then put on trial in Richmond, which meant that there was no reason he would have spent any time in Washington in between.

However, there is a connection to the Burr conspiracy, as two of the conspirators, after having been captured near New Orleans along with Burr, were taken by ship from there to Annapolis and then on to Washington. As reported by the Gettysburg, PA, Adams Sentinel of February 4, 1807, the conspirators “remained at the Marine barracks, under the charge of Lt. Col. Wharton.” Erick Bollmann and Samuel Swartout were civilians who were caught up in Burr’s plot. They were released after a hearing, and Swartout ended up in Richmond as a witness against Burr.

Marine Barracks in 1859 (LOC)

As to the rest of the information given by Rider above, the center building –originally the officer’s quarters in the middle of the barrack building on the west side of the Marine Barracks–– was built in 1801 of local brick. It burned down in 1829 and was rebuilt, then entirely torn down in 1901, along with all the other buildings of the Barracks save the commandant’s house on the north side.

Rider goes on to say that the barracks were used by the British in 1814 during the burning of Washington, something that multiple sources back him up on.

He also writes that the fraternal organization, “Order of the Knights of Pythias was founded and their ritual written here in 1864.” However, a plaque on the building at 914 E Street NW claims this location as their founding location.

All seem to agree on the final tidbit that Rider includes: The Confederate raider Raphael Semmes, who had commanded the CSS Alabama during the war, was held there after his arrest for treason in late 1865. He was released after charges against him were dropped.


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