| The Swan House was located on Dudley Street at the corner of Howard across from the Morton-Taylor House. The house was built about 1796 as a summer home for James and Hepzibah Swan following a design ascribed to Charles Bulfinch. A balustrade, as shown on the wings, originally encircled the top as well. The center of the house was round and contained only one room, the colonial dining hall. The dining hall was thirty-two feet in diameter, two stories high, with a huge dome-shaped ceiling. [ed. note, this room was the drawing room but since it was the only room, it probably served as the dining hall for large parties]. General Lafayette, General Henry Knox and many other Revolutionary war heroes were entertained here.
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Colonel James Swan was a native of Scotland, who came to Boston in his boyhood. He was one of the Tea Party in 1773 and fought at Bunker Hill. He was Secretary of War for Massachusetts in 1777 and afterward adjutant-general of the state. Hepzibah Swan was one of the Mt. Vernon Proprietors, a group that developed part of Beacon Hill in Boston.
In the late 1780s, oppressed with heavy debts, Colonel Swan went to Paris with letters of introduction to Lafayette and other prominent men and eventually worked his way into a partnership in the firm of Dallarde, Swan et Compagnie, one of the firms that furnished supplies to the new French government after the French Revolution. When a business partner filed suit against him in 1808, Swan chose to go to a high-class debtor's prison at St. Pelagie instead of settling the claim. He stayed there for 22 years and died in 1831, just one year after his release. Hepzibah had lived in the house in Dorchester until her death in 1825.
A collection of 18th century French furniture that had been owned by Thierry de Ville d'Avray, the general administrator of the crown furniture for Louis XVI, was purchased by the Swans after the monarchy was abolished, and this collection was passed down to Swan heirs. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has acquired the pieces and restored them.
Howells, John Mead. Lost Examples of Colonial Architecture. New York: Dover, 1963.
McBride, Marion A. "Some Old Dorchester Houses." New England Magazine, May, 1890.
Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908 [c1891]
Ray, Joe. "MFA Pads Offerings with Display of French Royal Furniture." Boston Sunday Globe, January 12, 2003, p. N8.
October 2005 From: "Greg Swan"
Re: Overview: Swan House
I have just found this site and find it pretty cool to see the house that one of my believed to be ancestors lived in. My family is believed to be one of the heirs of James Swan. I don't believe we have any of the french furniture pieces, but we do run a museum in Washington Crossing, PA where we have many various artifacts from many different times that my family owns. I also have ancestors from the same time period who were equally as famous as James. One of the most known being Richard Swan, who was a silversmith at the time. He melted down Martha Washington's silverware set to make some of the first US coins. We still have one of the spoons. It's upsetting that this history is gone, I would really have enjoyed visiting this house.
March 2006 From: Ann G. Kelleher
A photograph of this house is in my family papers. My Grandmother's madin name was Marion Swan, and her father and Grandfather were both named James Swan, but I haven't traced back to this James Swan. I'm guessing that he was perhaps a brother of Ruben Swan b. Leicester, Mass. 1748?
Can anyone give me more info?
January 2008 From: Nancy Lang
Comments I have traced my ancestry to Col. James Swan and his wife Hepziah Clarke Swan through their eldest daughter, Christiana Keadie Swan. Although I didn't see Hepzibah's home I did see the Beacon Hill (# 13 Chestnut Street) home she had built for Christiana and her husband John Turner Sargent, and the adjoining homes for her other two daughters. James and Hepzibah's only son James Keadie Swan married Caroline Julia Knox but they had no children so upon his death the Swan surname stopped. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston has on display the Swan Collection of beautiful French furniture. It's well worth the visit.
From: Barbara Short February 2008
Just more information about James Swan: On July 9, 1795 - he paid off the U.S. National Debt . . $2,024,899. That was the year before he built this summer home.
As your article states . . later on, he was very much in debt. Too bad that he ended up in Debtor's Prison.
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Created: December 15, 2003 Modified: February 16, 2008